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Rome church and state refuse funeral for Nazi

Neither Rome, Erich Piebke's adopted homeland of Argentina, nor his hometown in Germany will bury him.

Last Modified: 14 Oct 2013 15:46
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Piebke, a former SS captain, spent nearly 50 years on the run [AFP]

Rome's mayor, police chief and the pope's right-hand man have all refused to grant Nazi war criminal Erich Priebke a church funeral in the city where he participated in one of the worst massacres in German-occupied Italy.

As his body lies in a Rome hospital morgue, debate rages over what to do  with the mortal remains of a man who never expressed any regret, insisting to  the end that he was just following orders.

Neither Rome, nor his adopted homeland of Argentina, nor his hometown in Germany wants him.

The former SS captain spent nearly 50 years on the run before being extradited to Italy from Argentina in 1995 to stand trial for the 1944 massacre at the Ardeatine Caves outside Rome, in which 335 civilians were killed.

He died on Friday at the age of 100 in the Rome home of his lawyer, Paolo Giachini, where he had been serving his life term under house arrest.

Rome's archdiocese on Monday said it had told Giachini to have the funeral at home "in strict privacy'' and that Pope Francis' vicar for Rome, Cardinal Agostino Vallini, had prohibited any Rome church from celebrating it.

But Giachini refused, pressing instead for a private church Mass. The archdiocese responded by reminding all Roman priests that they must abide by Vallini's decision.

'An intolerable affront'

Separately, Rome's police chief and the government prefect for the capital announced they would prohibit "any form of solemn or public celebration'' for Priebke. Rome Mayor Ignazio Marino said the city would accept neither a church funeral nor a burial for him.

It was a surprising rebuke by both church and state that was appreciated by Rome's Jewish community, which has long resented having Priebke living in its midst, particularly after he was granted small freedoms from his house arrest like going to church.

"Any demonstration of honor - civil or religious -' would be an intolerable affront to the memory of those who fell in the fight for freedom of Nazism and fascism,'' said the head of Italy's Jewish communities, Renzo Gattegna. 

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