updated 6/17/2009 2:21:14 PM ET 2009-06-17T18:21:14

Priest ordinations planned by an ultraconservative group won't be legitimate even though Pope Benedict XVI has lifted the excommunications of the organization's leaders, the Vatican said Wednesday.

The Vatican issued a statement reiterating that the schismatic Society of St. Pius X still has no status within the Catholic church and that its clergymen do not legitimately exercise any ministry.

The Vatican in 1988 excommunicated the society's four bishops after they were consecrated without papal consent by the late traditionalist Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. Lefebvre founded the society in 1969, opposed to the liberalizing reforms of the Second Vatican Council and especially its outreach to Jews and other religions.

Benedict in January lifted the bishops' excommunications in a bid to bring the dissidents back into the church. But the move sparked outrage among Jews and Catholics since one of the prelates, Bishop Richard Williamson, had denied the Holocaust.

Acknowledged a mistake
Benedict subsequently made a rare acknowledgment of a Vatican mistake, saying in a March letter to Catholic bishops worldwide that he was unaware of Williamson's positions when he lifted the excommunications. In the letter, Benedict noted that the society had no legal status within the church and that its priests didn't legitimately exercise any ministry.

The Vatican reiterated those points Wednesday in response to the society's announcement earlier this month that it planned to ordain three priests and three deacons on June 27 at a seminary in southern Germany.

Any ordinations by the group "must be considered illegitimate," the Vatican said.

German bishops had urged the Vatican to intervene against what they called a provocation prior to difficult reconciliation talks between the two sides.

The church considers the society's ordinations are "valid but illicit." They are valid because Lefebvre was a validly ordained bishop in the Catholic Church, and thus could validly ordain others. But because Lefebvre was suspended in 1976, he had no authority from the pope to consecrate bishops, meaning their consecrations were illicit, or illegal in the church's eyes. Subsequent ordinations the group carries out are similarly considered "valid but illicit."

Wednesday's Vatican statement also said the pope would take another step to absorb the Vatican office that has handled the Lefebvre case, the Pontifical "Ecclesia Dei" Commission, into the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Commission at the center of criticism
The commission, charged with healing the schism with the society, has been at the center of the criticism on how the case was handled since it apparently never knew about Williamson's views, which had been published in the mainstream media.

The Congregation will now oversee planned theological talks with the society in hopes of reabsorbing it into the church.

In an interview with Swedish TV broadcast shortly before the lifting of the excommunication, Williamson denied that 6 million Jews were killed by the Nazis. He said about 200,000 or 300,000 were murdered and none were gassed.

He later apologized for the "hurt" caused by his remarks, but he didn't recant them.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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