In a targeted move, Pope Francis on Saturday took on one of Italy’s most dangerous organized crime groups, the dreaded Mafia. Stating that the Mafiosi and their actions were an example of “the adoration of evil,” Francis declared that any members of the crime syndicate were excommunicated from the church. The Pope was making his first trip to Calabria, the southern stronghold of the Italian Mafia, which has raised much concern for his safety.
Speaking at a mass during his visit, the Pope issued a strong message against the rising violence of the organized crime families in Italy and referred specifically to the ‘Ndrangheta crime group. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the ‘Ndrangheta is a dreaded Mafia group in Italy and is known for kidnapping, bombing and murdering those who oppose their activities. It has been stated that the ‘Ndrangheta clan has recently expanded their network to become a global drug trafficking syndicate. According to the research firm Demoskopika, the ‘Ndrangheta has an estimated annual turnover of $72 billion, which is roughly about 3.5% of the Italian economy.
Pope Francis, who has made global news for some of his unconventional moral positions and impromptu words, said that evil must be set aside and fought against. He said that those who were not in communion with God and had contempt for the common good would face the full force of the church’s efforts as they combated organized crime. The Pope has also called on Mafia members to change their lives and stop doing harm to others. Pope Francis also supports priests who deny funeral rites to known Mafia associates.
The harsh words of the Pope, otherwise known for his gentleness, came in the aftermath of the horrific revenge killing which made worldwide news, when the burnt remains of five-year-old Nicola Campolongo, his grandfather and another man were found in a torched vehicle in Cassano all’Ionio on Jan. 19. The violent action was allegedly over a drug-related turf dispute with the local ‘Ndrangheta clan.
Pope Francis’ stance against the Mafia can have dangerous repercussions, especially since Italian crime families profess deep faith in the Catholic Church. For instance, Palermo Pino Puglisi, a Palermo priest known for challenging the Mafia, was brutally assassinated in 1993. Many of the church faithful fear that Pope Francis’ take on the Mafia could lead to similar attempts on his life.
While the Mafia shows allegiance to the church to take advantage of the strong bond between the large portions of the Italian population and Catholicism, it has been reported that many church officials are under investigation for allowing the Mafiosi to infiltrate and control church matters.
Indeed, there has been much talk about the Pope’s recent efforts to reform Vatican finances and his insistence on transparency in all matters related to church money. It is being speculated that his edicts could be a threat to local Mafia interests. In a recent interview with the Spanish newspaper La Vanguardia, he set aside all worries about his safety and said that, while it was true that he could be attacked, he did not have much to lose at his age.
Known for his dislike for high-level security and his propensity for contact with the public, Pope Francis’s take on the Italian Mafia has made him a sitting target. Yet, it is unlikely the Pope will change his stance against the Mafia by accepting measures for heightened security in the near future.
By Monalisa Gangopadhyay