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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. shirley

    But I would think he would be cremated and his ashes spread over the ocean. And a short prayer said. No matter who he is , he deserves as much.

    October 16, 2013 at 1:02 am |
    • Observer

      Why?

      October 16, 2013 at 1:03 am |
      • shirley

        I guess because their is so much hate in regards to his burial. This way all will be ok with how the service is carried out. . Weather you are for or against.

        October 16, 2013 at 1:14 am |
        • Observer

          He was found guilty of being responsible for organizing the executions of 335 men and boys.

          How many men and boys could he have executed before he wouldn't have "deserved as much"?

          October 16, 2013 at 1:27 am |
        • Meteorologist

          Sometimes the weather is for us, and other times it's against us.

          October 16, 2013 at 2:14 am |
      • Johnny L

        The majority of the crew for the Liberty think the official Government story is highly inaccurate. I would suggest a critical study for the event and then let me know what is your opinion

        October 16, 2013 at 1:30 am |
        • Observer

          Not one of the crew on the Liberty knew for sure what was going on in the Israeli side.

          Israel apologized and has paid out millions to us. If you want to pretend this indicates an act of war towards us, you are free to believe so.

          October 16, 2013 at 1:45 am |
  2. rickp530

    I can understand how they feel. Would you want a mass murder buried beside your loved one? But he does deserve last rights, no matter what he did in life.

    October 16, 2013 at 12:34 am |
  3. Robert

    Why all this hoopla? He's dead,he doesn't care.

    October 16, 2013 at 12:23 am |
  4. Bill

    Aren't mercy and forgiveness the stock-in-trade of Christians? Look, if you can't forgive what this man did 70 years ago during war time, that's your right. If this church can, and does, that doesn't mean that you or I have to, and it's not really our business. These are the last Nazi to die off. Time to let it go.

    October 16, 2013 at 12:19 am |
    • Bill Marvel

      "Aren't mercy and forgiveness the stock-in-trade of Christians?"
      Yes, Bill, but there are two problems here.
      Priebke reportedly never repented or expressed sorrow for what he did, and remained an unreconstructed antisemite until the end..The breakaway group that has agreed to conduct his funeral share his own views. If he went to his grave still hating it's hard to imagine what form mercy and forgiveness might take..
      At this point, mercy and forgiveness are not up to us..

      October 16, 2013 at 1:30 am |
  5. Colin

    Has anybody here ever been to a Catholic mass? It’s weird. At one point, they truly believe that grocery store bread and wine is changed into flesh and blood because the priest says some words over it. And, I don’t mean symbolic – they actually think it changes. This is what the grown adults there believe, too – it’s not just a story for their little ones!!

    Wow, just wow.

    October 16, 2013 at 12:14 am |
    • Sara

      I agree it's weird, but not quite as weird as that makes it sound. They don't actually think the chemical composition has changed, but the underlying reality...sort of similar to its Platonic form, though that's not the language used.

      October 16, 2013 at 12:21 am |
    • Leave

      just don't partake.

      October 16, 2013 at 12:21 am |
    • shirley

      Where do you get your information from. The bread represents the body of Christ. The wine the blood. of Christ. We are not so naïve As the bread is and wine is actually Christ. Gawd some people , you can dress them up but you can't take them any place. Get a grip hey.

      October 16, 2013 at 12:21 am |
      • I wonder

        Shirley,
        "We are not so naïve..."

        Who is we?

        October 16, 2013 at 12:28 am |
        • shirley

          we IS THE CHURCH .

          October 16, 2013 at 12:35 am |
      • Sara

        I take it you aren't a Catholic? Transubstantiation is about actual chnge, not representation.

        October 16, 2013 at 12:28 am |
        • shirley

          Such a big word for a non believer. There is always someone to throw wrench in the mix. I refuse to have my believes made light of just because you can.

          October 16, 2013 at 12:38 am |
        • Sara

          yeah..nevermind

          October 16, 2013 at 12:41 am |
      • Observer

        The Bible has several references to cannibalism.

        October 16, 2013 at 12:30 am |
      • wombat

        No – the Catholic doctrine of transmogrification persists to this day. It is absolutely true that Catholic doctrine insists that the bread and wine actually change (transmogrify) into the flesh and blood. Not a representation, not a metaphor – ACTUAL flesh and blood.

        October 16, 2013 at 12:35 am |
        • Florist

          So what? What the he ll do you care? Get a life.

          October 16, 2013 at 1:31 am |
  6. Freeman Lowell

    reconciling with God ("I'm Sorry") and with the Church ($$$$$)

    October 16, 2013 at 12:00 am |
  7. john

    Kind of tired of hearing about all this fake controversy between so called Catholics and Jews. 99.999% of Catholics think that Naziism was evil. Yes, a minority of German Catholics supported Hitler, but Hitler was also defeated by millions of Catholics who fought for the Allies. 40% of the US military were Roman Catholics in world war two even though they formed just 25% of the US population. Half of the Canadian military was Roman Catholic, and ofcourse most people in the French, Polish and half of the people in the Dutch resistance were Roman Catholics. Yes Roman Catholicism was very anti-jewish for hundreds of years, but so was Protestantism and Islam. Are Catholics anti jewish today? No they are not. I have never ever heard a Catholic sermon against Jews EVER! Maybe that happened generations ago but not in 2013.

    October 15, 2013 at 11:59 pm |
  8. guest

    I’m not going to read what others may have said, I’m only going to offer an opinion/suggestion.
    I think whenever a person dies while imprisoned and there is none to claim the body the prison should be responsible for the disposal of the remains in any manner that seems fit.

    October 15, 2013 at 11:53 pm |
    • shirley

      But if you read the article he was at his lawyers home. He did not die in prison , Is his lawyer expected to bury him to.

      October 16, 2013 at 12:57 am |
  9. greydog

    If we can give the piece of sh** terrorist last muslim rites before dumping his body into the ocean, then this guy can have a church funeral. The Jews need to get over it all . . .

    October 15, 2013 at 11:53 pm |
  10. Joseph Smith

    It was the Reich thing to do.

    October 15, 2013 at 11:43 pm |
    • august

      you have a great sense of wit. We should all look at us in such a light. We take ourselves and our Dogman way to seriously.

      October 15, 2013 at 11:59 pm |
  11. Ron

    If Piers Morgan can have a socialist communist opinion piece on CNN then a Nazi corpse can have a Catholic funeral.

    October 15, 2013 at 11:40 pm |
    • Observer

      It's always amusing to hear a "rightwinger" put everyone in a box and label people as communists or socialists without any clue what they are talking about.

      October 15, 2013 at 11:53 pm |
      • Repl

        non observer
        It's always amusing to hear "left-wing pinko commies" put everyone in a box and label people as rightwingers without any clue what they are talking about.

        Observer

        October 16, 2013 at 12:28 am |
        • Observer

          non-observant Repl,

          Guess you missed the quotation marks. Reading comprehension a problem?

          October 16, 2013 at 12:34 am |
  12. CommonSensed

    You can't make this stuff up. Too funny.

    October 15, 2013 at 11:33 pm |
  13. sim namore

    Does this mean he WON'T be speaking at the 2016 RNC?

    October 15, 2013 at 11:29 pm |
    • Matt

      Too bad, he would have been perfect for the keynote.

      October 15, 2013 at 11:52 pm |
  14. Josh

    In case some of you have forgotten, before Paul was named Paul by Christ, his name was Saul and he made his living persecuting Jews wherever he could find them. He was forgiven by God and went on to write most of what we today know as the New Testament.

    October 15, 2013 at 11:29 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      Allegedly named Paul by some alleged desert dwelling dude named jesus. Allegedly wrote The Babble.

      October 15, 2013 at 11:32 pm |
    • MPawesome-o

      you mean, fan fiction.

      October 15, 2013 at 11:33 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Yep. A guy named Saul of Tarsus fell off his horse and met a dead guy (no, really!). So inspired was Saul, he changed his name and created his own religion. He named it after Christ, because Christ had street cred, but most of the rules belong to Saul. And the funny thing is that people still fall for that old con. Astonishing but true!

      October 15, 2013 at 11:36 pm |
    • Reality # 2

      Paul picked up the money scent on the road to Damascus. He added some letters and a prophecy of the imminent second coming for a fee for salvation and "Gentilized" the good word to the "big buck" world. i.e. Paul was the first media evangelist con artist!!!

      October 15, 2013 at 11:45 pm |
    • Matt

      Actually the Bible never says he was named Paul by Christ. It just says "Saul, who is also called Paul" at one point, and then continues calling him Paul.

      October 15, 2013 at 11:54 pm |
    • 123elle

      Paul/Saul was a Jew.

      October 16, 2013 at 1:16 am |
  15. Jlove

    F this guy. Worms and buzzards gotta eat!

    October 15, 2013 at 11:26 pm |
  16. But Catholic Chaplains refuse to officiate at gay soldiers' funerals

    And they wonder why people HATE them so much?

    October 15, 2013 at 11:05 pm |
  17. drako

    mother of odin 99% of everyone that has posted on this are not only wrong in most cases on what there posting but if fact pulling there info out of crap that is there own minds " 1" part hitler was in fact semi christian "BUT: most of the SS under HEINRICH HIMMLER REICHSFUHRER SS was extremely anti CHRISTIAN he viewed the SS as a way to bring back the germanic pagan side of germans, "2'" i see alot of about the SS that frankly isnt true what so ever the Waffen SS was infact made up of personal from just about every country in europe also there was a small group of indians in german service aswell next the biggest mess up people dont get is you cant rope them all into the same group there is no SS but many different groups with the same pay book also many joined the ss simply to survive being in the military at that time was food and pay for you and your family and the ss got more of everything so it was in many cases men joined for better prospects for there family to survive the war, i do not support what the nazis did but all this at best low high school knowledge of WW2 in europe is just horrible ive spent 25 years studying the war in europe and 15 years spent most on the german military ingeneral people get a damn clue and look this stuff up hell talk to the people that were freaking there for a start, there still around you know

    October 15, 2013 at 11:02 pm |
    • Colin

      I suspect this is one of the more accurate comments on this article.

      October 15, 2013 at 11:22 pm |
  18. MashaSobaka

    The Catholic Church refused to intervene in the Holocaust while it was actually happening. Had a 'platform of non-involvement' and everything. Catholics all over France and Poland happily handed over their Jewish neighbors to Nazis. (Jews are Christ-killers, haven't you heard?) It was by appealing to the staunchly antisemitic religious conservatives in Catholic lands that the Nazis were able to so easily carry out their mass arrests (and murder) of European Jews (not to mention other groups who weren't in the Church's good graces, millions of whom were also murdered during the Holocaust). Then, on top of all of this, one of the central messages of Christianity is that everyone can be saved as long as they have accepted Christ and asked God's forgiveness. Even mass-murdering, mass-raping, extremist Nazi bigots.

    So my question is: how could anyone be surprised by this story?

    October 15, 2013 at 10:51 pm |
    • A Christian

      MashaSobaka, the catholic church was always against the nazi's and the nazi's were against all of christianity. It was a political war where neither side could openly declare war. For the nazi's, it was because most germans were still catholic and the church... Well, you know what those nazi's would do to them.

      Nazi's rounded up most of the middle to low ranking clergy and imprisoned them. Only 0.5% were brown Catholics, Catholics that supported nazism. One of the many nazi's criticism of the catholic church was there social welfare program helped the "racially unfit." And Alfred Rosenberg who, like you, is an anti-catholic and wanted to replace Christianity with german neo-paganism.

      The catholic church helped german resistence and the allied forces. Cardinal Michael von Faulhaber was against nazism from the beginning. The "evil" church also, denounced nazi racism, hide jews, and lobbied against the holocaust.

      And Pope John Paul II was a pole, most of his friends growing up were jews before the nazi's came.

      I, for one, am I proud Catholic and would appreciate it if you did some research on the subject and not just tell lies you believe are true!

      October 15, 2013 at 11:28 pm |
    • huh

      ...And?? What's your point???
      Where were the jews when turks were slaughtering thousands of armenians and greeks?
      ...in other words orthodox christians?
      Nowhere, that's where. When have the jews ever helped anyone else but themselves??

      October 15, 2013 at 11:39 pm |
      • A Christian

        "When have the jews ever helped anyone else but themselves??" You kind of sound like nazi.

        Either way, my point was the Catholic Church was against nazism. And the jew the lived in the armenian and greek settlements were probably slaughtered with them.

        October 15, 2013 at 11:46 pm |
      • Reality # 2

        Considering the time period, I doubt many Jews knew what the Turks were up to. Even if they did, what were they supposed to do about it considering the size of the Turkish military.

        October 15, 2013 at 11:50 pm |
      • Reply t

        true. no good jewish doctors, scientists, professors, teachers, warriors in the u.s. military

        October 16, 2013 at 12:32 am |
        • A Christian

          I hope you're being sarcastic.

          October 16, 2013 at 1:04 am |
  19. Circus Circus

    So what is the news here?

    October 15, 2013 at 10:24 pm |
    • Apple Bush

      The usual, Topher is pretending like he is married again.

      October 15, 2013 at 10:48 pm |
      • tallulah13

        Aw, that's so cute.

        October 15, 2013 at 11:08 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.