Priest who backed Holocaust denier is homebound

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PARIS — A Roman Catholic priest who left France after an uproar over his support for an author who questioned the extent of the Holocaust plans to return home.

Abbe Pierre, who is regularly voted France's most popular figure, sparked controversy in April when he defended his long-time friend Roger Garaudy, whose book, "The Founding Myths of Israeli Politics," cast doubt on whether 6 million Jews died in Nazi death camps.

The 83-year-old bearded cleric, who helped Jews escape Nazi-occupied France during World War II, fled to Italy last month after being expelled from a human rights organization and castigated by friends.

The French Catholic church told him to keep quiet.

Pierre's spokesman Louis-Alcime Lorin told the daily newspaper France Soir that the priest was simply on vacation.

"Abbe Pierre has left all of his belongings in Normandy. He will be back in Paris on September 9. He has chosen to live out the rest of his days in his country," Lorin said.

During a three-week stay in a monastery in Padua, Italy, the priest had told journalists he would live out the rest of his life there. However, he stopped in France on May 30 before going to the Swiss mountain resort of Zermatt for a rest.

Pierre, who has denounced any attempt to "play down the atrocious reality" of the genocide of the Jews, was quoted by the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera last week as saying that media pressure inspired by an "international Zionist lobby" was responsible for the row.