Catholic, Jewish leaders condemn Nazi flag on coffin at Italian church funeral

ROME — Italian Catholic and Jewish leaders condemned as outrageous an episode in which right-wing extremists fastened a flag bearing a swastika to a coffin outside a church and gave Hitler salutes after a religious funeral.

Rome’s Catholic Archdiocese said in a statement on Tuesday that priests at the parish of St. Lucia in a central Rome neighborhood, including the priest who led the funeral rite, had no idea what was going to happen outside the church on Monday.

Images online showed the flag-draped coffin of Alessia Augello, a former member of far-right group Forza Nuova.

The diocese’s statement called the flag “a terrible symbol that cannot be reconciled with Christianity” and said the episode was an offensive example of “ideological exploitation” of a church service.

Police said they were investigating the incident as a possible hate crime.

Rome’s Jewish community expressed outrage that such events could take place more than seven decades after the end of World War II and the fall of Italy’s fascist dictatorship.

“It is unacceptable that a flag with a swastika can still be displayed in public today, especially in a city that has seen the deportation of its Jews by the Nazis and their fascist collaborators,” the statement said.

After a raid on Rome’s Jewish Quarter on October 16, 1943, more than 1,000 of the capital’s Jews were deported, most to the Auschwitz death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland. Only 16 returned.

Tuesday’s statement from the Jewish community said the incident at the funeral was “even more outrageous because it took place in front of a church.”

A similar incident happened outside another church in Rome in March last year.

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