Nazi war criminal Erich Priebke, who worked under Hitler, had his funeral cancelled this past week after Italian police prohibited friends and family from going to it. All around was a boisterous protest going on in protest of it. People were screaming out “executioner,” and “murderer”, while hundreds of others jeered as Priebke’s coffin was brought for the funeral Mass. It was to be held by a fragment Catholic group which is against the Vatican’s outreach to Jewish people.
However the funeral never took place and the debate has raged since Priebke died at age 100. It had been up in the air what to do with his remains. Pope Francis’ priest for Rome rejected him a funeral in a Catholic Church and Rome’s police chief supported the vicar, naming concerns for public safety.
Priebke partook in one of the foulest massacres, ordered by Hitler, in German-occupied Italy during the Second World War, the annihilation of 335 civilians at the Ardeatine Caves just outside Rome. Tempers have ran high ever since he died and left an interview where he denied any Jews were gassed during the Holocaust.
No one seemed to want to do his funeral until, in a weird twist, the controversial Society of St. Pius X from the city of Albano Laziale, which is south of Rome, decided to take over and celebrate the funeral Mass. The society is well known for their anti-Semitic views of most of their members. But when Priebke’s hearse arrived outside the society’s walled complex, people that had gathered around in a mob, banged their fists and parasols on the car while shouting they were anti-fascist. The Nazi criminal’s friends and family wanted to go in, but the police did not allow it.
Priebke left one final interview that was released upon his death. In it, he denied the Nazis gassed any Jews and said the West had made up these sorts of crimes to cover up the carnage committed by the Allies during World War II.
Priebke had spent almost 50 years as a fugitive before being deported to Italy from Argentina in 1995 to finally stand trial for the 1944 extermination. He died in the home of his attorney, Paolo Giachini, where he was serving a life sentence under home incarceration.
The old Nazi wanted a Catholic funeral because he said he said he had confessed his sins and been absolved. But the pope’s cleric for Rome, Cardinal Agostino Vallini would not give him any sort of church funeral. It was stated that Vallini’s judgment to reject Priebke a church funeral was rare, but was probably done because of the outpouring of anger and emotion Priebke’s death had released, predominantly in Rome’s Jewish community.
Any specifics of Priebke’s relationship with the Society of St. Pius X were not known, yet one member said he considered Priebke a friend and would have a private memorial Mass in his honor this upcoming weekend. This funeral would likely put additional distance between the Society of St. Pius X and the Vatican. Pope Benedict XVI wanted to bring the society’s members back to the fold and that had been a major priority of his while being the pope. However the talks between the society and Rome shut down in the last year of his papacy and Francis made it clear he had no interest in resuming them. Now with the Nazi War criminal’s funeral being cancelled, it is obvious the talks will not start again soon, if ever.
Written by: Kimberly Ruble