Catholic sect holds funeral rites for Nazi war criminal
Former SS officer Erich Priebke died October 11. His burial is a source of controversy in Rome.
October 15th, 2013
02:07 PM ET

Catholic sect holds funeral rites for Nazi war criminal

By Daniel Burke and Hada Messia, CNN

ROME (CNN) - The Italian branch of a Catholic sect with a history of anti-Semitism held funeral rites on Tuesday for a convicted Nazi war criminal, despite protests from Jewish groups and the local mayor.

Crowds packed the streets outside San Pio X Church in Albano, a small town south of Rome, chanting "Executioner!" and kicking the hearse carrying Erich Priebke's body as entered the church compound on Tuesday.

A funeral Mass was celebrated for Priebke but his casket was kept outside, according to a priest from the church who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation.

The absolution rite, which includes a prayer for clemency for the deceased, was also given outside the church, in the courtyard inside San Pio X's compound, the priest said.

Priebke's body is now being held in a military airport outside Rome.

The church funeral plans for Priebke sparked an outcry in the United States.

"Erich Priebke was a monster," said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League.

"He does not deserve the dignity and respect of a proper church burial. His body should be cremated and his ashes scattered at sea, without further ceremony.”

Priebke, a former SS captain sentenced to life in prison for his role in an Italian massacre in 1944, died on Friday.

Priebke was convicted by Italian court in 1998 for helping organize the execution of 335 men and boys in retaliation for attacks on German troops. The former Nazi was unrepentant, denying the Holocaust in his final statement, according to the Associated Press.

After World War II, Priebke escaped to Argentina, where he lived for nearly 50 years. He had planned to be buried near his late wife there, according to his lawyer, Paolo Giachini. But Argentina's foreign minister said it would not accept the remains.

MORE: Nazi war criminal Priebke, dubbed the 'butcher,' dies at 100

Burying Priebke in Rome has proved nearly as difficult.

The Diocese of Rome said in a statement that Priebke's lawyer was asked to hold a "small, private" funeral in the Nazi war criminal's home rather than in a church.

"The prayer for the deceased was not denied," the diocese said in a statement, "but rather a different manner for the ceremony was decided." Pope Francis is the titular head of the Rome diocese but has little involvement in its daily affairs.

Priebke's lawyer rejected that proposition, according to the diocese.

Instead, the conservative Society of St. Pius X stepped in, agreeing on Tuesday to hold a funeral Mass in their church for the former Nazi. The society has no official status within the Catholic Church.

The Italian chapter acknowledged in a statement Tuesday that Priebke was "controversial" but said he had already been convicted by Italian courts and has the right to a Christian funeral.

"A Christian who has been baptized and who has received the sacraments of the Confession and the Eucharist, regardless of what have been his crimes and sins, as he dies reconciling with God and with the Church has the right to have a Holy Mass celebrated at his funeral," the group said in a statement.

The society also said that it "reaffirms our repudiation to any form of anti-semitism and racial hatred."

But the Society of St. Pius X, whose leaders were once excommunicated from the Catholic Church for ordaining bishops without Vatican approval, has a long history of controversial statements about Jews.

Its founder, the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, sharply disagreed with the Roman Catholic Church's softened stance toward other faiths, including Judaism, after the Second Vatican Council in 1962-65. It also objected to other modernizing reforms such as celebrating the Mass in local languages.

According to the Anti-Defamation League, the Society of St. Pius X is "mired in anti-Semitism."

“The Society of St. Pius X never fails fail to shock," Foxman, a Holocaust survivor, said Tuesday. "First, they denied the Holocaust, and now they’re denying the acts of a perpetrator.”

"Jews are described in SSPX documents as being cursed by God for the sin of deicide" (killing Jesus), the ADL says in an online report.

"Jews are accused of being in control of world financial and cultural institutions and of plotting to create a 'world empire' or obtain 'world dominion,'" the ADL report continues.

Under Pope Benedict XVI, the Catholic Church tried to reconcile with the ultra-conservative society, lifting the excommunication of several bishops and allowing for wider celebration of the Mass in Latin, a favored practice of SSPX.

One of those bishops, Richard Williamson, was later found to have denied elements of the Holocaust, including its death toll of 6 million Jews.

Williamson was convicted of Holocaust denial in a German court and expelled from the society in 2012.

MORE: Holocaust-denying bishop loses court battle

Former Pope Benedict XVI wrote in 2009 that the Society of St. Pius X "does not have canonical status in the Catholic church" because of doctrinal, not disciplinary reasons.

It doesn't look like the breach will close any time soon.

The Bishop Bernard Fellay, the society's Swiss-born leader, reportedly said on Saturday in Kansas City, "The situation of the church is a real disaster, and the present Pope is making it 10,000 times worse.”

- CNN Religion Editor

Filed under: Catholic Church • Christianity • Death • Italy • Judaism • Pope Benedict XVI • Pope Francis • Vatican

soundoff (787 Responses)
  1. Apple Bush

    The joyful myth and eager messenger;

    Stained glass soars to the rafters;

    Surely God is here, and yet this house is empty;

    No salesman can close;

    Lovely building full of lies, heard less prayers than cries;

    Sacred this and sacred that;

    Babies raped and priests zipping up their pants;

    No leads to follow;

    This is what Jesus witnesses from His lofty perch in that glass;

    Abuse the sheep and pay the tithe;

    Fill the tray and please don’t stay;

    Such a lovely cathedral, such a vile torture chamber.

    October 15, 2013 at 5:42 pm |
    • Gol

      A non-comment.

      October 15, 2013 at 5:46 pm |
      • Apple Bush

        Yours or mine?

        October 15, 2013 at 5:51 pm |
  2. Apple Fresh

    Religion is a crime
    I preach that mess all the time
    The churches just keep on prayin’ and sayin’
    I ain’t hatin’
    Just demonstratin’
    Atheists stand up fool and show your face
    Ain’t no disgrace
    Gotta be that way player
    Do us all that favor

    October 15, 2013 at 5:38 pm |
  3. Observer

    Just more Christians being hypocrites. Nothing new.

    October 15, 2013 at 5:38 pm |
  4. jacob

    This dirtbag Nazi does not deserve a funeral. throw him in a ditch.

    October 15, 2013 at 5:37 pm |
    • Gerry

      That seems too cold and meaningless. Perhaps a cow pasture – with several numbered markers. Then the body can be dropped from a plane. All wagering closes before the drop of course.

      October 15, 2013 at 5:48 pm |
  5. Eddie Haskell

    6 million more

    October 15, 2013 at 5:35 pm |
  6. Apple Bush

    Solve a layer of physics down to the next level and you are in a different universe. Solve new laws of physics and you advance again. New universes are infinite.

    The trigger: when enough multi-verses are normalized, they intersect. Change 0 to 1 or vice versa and you have found another universe. In other words, 1 is now zero. New universe.

    This is all true because it is written down, therefore I believe it.

    October 15, 2013 at 5:34 pm |
  7. hal

    Some churches preach forgiveness and absolution, even in heinous cases. Don't ask me why, it's just what they do.

    October 15, 2013 at 5:33 pm |
    • Apple Bush

      It is lucrative to forgive.

      October 15, 2013 at 5:35 pm |
  8. palintwit

    Sarah Palin is crematorium bait.

    October 15, 2013 at 5:31 pm |
  9. Apple Bush

    He is a hero to Christians every where. Catholics love him. Even the seculars liked his style.

    October 15, 2013 at 5:25 pm |
    • Apple Bush

      I am speaking of cool jazz pioneer Miles Davis of course.

      October 15, 2013 at 5:26 pm |
      • Bill Deacon

        I'm particularly partial to the ballads. What a tone.

        October 15, 2013 at 5:35 pm |
        • Apple Fresh

          Hell Bill. We good?

          October 15, 2013 at 5:39 pm |
        • OKfine

          BD. BTW I will be all over your a$$ with my obsession of not allowing you to represent the RCC as anything other than one of the worst religious scams. Your treatment of Apple has been less than Christian although I think he does not care one bit.

          October 15, 2013 at 5:51 pm |
        • Apple Bush

          No, I don't care and BD apologized not that it was needed. I was breaking Bill's balls too.

          October 15, 2013 at 5:57 pm |
        • OKfine

          Apple but it seems BD can dish it out but is quite sensitive to ball breaking himself. One of his favorite retorts, you are ignorant, stupid, do not comprehend, so Chad like.

          October 15, 2013 at 6:07 pm |
    • Apple Fresh

      LOL, I meant to say HELLO

      October 15, 2013 at 5:39 pm |
      • OKfine

        Blue Train-Coltrane

        October 15, 2013 at 5:55 pm |
        • Apple Bush

          Coltrane is my favorite sax man.

          October 15, 2013 at 5:56 pm |
        • OKfine

          Johnny is good.

          October 15, 2013 at 5:57 pm |
  10. Mailer

    If Osama freakin' Bin Ladin can have an Islamic burial, then someone who was a Nazi sure as hell can have a normal funeral. Jewish groups need to STFU and just move on, the guy's dead, what more do you want?

    October 15, 2013 at 5:22 pm |
  11. Portland tony

    How many Allied pilots and crews were denied proper funerals because they took part in the fire bombing of Dresden or the destruction of Hiroshima which were not targets of military significance? Where do you draw the line between the good guys and the bad?

    October 15, 2013 at 5:21 pm |
    • Apple Bush

      Killing innocent people is bad.

      October 15, 2013 at 5:23 pm |
    • babydoc

      Its easy – the people who win wars are war heroes – those that lose wars are war criminals.

      October 15, 2013 at 6:06 pm |
  12. neoritter

    All people deserve a decent burial. If the man was Christian (Catholic in this case it seems) he's deserving of a proper burial by pure merit of being human. We've judged him on Earth, no matter whether you believe in gods or not, he'll be judged in heaven.

    October 15, 2013 at 5:21 pm |
    • Turok Buzzkiler

      Nope. He no longer exists. Your "judgement" after death thing is just made up BS. No "god" exists. Maybe he was killed in the Big Bang. This dead Nazi never sinned against your "god". There is no such thing as "sin", no such thing as your "god" and no justice to be had regarding people who no longer exist. Time to grow up and realize this is all you're going to get. YOLO

      October 15, 2013 at 5:30 pm |
      • Dino

        You atheists really need to lighten up

        October 15, 2013 at 5:42 pm |
      • Valentina

        Blah, blah, blah. More bitter babble from a bitter, babbling atheist.

        October 15, 2013 at 5:57 pm |
  13. GI Joe

    That's nothing. The Mormon Church in Salt Lake City had a post morten baptism for Adolph Hitler. Not very many years ago. Look it up if you don't believe me.

    October 15, 2013 at 5:19 pm |
    • Gol

      They have done that to many people. When doing some family research, I saw my ancestor from the 1700's was Mormon even though they didn't exist then. Turned out that a 6th cousin who was Mormon had all of the ancestors mormon baptized.

      It should be noted however that not all Mormon affiliates participate in this.

      October 15, 2013 at 5:21 pm |
    • Himmler

      LDS believe everyone needs to be baptized and in the after life those souls have the choice to accept that baptism or not. Its a pretty basic tennant of their relegion.

      October 15, 2013 at 5:30 pm |
    • mitchy

      Well they're crazier than Michelle Bachmann, Sarah Palin and Ted Cruz combined.

      October 15, 2013 at 5:48 pm |
  14. Apple Bush

    Which one of you sonsabitches has been hiding the Jesus for 2000 years. He is LATE!

    October 15, 2013 at 5:18 pm |
  15. Daniel

    They should bury him in Rome and mark his grave so anyone can find it and urinate on it.

    October 15, 2013 at 5:16 pm |
  16. John Dennis

    An SS officer stationed in an occupied country wasn't put there to sample pasta and wine. He is guilty by association, regardless of whether he gave the command to kill civilians and children. Give him the ceremony. He's going to Hell anyway, isn't he? Then flush his cremated ashes down the nearest toilet.

    October 15, 2013 at 5:12 pm |
    • Turok Buzzkiler

      There is no hell and no heaven. He's not going anywhere because he no longer exists. Like a broken light bulb tossed into a landfill, the dead are nothing and no more.
      The big problem here is people who think no justice of any sort needs to be done in this world – a view frantically supported by all those ped0priests and the like, seeking to turn away the wrath of those they have wronged.
      If you think justice will only happen after death, you could not be more wrong.
      The only way anyone gets justice is in this life. There is nothing once you are dead. You don't get to learn how wrong you were, you will instead no longer exist. Punish evildoers now. Don't rely upon some lie about there being an afterlife to form your judgments on what to do with the living. They are living NOW and should be held accountable NOW.
      The more you let people get away with crimes, the more criminals will see how easy it is and join in.
      Crime pays very very well these days. Thinking some giant bearded "god" is going to step in and fix everything is the delusion of a child.
      Time to grow up now.

      October 15, 2013 at 5:26 pm |
      • PaulBoomer

        Amen to that!!

        October 15, 2013 at 5:49 pm |
  17. fekt

    they made a nazi the pope, what do you expect.

    October 15, 2013 at 5:11 pm |
    • Gol

      Should go without saying but there has never been a Pope that was a Nazi.

      October 15, 2013 at 5:22 pm |
    • ajk68

      This statement is so bigoted it is nonsensical.
      The article was about how the diocese of Rome would not allow a funeral inside a church.

      October 15, 2013 at 5:26 pm |
  18. sly

    I'm sure as heck not religious, and have never been inside a church in my life.

    But ... if other convicted criminals have ever been buried by the 'church', this monster should have that right also.

    It's just a ceremony anyway – kinda like getting married.

    October 15, 2013 at 5:08 pm |
  19. bribarian

    The professional victim strikes again.

    October 15, 2013 at 5:04 pm |
  20. Dizzyd

    And QS? Any true Christian will tell you we are ALL sinners capable of great evil if given half the chance. That's why we all need him. His standards were perfect – impossible for us to meet, even at our best. Again,that's why we need him. You talk about atheists who don't hurt people yet are punished. I agree, it doesn't seem right. Yet that's why I said what I did above – to explain why the Word says we need salvation. I can't force you to believe – I hope you would – but just to impart some food for thought. And I assume you're one of the atheists who try to live peacefully – that's good! As Jesus said to someone once, you're not far from the Kingdom of God!

    October 15, 2013 at 5:04 pm |
    • religion; a way to control the weak minded

      that book was written by mere mortals over many years, then edited by more men over more time. No god involved.

      October 15, 2013 at 5:08 pm |
      • Ken Uck

        Your user name is ridiculous. You need a strong mind to live a religious life, not a weak one. Atheism is the easy way out.

        October 15, 2013 at 5:18 pm |
        • B-13


          October 15, 2013 at 5:22 pm |
        • Turok Buzzkiler

          The easy way out is to be a lazy, gullible idiot who believes anything told to them with wide eyed pretending.
          What is hard but worth doing is examining and questioning the BS and realizing people who appear sincere can be FAKING IT, nor does sincerity mean that anything is true. Atheism is merely the lack of a belief in any gods.
          Try being skeptical for once in your simple-minded life. Try thinking like an adult.

          October 15, 2013 at 5:36 pm |
        • mitchy

          Maybe so but it's yet another dark day for the Catholic Church. And I just beginning to think this new Pope was a beacon of hope.

          October 15, 2013 at 5:47 pm |
        • Tom, Tom, the Other One

          Atheism as the easy way out: atheism happens when religious beliefs fail to take hold in someone. And perhaps rarely, I imagine, if someone is never exposed to religious ideas and beliefs. What exactly do you think it's the way out of, Ken?

          October 15, 2013 at 6:28 pm |
    • Madtown

      That's why we all need him
      It's a shame we all don't have access to him.

      October 15, 2013 at 5:15 pm |
      • Bill Deacon

        Did you tell anyone today?

        October 15, 2013 at 5:38 pm |
        • Madtown

          Hi Bill, not my job. It's God's, since he put these people in these locations to begin with.

          October 15, 2013 at 8:14 pm |
    • QS

      The concept of "spreading the word" is the basis for all that is wrong with religion.

      If your beliefs dictate to you that you must go around and try to "convert" people to your way of thinking in order to "save" them, your beliefs are inherently starting you off from a foundation of immediately looking down on others and seeing them as things that need to be fixed rather than as fellow humans who should not have to be made to feel guilty just because they don't believe your particular brand of delusion.

      And honestly, if you truly can't grasp why your entire approach exudes self-righteousness, I can't really help you further. Do you understand how offensive it is that you simply dismiss my beliefs because you think yours trump everybody else's? Do you fathom that saying I personally am not far from the kingdom of YOUR god is an insult to somebody who doesn't believe in either your god or its supposed kingdom?

      I try really hard not to be offensive when it comes to religious arrogance, but I've pretty much run out of patience when dealing with the extremely closed-minded religious people who think they are actually being good people by demonizing anybody who doesn't believe what they do.

      October 15, 2013 at 6:03 pm |
      • OKfine

        QS. Perfect, but that will go right over the head of most of the religious that come to this blog, they believe that it is their god given duty to proselytize which is what makes them so obnoxious.

        October 15, 2013 at 6:21 pm |
        • QS

          Oh I know, but it doesn't change the fact that I am still looking for an explanation as to where this sense of obligation really comes from.

          People who go to church and are taught to "spread the gospel" don't actually have to do so just because they are told to – so the only thing I can conclude is that they do so out of guilt because they have been so indoctrinated to fear what will happen to themselves if they do not.

          In a way, they seem to do it because they are simply looking out for themselves to make sure they get into heaven; it really is based in selfishness in the end. They aren't actually interested in the "souls" of those they convert, just that converting them makes them look good in the eyes of their "god".

          October 15, 2013 at 6:50 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.