US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Nazi SS captain denied church funeral in Rome

By Eric J. Lyman | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare
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c. 2013 Religion News Service

ROME (RNS) Catholic churches here have joined government officials in three countries to deny a public funeral for Erich Priebke, the unrepentant Nazi war criminal who died at age 100 in Rome last Friday (Oct. 11).

Priebke, an SS captain accused of war crimes for his role in the execution of 335 men in 1944 near the Ardeatine Caves outside Rome, has been refused burial space in Rome, his adopted country of Argentina, and his hometown of Hennigsdorf in Germany.

On Monday, Cardinal Agostino Vallini, Pope Francis’ vicar of Rome, prohibited any church in Rome from hosting Priebke’s funeral.

Paolo Giachini, Priebke’s lawyer, lobbied to hold a private funeral in some Rome churches but was reportedly rebuffed.

“It would be inappropriate to host a funeral for a man guilty of such atrocities and who never expressed regret even though he had many opportunities to do so,” said the Rev. Alessandro Bianchi of Nostra Signora della Consolazione, one of the Rome churches approached for the funeral.

Newspapers reported the funeral would likely be held in an apartment that Giachini owns behind the Vatican, where Priebke lived under house arrest for the last 15 years.

It is still unclear where he will be buried, though Italian television reported Tuesday that a Sicilian town near the city of Messina would allow Priebke to be buried in its municipal cemetery.

“It’s a gesture of Christian charity,” Marco Antonio Pettinato, the mayor of Fondachello Fantina, told reporters.

The mass execution in 1944 was in retaliation for a bomb blast that killed 33 soldiers from an SS battalion in northern Italy. Adolf Hitler is reported to have ordered 10 Italians killed for every dead German, and so a list of 330 Italian resistance members was drawn up. Priebke and another SS officer took the prisoners to the caves and shot them in groups of five.

In his trial, Priebke, who checked names off the list as the men were shot, said he was following orders from Berlin and should not be held responsible for the decisions made by his superiors. He never formally or informally apologized for his actions.

Priebke stood trial in Italy in 1996 and 1998 and was sentenced to life imprisonment, which was served as house arrest because of his advanced age. When Priebke turned 100 in July, local Jewish groups protested, saying he deserved tougher conditions.