Nazi's lawyer calls off funeral
ALBANO LAZIALE, Italy — The bitterly protested funeral of Nazi war criminal Erich Priebke was called off hours after it was to begin Tuesday by his lawyer, who said police prevented friends and family members from attending amid a noisy protest against the planned religious ceremony.
Hundreds of people — shouting “Murderer!” and “Executioner!” — 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. Protesters even heckled a priest arriving at the gates, yelling ‘‘Shame!” One woman fainted.
Priebke's lawyer, Paolo Giachini, said the funeral didn't take place ‘‘because authorities did not allow people to enter who wanted to come in. Everything was ready. We were waiting for those who should have arrived to participate.”
Participants were to include Priebke's son Ingo; other lawyers in Giachini's firm; and some younger, right-wing sympathizers, Giachini said.
“They were there for a religious ceremony. They didn't have banners or other political manifestations,” he said.
The casket remained inside. Giachini said he doesn't know what will happen next. He said he is turning over responsibility for future decisions to the family and expressed disappointment at the ‘‘indignities” that prevented the ceremony.
Since Priebke's death on Friday, debate has raged over what to do with his remains of the 100-year-old. 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.
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 Priebke's 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 is known for anti-Semitic views of some of its members.
., celebrates the pre-Vatican II old Latin Mass. Where Priebke will be buried remains unresolved.
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.
As Giachini spoke by telephone from within the splinter group's complex late Tuesday evening, Italian television broadcast images of scuffles between demonstrators protesting the funeral and right-wing extremists who were among those denied entry.
‘‘They are trying to enter because they want to take the casket,” Giachini said. ‘‘I don't know ... they want to damage it, as they did to Mussolini. They want to enter by force and tear everything apart.”