Following yesterday’s thwarted funeral, some reaction in Italy:
The head of Rome’s Jewish community praised protesters who blocked the funeral of a convicted Nazi war criminal as Italy marked on Wednesday the 70th anniversary of the deportation of Jews from the Rome ghetto.
Erich Priebke’s final resting place is now unclear after the protesters forced a suspension of his funeral on Tuesday in the Italian town of Albano Laziale. His body is lying at a military airport near Rome pending a decision from the authorities.
The former German SS officer died aged 100 last week in Rome, where he had been serving a life sentence under house arrest for his role in the killing of 335 civilians in 1944 in caves near the capital, one of Italy’s worst wartime massacres.
At a ceremony in Rome’s main synagogue, the head of Rome’s Jewish community drew loud applause as he lauded the citizens and mayor of Albano Laziale for resisting Priebke’s funeral.
“For this we feel proud to be Romans,” the president of the Jewish Community of Rome, Riccardo Pacifici, said at the event to mark the anniversary of the Nazis’ rounding up of 1,000 Jews from Rome’s centuries-old ghetto and their deportation to Auschwitz. Only 16 of them survived.
“I do not even want to say his (Priebke’s) name, not to profane this sacred place,” said the head of Union of Italian Jewish Communities, Renzo Gattegna.
“He never repented of his crimes and repeated the most incredible arguments denying the Holocaust.”
Italian lawmakers debated on Wednesday a bill to outlaw denial of the Holocaust, in which some six million Jews perished. Several other nations already have such a law.
Bishop Marcello Semeraro of Albano, secretary of Pope Francis’ Council of Cardinals, told Rome’s Corriere della Sera newspaper Oct. 16 that the church would never prohibit prayers for someone, but canon law does allow a bishop to deny a public funeral to a “manifest sinner” when it would scandalize the faithful.
In Priebke’s case, he said, “the crime was public and notorious, the lack of conversion was public and notorious, and the scandal it would have raised in the Christian community was public and notorious.”
After agreeing to host the funeral, the Italian district of the Society of St. Pius X issued a statement on its website saying, “A Christian who was baptized and received the sacraments of confession and the Eucharist, no matter what his faults and sins were, to the extent that he dies reconciled with God and the church, has a right to the celebration of the holy Mass and a funeral.”
The statement said the SSPX condemns “every form of anti-Semitism and racial hatred, but also hatred under all its forms. The Catholic religion is one of mercy and forgiveness.”
The SSPX has a history of comments by its leaders expressing suspicion or hostility toward Jews. In 2009, after now-retired Pope Benedict XVI lifted the excommunications of the society’s bishops, there was widespread outrage at revelations that one of the four, Bishop Richard Williamson, had denied the gassing of Jews in Nazi concentration camps. The SSPX later ousted Bishop Williamson.
The New York-based Anti-Defamation League, which combats anti-Semitism, issued a statement Oct. 15 saying it was “shocked” that a “fringe Catholic sect” would agree to host the funeral of a “notorious Nazi war criminal.”