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Uncertainty hangs over German war criminal Priebke's funeral

Church and civil officials block ceremony or burial in Rome

14 October, 13:48
Uncertainty hangs over German war criminal Priebke's funeral (ANSA) - Rome, October 13 - Civil and religious leaders in Rome have refused to allow a funeral in the capital for Nazi war criminal Erich Priebke, creating uncertainty about where and how the body of the former SS officer, who died at the age of 100 last week, will be laid to rest.

Priebke, who never repudiated his Nazi past, was serving a life sentence under house arrest in the Italian capital for his part in a 1944 reprisal at a quarry known as the Ardeatine Caves outside Rome that killed 335 men and boys including 75 Jews.

Priebke's death has also exposed tensions that remain in Rome nearly 70 years after Italy's fascist regime was crushed.

A white sheet with the words "Priebke executioner" appeared at the Ardeantine Caves, whereas "Honour to Priebke" was written with a Swastika near the war criminal's home over the weekend. The atrocity, ordered by Hitler a day after 33 SS policemen from the northern Italian German-speaking city of Bolzano were killed by a partisan bomb in Rome, was one of the worst war crimes in Italy in the Second World War.

Priebke's lawyer Paolo Giachini said late last week that a private funeral, attended only by close friends and family, would be held in a downtown church in Rome, perhaps on Tuesday of this week.

But Roman mayor Ignazio Marino and Catholic church authorities quickly moved to shut down that possibility.

Marino announced that "any form of solemn funeral will be denied. To bury Priebke in Rome would be a slap that our city will not receive".

Father Antonio Curcio, who leads Priebke's parish church, the Santa Maria Immacolata di Lourdes, on Saturday declared, "the Vicariate has said it can't be done in a church".

"The Church is full of mercy toward everyone, even the greatest sinners, but in a case like this, an open church funeral would assume the appearance of an underestimation, a rehabilitation, up to an approval" of Piebke, Monsignor Mauro Cozzoli, professor of moral theology at the pontifical Lateran University, explained to ANSA on Sunday.

The Jewish Community in Rome threatened to lead street protests if Priebke is permitted a tomb in the Italian capital.

"It would be like killing those victims a second time," said Riccardo Pacifici, the Jewish organisation's president.

But Priebke's lawyer insisted that his client, as a practising Catholic, is entitled to a church funeral, citing the Lateran Treaty between the Italian fascist government and the Vatican in 1929. "The Lateran Treaty provides for each person to practise their religion in the seat that permits it. Thus even Priebke has a right. The church belongs to the faithful and Priebke was a worshipper," said Giachini.

The Argentinian government has also refused to allow his body to be returned to be buried next to his wife Giachini revealed last week that even in his last spoken testament, his client expressed no remorse for his deeds.

"It's my way of seeing the world, my ideals, what was the world view for us Germans and is still linked to a sense of self love and honour," Priebke said, according to his lawyer.

Some extreme right militants on Facebook organized a meeting under Priebke's former home to honour him with "a fascist salute".