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. Science Assistant

    Scientists have discovered the last blood meal of a 46 million-year-old female mosquito, and isolated a little fragment of the protein in it, too.

    The findings, published this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, show that even if DNA can’t survive tens of millions of years, other biomolecules might.

    Most of the blood-sucking bugs found as fossils are biting midges, not mosquitoes. There are about 200 described species of extinct midges and midgelike flies, but only 25 species of fossil mosquitoes. So this fossil of a female mosquito from Montana, called USNM 559050, still gorged from its last meal, was a lucky find, the researchers said.

    “The preservation of fossil female mosquito USNM 559050 was an extremely improbable event,” the authors wrote. “The insect had to take a blood meal, be blown to the water’s surface, and sink to the bottom of a pond or similar lacrustine structure to be quickly embedded in fine anearobic sediment, all without disruption of its fragile distended blood filled abdomen.”

    October 15, 2013 at 6:26 pm |
  2. sybaris

    The Nazi's imprisoned the Jews.

    The Jews imprison the Palestinians

    What goes around comes around.


    October 15, 2013 at 6:25 pm |
    • Ed

      S c u m

      October 15, 2013 at 6:28 pm |
  3. RH

    There is far too much undeserved sympapthy for the Judaics. Even to this day their words, "His blood be on us and our children!" (Matthew 27:25) resonates in their self-serving actions through the ages up to today, yet the significance of this is disregarded. By their deeds and speech they prove that they retain the most abiding ethnocentrism of any religion. For example, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef ("highly-regarded" founder of of Israel's Sephardic Jews and leader of the extremist Israeli political party Shas) said, "Goyim were born only to serve us. Without that, they have no place in the world – only to serve the People of Israel." This article further shows how CNN perpetuates the roll of mainstream media in demonizing the passing of the "anti-semitic" individual, Erich Priebke, while, of course, exhalting the deeds and influence that the other had upon Israel.

    October 15, 2013 at 6:22 pm |
    • QS

      This sounds eerily similar to the people who say black people get far too much "undeserved sympathy" due to slavery.

      October 15, 2013 at 6:27 pm |
  4. Jill

    I'm not religious, but I don't think that people should disrespect the dead, no matter who they are. Just because he was inhumane in life, that does not permit us to act inhumanely as well. If it was his wish, or his family's wish, to have him buried by the church, let it be. Letting him have a proper burial won't change what he did, but it will preserve the decency of the people who respect that basic facet of humanity.

    October 15, 2013 at 6:16 pm |
    • Dyslexic doG

      if a person was evil in life, we should definitely deny its carcass any respect. throw this man's remains in the street and let the dogs have it.

      October 15, 2013 at 6:36 pm |
  5. Common sense

    The body is dead it is irrelevant where it winds up now. The man made a career out of treating people inhumanely based on their religions, their races, and their orientations.

    Let's just learn what we can from his stupidity and treat all others like people and perhaps considering abandoning the concept of tribalism.

    October 15, 2013 at 6:15 pm |
  6. steve-0

    I guess some believe Jesus was all about hate

    October 15, 2013 at 6:12 pm |
  7. Squeezebox

    Ever hear of the thief who stole Heaven? Jesus was crucified with 2 criminals described as thieves and murderers in the New Testament. One repented on his cross and one did not. The one who repented, even though he spent a lifetime of crime and violence, was forgiven and promised a place in Heaven. God forgives even if we won't. A Christian burial will do an unrepentant sinner no good and a repentant sinner really doesn't need it, but we are still commanded to forgive.

    October 15, 2013 at 6:11 pm |
  8. Styx

    It still befuddles me that people are so interested in this topic- most of the nazis are dead, and most holocaust victims are dead.

    100 years from now, will we see stories about how "the third cousin of rudolf hess' granddaughter died"?

    October 15, 2013 at 6:10 pm |
    • Observer

      Keep showing how indifferent you are to all the atrocities.

      Well done.

      October 15, 2013 at 6:13 pm |
    • jonneal156@comcast.net

      100 years might be short.... its not like Hitler was the first person to kill millions of people the Zionist are just whiny and don't let people forget it... many killers have come and gone and many more will come and go.. such is life.

      October 15, 2013 at 6:23 pm |
    • Ed

      Nope, this guy actually did it with his own hands.

      October 15, 2013 at 6:29 pm |
    • JJ

      Jews control a lot of the press are are very tenacious. Other victims of genocide do not have this power.

      October 15, 2013 at 6:32 pm |
  9. george

    Is he really an "ex" Nazi? If the Germans had won the war, would he have stopped being a Nazi? Rather I think he was but a Nazi in hiding. I doubt very highly he repented for his way or even changed on little bit. Regardless, if he was a Christian and believed in Jesus he deserved a Christian funeral just like any other. After all we are all sinners. And if there is an after life he will have to deal with the consequences of his life on Earth in that existence.

    October 15, 2013 at 6:02 pm |
  10. Friend of Brian H.

    Oops! Sorry! I mean UN-repentant.

    October 15, 2013 at 6:00 pm |
  11. Apple Bush

    You will try to take it away from me;
    You will change the way it feels and smells;

    You will change its size to confuse me;
    You will change its color.

    I will keep it.
    I will not be deceived or cheated.
    I will not lose my sense and be a victim.

    October 15, 2013 at 6:00 pm |
  12. Friend of Brian H.

    Why not bury him at sea? Or cremate him without any fanfare? Those are two ways to get rid of the body that no one wants to claim. Terrible man who espoused the Nazi "party line" even up to age 100 and died repentant. The world is a happier place without him.

    October 15, 2013 at 5:59 pm |
    • george

      Here in the US we would site religious freedom. As long as the church went along with it, it is the business of nobody else. Let him have his funeral. He is dead and not going to hurt anyone else.

      October 15, 2013 at 6:04 pm |
  13. What Goes Around

    That slime ball Abe Foxman should shut his pie hole.

    October 15, 2013 at 5:55 pm |
    • Ed


      October 15, 2013 at 6:32 pm |
    • Comes around...

      Nazi's get what they deserve.

      October 15, 2013 at 6:34 pm |
  14. romany

    i dont think its anyones business but the churches, if he believed in God then any crimes and abuse he committed will be between him and his God now he's dead, do we all want to be as petty and heartless as he is claimed to be by denying a corpse a burial place, i seriously doubt it changes anything he did in life as to where his dead body lies

    October 15, 2013 at 5:53 pm |
  15. Observer

    The Mormon Church baptized Adolf Hitler on December 10, 1993.

    At least many Christian groups are consistent.

    October 15, 2013 at 5:52 pm |
    • romany

      the mormon church believes everyone has the right to a second chance regardless of what crimes they commit in this life,

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

        Yes. Pathetic. These same hypocrites managed to collect MILLIONS of dollars to fight equal rights for gays.

        October 15, 2013 at 5:58 pm |
      • george

        So do all Christian sects. You can be forgiven of your sins.

        October 15, 2013 at 6:05 pm |
        • Observer

          Yes. A lifetime of horrendous feats can be totally meaningless, irrelevent, and unpunished. Horrible.

          October 15, 2013 at 6:08 pm |
        • Rett

          Observer, that is why it is called grace....unmerited favor.....i confess it is a troubling thought at times but also comforting.....when I enter heaven i will be just as undeserving as the guy in this story (if he makes it there)....

          October 15, 2013 at 7:22 pm |
    • Ed

      Hitler was already baptized a Catholic.

      October 15, 2013 at 6:30 pm |
  16. My Dog is a jealous Dog

    Boring – Boring – Boring

    I'm more interested in why WordPress and CNN can't fix the bug in the recent comment links. Give me a grand and I will fix it!

    October 15, 2013 at 5:51 pm |
  17. padraig_e

    If you are pro-choice or support marriage rights for all they will excommunicate you, but if you committed atrocities or you're a rapist, you are still a member in good standing.

    October 15, 2013 at 5:50 pm |
    • Valentina

      None of the statements in your post are true. They are all false.

      October 15, 2013 at 5:52 pm |
      • QS

        Not false per se as much as they are simply exaggerations of the reality.

        October 15, 2013 at 6:09 pm |
    • JJ

      Rape all the children you want to but don't dare veer from doctrine.

      October 15, 2013 at 6:35 pm |
  18. Lord Toronaga

    It's none of your business.

    October 15, 2013 at 5:46 pm |
  19. Christian

    He could have killed my grand father. Can I cut a piece of him?

    October 15, 2013 at 5:45 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      You want to cut the dead body of somebody who *might* have killed your grandfather? I suppose that is the christian thing to do, based on the violence in The Babble. . .

      October 15, 2013 at 5:49 pm |
      • Dyslexic doG

        it really is a psychotically nasty book.

        October 15, 2013 at 6:38 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.