(JTA) — A funeral procession outside a local church in Rome featured a casket wrapped in a Nazi swastika flag, sparking outrage in the Italian capital.
The Roman Catholic Church strongly condemned the incident on Tuesday. In a statement, the Vicariate of Rome described the incident as “serious, offensive, and unacceptable.”
The Italian news site Open was the first to release photos and videos of the scene from the St. Lucia church in the Prati district. A group of about two dozen individuals can be seen lining up on both sides of the churchyard to greet the swastika-draped casket of Alessia “Tungsy” Augello, 44, a member of the far-right New Force Italian political party. Augello died in a hospital on Jan. 7 due to thrombosis complications.
After the mass, Augello’s casket was hailed as it emerged from the cathedral with shouts and Nazi-style salutes.
In a statement, a Roman Jewish community organization said the incident was “even more outrageous because it took place in front of a church,” according to Reuters.
“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 continued.
The reverend and priest of the parish, Alessandro Zenobbi and Paolo Emilio, who officiated at the funeral, said they were unaware of the swastika flag.
“Unfortunately, what happened outside the church at the end of the celebration occurred without any authorization on the part of the parish priest or the celebrant priest, both of whom were unaware of what was about to occur,” they wrote in a joint statement on the church’s official Facebook page.
“The diocese of Rome, in its various ecclesial components, has been working with determination for some time to form, educate, and therefore deactivate every mechanism of hatred, opposition, violent ideological, and discriminatory temptation.”
The ultra-conservative and anti-immigrant New Force party purports to be nonviolent, but some of its supporters have committed violent acts, including at protests against COVID-19 public health measures.
Police are investigating the incident as a possible hate crime, Reuters reported.