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. Dyslexic doG

    If I was powerful enough to have created the universe, I would not have sat and watched the Nazis torture and kill millions of people and done nothing about it. That's the difference between me and your god.

    October 15, 2013 at 10:15 pm |
    • JJ

      Well, you know, it's the "free will", "mysterious ways", yadda, yadda, etc. Christians are masters at making excuses for their god.

      October 15, 2013 at 10:32 pm |
    • JM

      You mean the one who was powerful enough to create the universe, bring you into existence, give you friends and family and create life after death?

      October 15, 2013 at 10:46 pm |
      • HotAirAce

        Allegedly powerful enough to allegedly . . .

        October 15, 2013 at 10:51 pm |
    • Fred

      Evil on the world is run by your friend Satan...not God. Unfortunately, until the next resurrection, evil rules the world.

      October 15, 2013 at 10:52 pm |
      • tallulah13

        So what you are saying is that your god is a pussy and won't stop satan from committing genocide. What a punk.

        October 15, 2013 at 11:05 pm |
  2. Dyslexic doG

    If I was powerful enough to have created the universe, I would not have designed children with deformities. That's the difference between me and your god.

    October 15, 2013 at 10:13 pm |
  3. Dyslexic doG

    If I was powerful enough to have created the universe, I would not have designed diseases that leave children dying in agony. That's the difference between me and your god.

    October 15, 2013 at 10:13 pm |
  4. Dyslexic doG

    If I was powerful enough to have created the universe, I would not let children starve. That's the difference between me and your god.

    October 15, 2013 at 10:11 pm |
    • Madtown

      Would you at least distribute your word to all of us, or just to the extra special ones like Topher?

      October 15, 2013 at 10:33 pm |
  5. atheist

    Nazis are CHRISTIANS! NOT ANTICHRIST. They should get a church funeral! duh! why the hell are people making a big fuzz about it???

    I for one WILL NEVER want a churc funeral cuz I'm an atheist! duh!

    October 15, 2013 at 10:11 pm |
    • Anonymous

      Being a christian is more than just saying you are a christian.

      October 15, 2013 at 10:22 pm |
      • JJ

        A Christian is one who professes that Jesus is the son of god and basically believes John 3:16. Adolph and his minions were and are Christians.

        October 15, 2013 at 10:29 pm |
  6. Dyslexic doG

    If I was powerful enough to have created the universe, I would not have allowed WWII to start. That's the difference between me and your god.

    October 15, 2013 at 10:10 pm |
    • bananas

      How? Be specific

      October 15, 2013 at 11:01 pm |
  7. Dyslexic doG

    If I was powerful enough to have created the universe, I would not have allowed the Nazis to kill millions of people in concentration camps. That's the difference between me and your god.

    October 15, 2013 at 10:09 pm |
    • Observer

      No one would run the world the same as God supposedly does if they were God.

      October 15, 2013 at 10:10 pm |
    • Jeff

      If I were God I would have created intelligent beings who have goodness in their souls and weren't capable of such evils.

      October 15, 2013 at 10:40 pm |
      • bananas

        Feel free to tell us how you would do that

        October 15, 2013 at 11:02 pm |
  8. william vlasic

    Please note that Archbishop Lefevre's father died in a Nazi concentration camp.

    October 15, 2013 at 10:03 pm |
  9. Observer


    "Agreed, you fail to see the truth in the message you fear."

    What are you refering to? Am I failing to see the "truth" in slavery? The "truth" in discriminations? The "truth" in beating helpless children?

    October 15, 2013 at 10:01 pm |
    • bananas

      Sam snake

      October 15, 2013 at 10:59 pm |
  10. shirley

    If God can forgive , why can't the church forgive. He will face his judgement for his crimes. He knows his sins and it is now between him and his maker.

    October 15, 2013 at 9:57 pm |
    • GodFreeNow

      uh, isn't it really up to the Jews to forgive? After all, I didn't see god or the pope in the death camps.

      October 15, 2013 at 10:00 pm |
    • emma

      To receive forgiveness, one needs to confess and repent one's sins. This man fervently believed he did nothing wrong and never repented or asked forgiveness, only leniency for his sentencing and the comfort of a Christian burial. This Catholic believes he deserved neither. And to bury him in Rome, the site of their worst massacre that this man ordered is a desecration and an insult not just to Jews but Romans.

      October 15, 2013 at 10:12 pm |
      • Jeff

        Romans? I think you mean Italians. There haven't been Romans for 1500 years.

        October 15, 2013 at 10:42 pm |
      • 123elle

        Curious, how would one know that one has been forgiven? Is it s feeling in one's gut? A sense of lightness or joy and a conviction that it has "worked"? ? Even if one has murdered many people, he or she can feel forgiven and that means it is true? Is that how it works?

        October 16, 2013 at 1:24 am |
  11. Sickdog

    "Convicted of holocaust denial"-

    How sick is that.

    hating the hater so much you convict them for their beliefs. Why not be the bigger man and turn a deaf ear? His comments were nothing more than drivel. It should have been treated as such.
    Unbelievable how much the courts today try so hard to take away basic rights like freedom of speech. And the message they impart? Oh yes, its ok to say anything you want- but only if its popular by mass media definitions.
    If they really wanted to show how much they are glad he is dead- they would let him expire and be buried without fanfare.

    October 15, 2013 at 9:56 pm |
    • Anonymous

      Free speech does not protect you from the consequences of what you say. Free speech allows someone to insult me, but it doesn't prevent me from punching them in the face for it.

      October 15, 2013 at 10:24 pm |
      • Jeff

        Nope, thats what the court system is for.

        October 15, 2013 at 10:43 pm |
      • bananas

        U got it sister. It may be god doing the punching, but rest assured, u reap what u sow. I'd hate to be Sam snake or dodo.

        October 15, 2013 at 10:57 pm |
    • bananas

      O! U mean like u Dorothy?

      October 15, 2013 at 10:55 pm |
  12. MD

    Well, I only attend the Latin Mass at the SSPX, but i do NOT agree with them giving an ex nazi butcher a Mass. He did not deserve it. But, hey, I'm only part of the laity, and not the Bishop.

    October 15, 2013 at 9:53 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      Well I guess that makes everything all right then. After all, you're just going along with those at the top. Wouldn't want to actually take any action that might make a difference.

      October 15, 2013 at 9:56 pm |
  13. Tom, Tom, the Other One

    When the discussion is about Nazis and their crimes the common trolls become holocaust deniers. They're just pleading for abuse as always.

    October 15, 2013 at 9:51 pm |
  14. Jay-hawk

    Israel better hurry up. This one was 100 years old. Their itch is going away and they will not have a cause to live.

    October 15, 2013 at 9:47 pm |
  15. Apple Bush

    Topher is the only Christian on the Belief Blog, and he worst blogger. Not a good combination.

    October 15, 2013 at 9:41 pm |
    • Apple Bush

      Topher thinks god doesn't WANT to torture his children for eternity, but gee, he just has to. bummer!

      October 15, 2013 at 9:51 pm |
      • HotAirAce

        The devil makes him do it . . .

        October 15, 2013 at 9:54 pm |
  16. SCDad

    ...and atheists shake their heads in wonder.

    October 15, 2013 at 9:37 pm |
  17. hubert39

    Think back... The Nazis/Germans were Christians. Read what Hitler said in his book. Ever seen the photos of Hitler and the Pope? Ever seen the photos of the Nazis/Germans celebrating Christmas. Don't know the correct wording but many German soilders had a Chriatain saying on their belt buckles. Remember why the Catholic Church did not recolized Israel until the 1960's. Remember the USA treated the Jews in the 1930's? Some time real history is not pretty.

    October 15, 2013 at 9:34 pm |
    • Will

      You may want to review your history books. Thousands of Catholic clergy died in concentration camps. The Vatican Information Service saved thousands of Jews (and others).

      October 15, 2013 at 10:20 pm |
      • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

        But not Lutheran clergy eh Will?

        There are more Christians besides Catholics.

        In any case, Hitler did use religious themes to get the good Catholics and Lutherans of the Third Reich to do his bidding.

        October 15, 2013 at 10:24 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      "Gott mit uns."

      It has a long history going back to the Holy Roman Empire and the Teutonic crusades.

      October 15, 2013 at 10:22 pm |
    • Anonymous

      Deranged men or women will kill for profit, for power or for entertainment whether there is religion or not. They will use whatever ideology or belief to justify it to themselves and to others. In the past, it has been religion, it has been nationalism, it has been communism, and many more things. It isn't unique to to religion.

      October 15, 2013 at 10:28 pm |
      • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

        True, it's just that religion is so often the preferred choice of deranged killers.

        Nationalism and communism are Johnny come latelies. The combination of religion and nationalism is a particularly dangerous mix.

        October 15, 2013 at 10:33 pm |
        • bananas

          Belief in no god, no matter your label, kills more people. People like snake stone kill all the time.

          October 15, 2013 at 10:52 pm |
  18. Observer


    Earlier you said "You don't have to support slavery. Discrimination of women? Where else are women considered equals? How are people not getting divorced a bad thing? Instead of fighting, they should reconcile. It's better for everyone that way. And where are children beaten in the Bible?"

    If I strongly disagree with God then I am sinning, right? I would always oppose slavery so that makes me a sinner. And I would never "repent" for thinking that way, but apparently you would if you oppose slavery.

    Women are certainly not equal in the Bible. They are even told not to teach or have authority over men.

    So you believe that if a man is physically and verbally abusive to a wife, she should have to put up with it so they could "reconcile" and "it's better for everyone", right? Same if he beats her kids, too, right? She must stay married even if the husband is sent to prison for life, right?

    People are told to beat children with rods for discipline. Read a Bible.

    You certainly don't think things through.

    October 15, 2013 at 9:32 pm |
  19. Steven

    And what about the atrocities that the Jewish Army has regularly waged against the Palestinians, which happened much more recently than did WWII. Is making innocent Palestinian children suffer any better than what the Jews themselves purport happened to them?

    October 15, 2013 at 9:31 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      For now there are limits to what the Israelis are willing to do. No one's hands are clean, but modern day Jews are not yet ready for systematic genocide. Don't imagine you are any better yourself.

      October 15, 2013 at 9:45 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      Arguably the violent acts of the Zionists during the British mandate are indistinguishable from any other act of terrorism against officialdom.

      The winners get to write history, so they are the 'heroes of Israel', just like the patriots in the 1770s.

      There is still a difference between what the modern Israelli army does or even what Hammas does and the Nazi holocaust – which if we remind ourselves, did not confine itself to Jews, but Roma, gays and the insane as well.

      October 15, 2013 at 10:19 pm |
      • Jeff

        Its even worse then that because Israel wants to maintain a jewish "character" but it is becoming multicultural. Does this sound familiar to anyone?

        October 15, 2013 at 10:50 pm |
    • tallulah13

      It's terrible that the bullied have become the bullies, but that does not alter the fact that genocide is wrong.

      October 15, 2013 at 11:07 pm |
  20. Ed

    Why does everybody have this hate for German Nazis. What about when the Jews killed Jesus? What about when the Roman Catholic church killed between 50 and 150 million people from 500-1800 A.D. just because they would not worship as the Roman Catholic Church said? The Nazis did less than the Jews and Catholics. Get over it.

    October 15, 2013 at 9:30 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      Really, "the Jews killed Jesus", that's what you're going with here.

      I hear the Society of St. Pius X is looking for members. Perhaps you'd fit right in?

      October 15, 2013 at 10:14 pm |
    • atheist

      u d man!

      October 15, 2013 at 10:14 pm |
    • SecrtSqurll

      The Nazis killed 55 million people in only 6 years. ^million of those were jews. The other 49 million were not. The Nazis killed everybody, and would not have stopped until their goals were met. Their ultimate goal of the 3rd reich is disturbing to most people. Obviously not to you. Heil.

      October 15, 2013 at 10:26 pm |
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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.