Erich Priebke (Screen grab via)
On October 11, Nazi war criminal Erich Priebke died. He was 100 years old and had been under a very lax state of house arrest at his lawyer’s apartment in Rome, serving out the final days of the life sentence he was given for orchestrating and conducting the Fosse Ardeatine massacre on March 24, 1944.
The ex-SS captain never expressed any kind of remorse for the 335 civilians and soldiers who were killed that day, always maintaining that he’d simply been following orders. Even in his “testament”—a seven-page message released by his lawyer last week—Priebke denied both the Holocaust and the Nazi gas chambers, claiming they were just “very big kitchens.”
While remarks like these have turned him into a kind of spirit animal for fascism fetishists and Nazi nostalgists, unsurprisingly Priebke remains widely despised. Argentina, where he lived for 50 years after the war, wouldn’t allow Priebke’s body to be returned to the country to be buried alongside his wife, and his German hometown of Hennigsdorf also shunned his corpse, fearing his grave would become a pilgrimage site for neo-Nazis.
A few hours after Priebke’s death, his lawyer had declared that the funeral would take place in Rome. However, shortly after he made the announcement, both civil and religious authorities rejected any sort of ceremonial funeral for Priebke, with the Italian capital’s mayor declaring that “Rome is an anti-fascist city.”
In fact, after his death, nobody expressed any interest in dealing with Priebke’s corpse for an entire five days. Until last Tuesday, when the controversial Lefebvrian community announced that the funeral would take place in their Saint Pius X Institute in Albano Laziale, which is near Rome and around 15 miles from the site of the Ardeatine massacre that Priebke helped perpetrate. The Lefebvrians are officially known as the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX), and are an international traditionalist Catholic organization that has been accused of holding racist and anti-semitic views in the past.
The local mayor was understandably opposed to the plans, but that didn’t seem to bother the man in charge of proceedings. Lefebvrian Father Floriano Abrahamowicz has said, “Priebke wasn’t a Nazi and he didn’t have any national-socialist beliefs, either,” and also held a commemorative mass for the ex-SS captain last Saturday in Treviso, northern Italy.
Protesters at Priebke’s attempted funeral in Albano
When Priebke’s coffin arrived at the Lefebvrian Institute on Tuesday (followed by a convoy of far-right militants), the assembled anti-fascist protesters who’d been waiting outside the institute started chanting and kicking the hearse. Clashes soon broke out between Priebke’s supporters and the protesters, prompting riot police to clear the area with tear gas. The coffin was seized by the authorities and the funeral suspended.
So who exactly are these Nazi-sympathizing, Holocaust-denying clergymen currently drawing the ire of everyone in Rome who isn’t in favor of reinstating eugenics?
The Society of Saint Pius X was founded in Freiburg, Germany in 1970 by the French archbishop Marcel Lefebvre because he wasn’t happy with the Second Vatican Council, a group of Catholic clergy addressing relations between the Church and the modern world. He claimed to be the defender of the real Church—a pure Church that didn’t submit to poncey new ideas about allowing congregations to celebrate mass using their own languages instead of Latin.
In 1988, against the prohibition of Pope John Paul II, Lefebvre consecrated four bishops to continue his work at the SSPX, before the Holy See excommunicated all five of them almost immediately for going against the Pope’s wishes. Lefebvre died three years later, but the SSPX has continued doing his work. According to their own stats, they’re still active in 33 different countries.
Last year I had a phone conversation with Father Tam, a Lefebvrian priest who was banned from the Church, entered the Italian far-right party Forza Nuova, and is no longer allowed to preach. Father Tam can be seen in Predappio—where Benito Mussolini was born—every year, marching a massive wooden cross to his grave to celebrate his birth and escalation to power. When I spoke to him, I was told that fascist values were “the real values” and that he believed in them and still does, whether people like it or not.
Marcel Lefebvre (Photo via)
I was told that the Lefebvrians take care of those to whom nobody listens, especially if those people happen to preach “traditional” (i.e. fascist) values. According to the Catholic sect, there are a few inarguable rules concerning Catholocism: inter-religious dialogue is bad, other religions don’t have the right to exist and the biggest crime that the Church is accountable for is ending the Crusades against the heretics.
The Anti-Defamation League, a US-based group fighting anti-semitism, considers the SSPX an anti-semite organization. And it’s hard to argue with them, as the Lefebvrians have very clear ideas when it comes to Judaism: to them, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion are unequivocally true and accusations of Jewish blood rituals are totally credible.
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