Catholic and Jewish leaders in Rome have condemned an “offensive and unacceptable” funeral procession in which the coffin was draped in a Nazi flag and mourners gave the fascist salute outside a church.
Photos and video of of the Monday funeral service published online showed about two dozen people gathered outside the church as the swastika-draped coffin emerged, shouting “presente!” with their right arms extended.
In a statement on Tuesday, the vicariate of Rome strongly condemned the scene and stressed that neither the parish priest nor the priest who celebrated the funeral, had known what was going to transpire outside after the funeral mass ended.
It called the swastika-emblazoned Nazi flag “a horrendous symbol irreconcilable with Christianity”.
“This ideological and violent exploitation, especially following an act of worship near a sacred place, remains serious, offensive and unacceptable for the church community of Rome and for all people of good will in our city,” it said.
The statement quoted the parish priest, the Rev Alessandro Zenobbi, as distancing himself and the church from “every word, gesture and symbol used outside the church, which are attributed to extremist ideologies far from the message of the gospel of Christ”.
Italian news reports identified the deceased as a 44-year-old former militant of the extreme rightwing group Forza Nuova, who died over the weekend from a blood clot.
Pope Francis is technically the bishop of Rome but delegates the day-to-day management of the diocese to his vicar, Cardinal Angelo De Donatis.
Rome’s Jewish community expressed outrage that such events could still happen more than 70 decades after the end of the second world war and the fall of Italy’s fascist dictatorship.
“It is unacceptable that a flag with a swastika can still be shown in public in this day and age, especially in a city that saw the deportation of its Jews by the Nazis and their fascist collaborators,” the statement said.
After a raid on Rome’s Jewish neighbourhood on 16 October 1943, more than 1,000 of the Italian capital’s Jews were deported, most to the Auschwitz death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland. Only 16 returned.
The Jewish community statement on Tuesday said the funeral incident was “even more outrageous because it took place in front of a church”.
A similar incident took place outside another Rome church in March last year.