Pope Denounces Mafia Members, Says They’re ‘Not Christians’

During a brief visit to Calabria in southern Italy on Sunday, the pope again publicly denounced mafia members, saying that they are not members of the Christian faith. It was the second time in less than one year that the pope has denounced the mafia, saying in a public speech on Sunday that if you are involved in organized crime, you are not a Christian.

In his Sunday mass speech at the Cassano all’Jonio diocese in Italy, the pope said that nobody can “call themselves Christians and violate the dignity of the person; those who belong to the Christian community cannot program or carry out acts of violence against others and against the environment.”

The pope also denounced surface acts of religious piety while continuing to commit crimes and murder, describing them as meaningless behaviors that have no bearing on the reality of such a person’s heart.

The speech was made in the Italian town of Calabria, which is widely known as a stronghold of the Italian mafia. The pope has been to the area before and denounced organized crime just as strongly as he did on Sunday.

Last year, he was in the same town and actually excommunicated Mafiosi, describing them as an example of “the adoration of evil.” He went as far as to explicitly name the ‘Ndrangheta crime group during public mass. In his speech last year, he simply told followers to oppose the mafia.

“This evil must be fought against, it must be pushed aside,” the Pope said of the mafia. “We must say no to it.”

The last time a pope so directly targeted the mafia was more than 20 years ago, in 1993, when the late Pope John Paul chastised the Sicilian mafia during a public speech.

Though last year’s excommunication of the southern Italian Mafiosi was part of an impromptu speech, Sunday’s comments were made before thousands of followers who came to thank the pope for taking such a strong public stand against organized crime last year. He was only in the region for one day, but said again that the ranks of the notorious local ‘Ndrangheta mafia are filled with people who need to seek redemption.

“[T]he Church welcomes you if your willingness to serve the good is as clear and public as was your choice to serve evil,” the pope told the crowd as he again denounced the mafia at the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall.

[Image via Franco Origlia/Getty Images]