ROME 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. Now comes the question of where to bury him, since 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.in the Rome home of his lawyer, Paolo Giachini, where he had been serving his life term under house arrest.
Rome's archdiocese made it official Monday, saying 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.
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 stunning rebuke by both church and state that was greatly 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.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center also hailed the solidarity shown by both civil and religious leaders to deny Priebke a funeral.
During his trial, Priebke admitted shooting two people and rounding up victims in retaliation for an attack by resistance fighters that killed 33 members of a Nazi military police unit. He insisted he was only following orders.
In a telephone interview, Giachini said he never intended to make a political or public event out of the funeral, but said that as a practicing Catholic, Priebke deserved a Catholic funeral and burial.
"It's a question of a right to religious liberty," he said.
But not even Priebke's adopted homeland of Argentina, where he lived as a fugitive in the mountain resort of Bariloche, would take him: Foreign Minister Hector Timerman said his remains wouldn't be allowed in Argentine territory.
Giachini suggested Priebke might be buried in his native land, noting that he "really loved Germany."
In Berlin, Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Schaefer said a German citizen could be buried in Germany but that no request had been made about Priebke.
Priebke was born in Hennigsdorf, a small town north of Berlin. The town administration pointed Monday to local rules that give only residents a right to burial in its cemetery, German news agency dpa reported. Exceptions are possible in cases where people have family graves there, but the Priebke family doesn't have any.