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Amid protests, lawyer calls off funeral for Nazi Priebke

Police tried to prevent protesters from attacking the hearse carrying the body of Erich Priebke on Tuesday.
AFP/Getty Images
Police tried to prevent protesters from attacking the hearse carrying the body of Erich Priebke on Tuesday.

ALBANO LAZIALE, Italy — The funeral of Nazi war criminal Erich Priebke was called off at the last minute Tuesday by his lawyer after he said police prevented friends and relatives from attending amid a noisy protest against the planned memorial.

Shouting ‘‘murderer’’ and ‘‘executioner,’’ hundreds of people jeered as Priebke’s coffin arrived for the funeral Mass to be celebrated by a splinter Catholic group opposed to the Vatican’s outreach to Jews.

But Priebke’s lawyer, Paolo Giachini, said the funeral did not take place ‘‘because authorities did not allow people to enter who wanted to come in.’’ The casket remained inside.

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Since Priebke’s death on Friday at age 100, debate has raged over what to do with his remains. Pope Francis’ vicar for Rome refused him a funeral in a Catholic Church and Rome’s police chief backed him up, citing concerns for public order.

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Priebke participated in one of the worst massacres in German-occupied Italy during World War II, the slaughter of 335 civilians at the Ardeatine Caves outside Rome. Tensions have been high ever since he died and left behind an interview in which he denied Jews were gassed in the Holocaust.

No one appeared ready to handle his service, until, in a surreal twist, the schismatic Society of St. Pius X in the city of Albano Laziale south of Rome stepped forward to celebrate the funeral Mass. The society, known for the anti- Semitic views of some of its members, celebrates the pre-Vatican II old Latin Mass. Where he will be buried remains unresolved.

But as the hearse bringing the coffin arrived outside the society’s walled compound, people in the crowd slammed their fists and umbrellas on the car and shouted ‘‘We are all anti-fascist!’’ and ‘‘Priebke, murderer!’’

Giachini said friends and relatives wanted to enter, but police wouldn’t allow them in.

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‘‘Everything was ready. We were waiting for those who should have arrived to participate,’’ he said.

The society was formed in 1969, opposed to the modernizing reforms of the Second Vatican Council, particularly its outreach to Jews. It split from Rome after its leader consecrated bishops without papal consent. It currently has no legal standing in the Catholic Church.

Associated Press