VATICAN CITY (AP) -- The Vatican's relations with Jews risked a new crisis Friday after an excommunicated British bishop -- reportedly in line for a return to the church -- said that the Nazi gas chambers probably didn't exist.
Two Italian newspapers reported Thursday that Pope Benedict XVI planned to lift the excommunication of Richard Williamson and three other bishops punished for having been consecrated without papal consent 20 years ago by the late French conservative Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre.
The Vatican declined to comment on the reports, but the Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said Friday that a decree revoking an excommunication might be made public soon. He didn't mention Williamson by name.
In an interview with Swedish state TV given in November while he was in Germany and aired Wednesday night, Williamson said the Nazis did not use gas chambers during World War II.
"I believe that the historical evidence ... is hugely against 6 million Jews having been deliberately gassed in gas chambers as a deliberate policy of Adolf Hitler," he said.
He cited what he called the "most serious" revisionists who, he said, had concluded that "between 200,000 and 300,000 perished in Nazi concentration camps, but not one them by gassing in a gas chamber."
Vatican officials declined Friday to comment on his remarks.
Rome's chief rabbi asked the Vatican to halt the reported rehabilitation of Williamson.
Rabbi Ricardo Di Segni said it was "inconceivable" the pope didn't know Williamson's views.
Vatican-Jewish relations have already been strained by Jewish criticism of World War II Pope Pius XII, accused by some of not speaking out about the Holocaust. Israeli officials recently took offense when a senior cardinal said Gaza under the Israeli offensive seemed like a "big concentration camp."
Lefebvre rebelled against the Vatican's modernizing reforms of the 1960s, which included reaching out to other religions and replacing Latin with local languages at Mass.
Benedict has already made a concession to Lefebvre's traditionalist Society of St. Pius X in the hopes of bringing it back into the Church by making the old Latin Mass more readily available. Lifting the excommunications would satisfy another key demand of the group.
Williamson's remarks could bring him legal problems in Germany. State prosecutors in Regensburg opened a preliminary investigation into whether he broke German laws against Holocaust denial.