An Italian priest refused to back down after his comments blaming the recent devastating earthquakes on gay civil unions invited the ire of several people, including a top Vatican official. Rev. Giovanni Cavalcoli first made these comments a day after Italy witnessed its most powerful earthquake in about 36 years.

Speaking to Radio Maria last week, Cavalcoli said the earthquakes were “divine punishment” for “the offence to the family and the dignity of marriage, in particular through civil unions.” Italy, which was one of the last countries in Europe to legalize gay marriage, allowed gay civil unions in October.

The radio station distanced itself from the hardliner’s views, calling his comments “unacceptable” and suspending him from airing his monthly show on the station. The Vatican said the idea that God sought revenge is a “pagan vision” dating from “the pre-Christian era.”

The author of the statement, Archbishop Angelo Becciu, is the assistant secretariat of state in Vatican City. He said Cavalcoli’s comments were “offensive to believers and disgraceful for non-believers.”

He also apologized to the victims of the earthquakes adding that they had the “solidarity and support” of Pope Francis.

In another interview, Cavalcoli reiterated that the earthquakes, which left hundreds dead and thousands homeless, were a result of “human sins, such as civil unions.” He also advised the Vatican to “go over their catechism.”

Cavalcoli isn’t the first to claim the earthquakes were divine punishment. Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Ayoub Kara said last week that the quakes were divine punishment for Italy’s abstention on a Unesco resolution about the status of Jerusalem’s holy sites.

“I am sure that the earthquake happened because of Unesco’s decision that the pope really didn’t love; and (he) even publicly expressed that the Holy Land belongs to the Jewish people,” Ayoub said.

Italy has been rattled by three major tremors in recent weeks and scientists have warned that the region just north of Rome could face several more quakes.

“Given what we have discovered about these three related earthquakes, there is a real chance that there is going to be another significant quake in the region in the very near future,” Richard Walters, a lecturer in earth science at Durham University, reportedly said. “We know there is a real risk of another quake, but cannot say exactly where it will strike – or when.”