Rome’s Catholic archdiocese called the Nazi flag “a horrendous symbol that cannot be reconciled with Christianity” and said the episode was an offensive example of “ideological exploitation” of a religious service.
Friends and followers of Alessia Augello, who was a member of the right-wing extremist group Forza Nuova, bid farewell to her at a requiem mass held in a church in central Rome on Monday.
The 44-year-old died on January 7 from thrombosis, according to the site FascinAzione.info.
A video posted online showed people dressed in black paying their respects to the dead woman as her body lay in a closed casket covered in a Nazi flag at the steps of the church.
Dozens of people were captured giving the Nazi salute outside the church, in the parish of Saint Lucy.
In a statement, the Catholic archdiocese of Rome said that parish priests including the one who conducted the funeral mass were not aware of what would happen to the coffin after the ceremony had concluded.
Don Alessandro and Don Paolo Emilio, who officiated the funeral, confirmed that they had not been told about the plans to give the woman such a distasteful send-off.
“Unfortunately what happened outside the church at the end of the celebration took place without any authorisation on the part of the parish priest or the celebrant priest, both of whom were unaware of what was about to happen,” the priests said.
“We wish to express our deep sadness and disappointment for what has occurred”, the clerics stated, “by distancing ourselves from every word, gesture and symbol used outside the church, attributable to extremist ideologies far from the message of the Gospel of Christ.”
Rome's Jewish community released a statement expressing anger over the actions of some of the mourners.
In a statement, they said it was exasperating that such events could still happen, more than seven decades after six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust 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.
The Jewish community said the funeral incident was “even more outrageous because it took place in front of a church.”
Police said they were investigating the incident as a possible hate crime.
A similar incident took place outside another Rome church in March 2021.
After a raid on the Italian capital’s Jewish neighbourhood on October 16, 1943, more than 1,000 Roman Jews were deported.
The majority of them were transported to the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland. Only 16 returned.
Last year Pope Francis moved to calm concerns among Jews after he made comments suggesting the Torah, the Jewish holy book, “does not give life".