Pope Francis publically denounced organized crime this Saturday after a trip to the Calabria region of Italy. This denunciation marks one of the strongest oppositions to mafia activity in recent years, similar to Pope John Paul II and his charge to mafia bosses to repent in 1993.
During his stay in Calabria, Pope Francis also visited the Castrovillari prison to meet with victims of mafia activity. Among these victims are the relatives of a 3-year-old boy named Nicola "Coco" Campolongo who was shot and killed in a mafia related shootout. The child's corpse was later found in a burned car. Pope Francis said, "It must never again happen that a child suffers in this way."
According to Reuters, Pope Francis described the 'Ndrangheta, the most influential crime organization in the Calabria region, as an "adoration of evil and contempt of the common good."
However, his strong comments may produce violent backlash and some worry for the safety of Pope Francis. Calabria is one of the poorest regions of Italy as well as the region where the mafia is most entrenched. Last year, the anti-mob prosecutor Nicola Gatteri said, "For many years, the mob has laundered money and made investments with the complicity of the church." He also notes that recent reforms by the papacy have made these criminal activities more difficult for mafia organizations. A denunciation like this could put Pope Francis in danger. According to USA Today, Pope Francis has received several mob threats from Calabria, undoubtedly connected to the fact that Pope Francis's denunciation has made the 'Ndrangheta "very nervous" as stated by Gratteri.
Pope Francis's public statement included the first use of "excommunicated" when referring to mafia organizations:
"Those who in their lives follow this path of evil, as mafiosi do, are not in communion with God. They are excommunicated."
Although Pope Francis mentions "excommunication" no legal decisions have been made regarding the Italian mafia. Vatican spokesman Ciro Benedetti said that Pope Francis's denunciation of the mafia is by no means a legal, formal decree. Pope Francis's speech was a message to the mafia that they had separated themselves from the Catholic Church.
Ironically, the mafia is also considered very religious. Mafia members often ask for the blessings of their local priests. In fact, the church has seemed to enjoy close relations with the mafia, occasionally pausing religious processions in front of 'Ndrangheta leaders' home in order to bless them.
However, there is no doubt that this denunciation by Pope Francis has significantly changed the relationship between the church and the mafia.
[Image via Vincenzo Pinto/AFP]