Rome officials refuse Nazi funeral
ROME — What to do with the body of a Nazi war criminal no one wants?
Rome’s mayor, police chief and the pope’s right-hand man have all refused to grant former SS captain Erich Priebke a church funeral in the city where he participated in one of the worst massacres in German-occupied Italy. Now there’s the added question of where to bury him, since Rome, his adopted homeland of Argentina, and his hometown in Germany won’t take him.
Priebke spent nearly 50 years as a fugitive before being extradited to Italy from Argentina in 1995 to stand trial for the 1944 massacre at the Ardeatine Caves outside Rome, in which 335 civilians were killed. He died Friday at age 100 in the Rome home of his lawyer, Paolo Giachini, where he had been serving his life term under house arrest.
His death has raised a torrent of emotions over how best to lay to rest someone who perpetrated war crimes and denied the Holocaust that killed 6 million Jews. It has tested the church’s capacity for mercy and forgiveness and its need to prevent public scandal. There is a seemingly intractable conflict between respect for the dead and that owed to the millions of victims of the Holocaust.
Rome’s archdiocese said Monday it had told Giachini to have the funeral at home “in strict privacy” and that Pope Francis’ vicar for Rome, Cardinal Agostino Vallini, had prohibited any Rome church from celebrating it.
But Giachini refused, pressing instead for a private church service. The archdiocese responded by reminding all Roman priests that they must abide by Vallini’s decision.
Separately, Rome’s police chief and the government prefect for the capital announced they would prohibit “any form of solemn or public celebration” for Priebke because of public security concerns. Rome Mayor Ignazio Marino said the city would accept neither a church funeral nor a burial for him.
It was a rebuke by both church and state that was greatly appreciated by Rome’s Jewish community, which has long resented having Priebke living in its midst, particularly after he was granted small freedoms from his house arrest like going to church.
“Any demonstration of honor — civil or religious — would be an intolerable affront to the memory of those who fell in the fight for freedom of Nazism and fascism,” said the head of Italy’s Jewish communities, Renzo Gattegna.
In his final interview released upon his death, he denied the Nazis gassed Jews during the Holocaust and accused the West of inventing such crimes to cover up atrocities committed by the Allies during World War II.
In Berlin, Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Schaefer said a German citizen could be buried in Germany but that no request had been made by any family members about Priebke.