VATICAN CITY (RNS) A breakaway traditionalist group has expelled Bishop Richard Williamson, a British prelate who in 2009 sparked a global crisis in Jewish-Catholic relations for denying the Holocaust shortly before Pope Benedict XVI readmitted him to the church.

The staunchly conservative Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) announced on Wednesday (Oct. 24) that Williamson had been “excluded” from its ranks on Oct. 4 because of his refusal to “show due respect and obedience to his lawful superiors.”

The SSPX statement described Williamson's expulsion as a “painful decision” and made no mention of vocal Holocaust denials.

In January 2009, Williamson denied the existence of Nazi gas chambers in a TV interview with a Swedish documentary program. He also questioned the general consensus among historians that 6 millions Jews were killed during the Holocaust.

His words became public just days before Benedict lifted the excommunication of the four SSPX bishops, including Williamson.

The move was aimed at paving the way for full reconciliation between SSPX and Rome, but proved a major embarrassment for the German pope and the Vatican. Jews from all over the world sought reassurance that the Catholic Church was still committed to Jewish-Christian dialogue that was started by the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965).

The SSPX rejects the liberalizing reforms of the Council, which opened a new era in Catholic-Jewish relations after centuries of mistrust and religiously motivated violence.

Responding to the crisis, Benedict wrote an unprecedented letter to Catholic bishops saying he was unaware of Williamson's positions, and called on Vatican departments to make more use of the Internet, where the bishop's statements were widely available.

Since then, Williamson remained a stumbling block on the path of reconciliation between the SSPX and Rome. In May, the Vatican warned that even in the case of an agreement, the position of every SSPX bishop would be vetted individually.

Williamson's expulsion, however, is unlikely to salvage the Vatican-SSPX negotiations that seem to have arrived at an impasse.

After more than two years of “doctrinal dialogue,” the Vatican's doctrinal office in June presented SSPX leaders with a final offer, reportedly requiring acceptance of the Second Vatican Council as part of church doctrine.

The traditionalist group has yet to issue an official response, but its top officials signaled on several occasions that it is unacceptable. “The possibility of an agreement becomes more distant,” SSPX Bishop Alfonso de Galarreta told a traditionalist conference on Oct. 13.

Williamson had always opposed any reconciliation with Rome, and in the past months had called for the SSPX leadership to resign.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center said until the SSPX reforms itself, Williamson's ouster will be "no more than cosmetic surgery that attempts to cover up the ugly reality of anti-Semitism and hate that is imbedded in the theology of the SSPX."

CORRECTION: In an earlier version of this article, Wiesenthal was misspelled.


Click through the slideshow to see most and least Catholic states in the United States:

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  • Massachusetts

    44,905 Catholic adherents per 100,000 people.

  • Rhode Island

    44330 Catholic adherents per 100,000 people.

  • New Jersey

    36,799 Catholic adherents per 100,000 people.

  • Connecticut

    35056 Catholic adherents per 100,000 people.

  • New York

    32443 Catholic adherents per 100,000 people.

  • Illinois

    28439 Catholic adherents per 100,000 people.

  • New Mexico

    28407 Catholic adherents per 100,000 people.

  • Pennsylvania

    27578 Catholic adherents per 100,000 people.

  • California

    27469 Catholic adherents per 100,000 people.

  • Louisiana

    26490 Catholic adherents per 100,000 people.

  • Wisconsin

    25,066 Catholic adherents per 100,000 people.

  • North Dakota

    24,881 Catholic adherents per 100,000 people.

  • New Hampshire

    23,626 Catholic adherents per 100,000 people.

  • Minnesota

    21,689 Catholic adherents per 100,000 people.

  • Vermont

    20,503 Catholic adherents per 100,000 people.

  • Nebraska

    20,414 Catholic adherents per 100,000 people.

  • Delaware

    20,328 Catholic adherents per 100,000 people.

  • Texas

    18,586 Catholic adherents per 100,000 people.

  • Hawaii

    18,350 Catholic adherents per 100,000 people.

  • South Dakota

    18,286 Catholic adherents per 100,000 people.

  • Michigan

    17,375 Catholic adherents per 100,000 people.

  • Ohio

    17,272 Catholic adherents per 100,000 people.

  • Nevada

    16,703 Catholic adherents per 100,000 people.

  • Iowa

    16514 Catholic adherents per 100,000 people.

  • Colorado

    16138 Catholic adherents per 100,000 people.

  • Kansas

    14952 Catholic adherents per 100,000 people.

  • Arizona

    14549 Catholic adherents per 100,000 people.

  • Maryland

    14503 Catholic adherents per 100,000 people.

  • Maine

    14311 Catholic adherents per 100,000 people.

  • Florida

    13371 Catholic adherents per 100,000 people.

  • Montana

    12898 Catholic adherents per 100,000 people.

  • District of Columbia

    12622 Catholic adherents per 100,000 people.

  • Missouri

    12094 Catholic adherents per 100,000 people.

  • Washington

    11664 Catholic adherents per 100,000 people.

  • Indiana

    11532 Catholic adherents per 100,000 people.

  • Wyoming

    10862 Catholic adherents per 100,000 people.

  • Oregon

    10408 Catholic adherents per 100,000 people.

  • Virginia

    8422 Catholic adherents per 100,000 people.

  • Kentucky

    8291 Catholic adherents per 100,000 people.

  • Idaho

    7872 Catholic adherents per 100,000 people.

  • Alaska

    7162 Catholic adherents per 100,000 people.

  • Georgia

    6156 Catholic adherents per 100,000 people.

  • Utah

    5793 Catholic adherents per 100,000 people.

  • West Virginia

    5173 Catholic adherents per 100,000 people.

  • Oklahoma

    4756 Catholic adherents per 100,000 people.

  • Arkansas

    4206 Catholic adherents per 100,000 people.

  • Alabama

    4198 Catholic adherents per 100,000 people.

  • North Carolina

    4121 Catholic adherents per 100,000 people.

  • South Carolina

    3929 Catholic adherents per 100,000 people.

  • Mississippi

    3791 Catholic adherents per 100,000 people.

  • Tennessee

    3504 Catholic adherents per 100,000 people.