Pope Francis ex-communicates ‘evil’ mafia
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Pope Francis on Saturday issued the strongest attack on organised crime groups by a pontiff in 20 years, accusing them of practising “the adoration of evil” and saying mafiosi are excommunicated.
It was the first time a pope had used the word “ex-communication” - a total cut-off from the Church - in direct reference to members of organised crime.
“Those who in their lives follow this path of evil, as mafiosi do, are not in communion with God. They are ex-communicated,” he said in impromptu comments at a Mass before hundreds of thousands of people in one of Italy’s most crime-infested areas, Calabria.
To sustained applause, Pope Francis told the crowd, “This evil must be fought against, it must be pushed aside. We must say no to it.” He branded the local crime group, the ‘Ndrangheta, as an example of the “adoration of evil and contempt of the common good” and said the Church would exert its full force to combat organised crime.
“Our children are asking for it, our young people are asking for it. They are in need of hope, and faith can help respond to this need,” he said.
Vatican spokesman Father Ciro Benedettini said the pope’s stern words did not constitute a formal over-arching decree of canon (Church) law regarding ex-communication, which is a formal legal process.
Pope wants to "isolate mafiosi"
He said it was more of a direct message to mafiosi that they had effectively ex-communicated themselves, reminding them that they could not participate in Church sacraments or other activities because they had distanced themselves from God through their crimes.
Still, the use of the highly charged word by a pope was significant because many members of organised crime in Italy see themselves as part of a religious, cult-like group, take part in sacraments, go to church and some have links with complicit churchmen in the south of the country.
Benedettini said the pope was trying to “isolate mafiosi within their own communities”, sending a message that they should not in any way be looked up to as “men of honour”.
In 1993 Pope John Paul sternly warned members of Sicily’s Mafia that they would “one day face the justice of God”. The Mafia responded several months later with bomb attacks against several churches in Rome, including the Basilica of St. John’s, which is a pope’s church in his capacity of bishop of Rome.
Francis spoke in a homily at the end of day-long trip to the southern region of Calabria, home of the mafia-style ‘Ndrangheta, which plays a leading role in the global cocaine trade.
The ‘Ndrangheta has been much harder for investigators to combat than the Sicilian Mafia because its structure is more lateral than hierarchical and its tightly-knit crime families are less flashy than the Sicilian mob and harder to penetrate.
“Never again violence against children”
A 2013 study by Demoskopia, an economic and social research institute, estimated the ‘Ndrangheta’s annual turnover at €53 billion ($72 billion) in 30 countries, equivalent to about 3.5 percent of Italy’s total official economic output.
Francis made the trip in part to pay tribute to three-year-old Nicola “Coco” Campolongo, who was killed in the town along with his grandfather in an organised crime attack last January.
The charred body of the boy, who had been entrusted to the care of his grandfather, convicted drugs runner Giuseppe Iannicelli, after his parents were jailed on drugs charges, was found along with those of Iannicelli and a Moroccan woman in a burnt-out car in the town.
Francis, who last January strongly denounced the murder and asked the killers to repent, comforted the boy’s father and other relatives during a meeting a Vatican spokesman called highly emotional.
“Never again violence against children. May a child never again have to suffer like this. I pray for him continuously. Do not despair,” the spokesman quoted the pope as saying.
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)