Last Saturday, Pope Francis visited Calabria, an area in southern Italy with a significant organized crime presence, where he excommunicated the mafia.
During the homily of his mass, the Pope specifically rebuked Calabria’s local crime syndicate, `Ndrangheta for its “adoration of evil and contempt for the common good.” Speaking to an audience of roughly 200,000 he condemned organized crime claiming, “Those who go down the evil path, as the Mafiosi do, are not in communion with God. They are excommunicated.”
This is the first time a Pope has gone so far and excommunicated the mafia and not just rebuked them. For the Catholic Church, excommunication is one of the most severe punishments in which an offender is considered banned from the Church and cannot participate in the sacraments.
Included in the Pope’s visit to Calabria was a stop with the family of a 3-year-old boy who was an innocent victim gunned down by a ‘Ndrangheta shooting in January. The Pope met with the victim’s, Nicola “Coco” Campolongo, father and grandmothers who “were weeping like fountains,” Vatican spokesperson Rev. Ciro Benedettini commented. The Pope said to the family, “May children never again have to suffer in this way.”
Many were already concerned for Pope Francis’ health and safety before, but now that he excommunicated the mafia, tensions have significantly risen. The mafia have historically not taken kindly to threats and condemnations. In the early 1990’s, Pope John Paul warned the mafia would “one day face the justice of God,” which was responded to with several church bombings.
Pope Francis excommunicated the mafia as a sign not only to condemn their actions but also to sever their prior associations with the Church. Historically, the mafia has had close ties to the Catholic Church. Publicly, officials have tried to separate themselves from the mafia, but the mafia have used religion as a recruiting tool to justify their actions and as a means of conducting business.
Pope Francis has been active in dismantling Church connections to the mafia, recently reforming the Vatican Bank to increase transparency and punishing Church leaders who have engaged in illegal transactions.