By Condemning Italy's Mafia, Pope Knows Exactly What He's Doing

Last month, he told them they were going to hell.

Then, this past Saturday, Pope Francis excommunicated them from the Catholic Church. That some fear for the Pope's life is proof enough that his words are getting through to some, maybe not only the Mafioso.

"In Italy, there is not a single Mafioso who isn't religious," Padre Nino Fasullo, an anti-Mafia priest in Italy, once said.

"For a phenomenon like the Mafia, which has no intellectual justification at all, religion may represent the only ideological apparatus to which it can refer. ... We're all in the church. Even the Mafia. Unfortunately. The church is embroiled in it. But regrettably not everyone in the church is convinced that opposition to the Mafia is necessary."

As noted, Toto Riina never sleeps in his prison bed without pictures of the saints pasted on the wall around his head...and Bernardo Provenzano's knowledge of the Bible is legendary. When he was finally arrested police found four bibles on his bedside table complete with annotations and underlining...

The Mafia turned to religion, using components of the Catholic Church to reconstruct a false version of the Catholic God to justify itself, as noted in The Honored Society, by Petra Reski. This is the God of the Old Testament: the God of an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth; the bloodthirsty God who destroyed mankind with his great flood, who easily annihilated Sodom and Gomorrah.

In America, we know of the unspoken ties between Mafioso and the Roman-Catholic church. We've heard the stories of today regarding men like Stephen "Beach" Depiro, a major player in the New Jersey underworld who goes to mass every day.

The balding, 5-foot-7 Union County resident is, according to one underworld source, a "flashy" wiseguy out of the John Gotti, celebrity gangster mode, favoring "fancy cars, nice clothes, and a manicured look."

Court documents filed by his lawyer to win release on bail after Depiro's arrest in 2011 offer a different picture of the man the FBI has listed as one of the highest-ranking Genovese crime family soldiers in the state. In a letter to the court supporting Depiro's request for bail, three priests and a deacon at his church - St. Theresa's in Kenilworth - cited "his sincerity" and his "participation in pastoral programs" and added that "some of our parishioners . . . told us they are inspired by his prayerful attitude and kindness."

Then there are the older bosses, the originals. Joseph Profaci (whose family became the Colombo family) was a devout Catholic who made generous cash donations to Catholic charities. His New Jersey estate contained a private chapel; Profaci would invite priests to the house to celebrate mass. On one occasion, two thieves stole a relic from a New York church. Profaci mobsters recovered the relic and reportedly ordered the murders (by strangulation with rosaries) of the two thieves. In 1949, a group of New York Catholics, including several priests, petitioned Pope Pius XII to confer a knighthood on Profaci. Only complaints by the Brooklyn District Attorney prompted the Vatican to deny the petition.

Think of the priests in Sicily.The Archbishop of Monreale, Sicily's wealthiest parish (perhaps due to it also having the greatest density of Mafia members), was brought before court for accepting bribes for the awarding of building contracts.

In the 1960s the Archbishop of Palermo, Cardinal Ernesto Ruffini, played down the role of the Mafia to Pope John Paul VI, calling them a group of petty thieves with an overblown image. He uttered a famous bon mot: "Mafia? Isn't that a brand of soap?"

And the Cosa Nostra of Corleone, which ruthlessly led the Sicilian Mafia under the command of "the Beast," Toto Riina. Corleone is a town of a hundred churches. So are many towns on Calabria in Southern Italy.

When Riina was on the lam for those many years, a priest was summoned to marry him to his fiancee and christened the couple's four children. This goes on even today in Sicily, where religious processions make the pilgrimage to the homes of the old Cosa Nostra bosses still. The men are away, dead or imprisoned, but the wives and children stand outside and acknowledge those poor men sweating and struggling to hold up the giant crucifix on Good Friday.

So the words of Pope Francis will have an impact, not only on the Mafia in Italy, but the priests in Italy as well. By speaking out as often as he has, and by raising the volume of his rhetoric as well, making headlines around the world, it is going to be difficult for the priests of Italy to not see with clear eyes that in some areas of life there are no ambiguities.

"Those who in their life have gone along the evil ways, as in the case of the mafia, they are not with God, they are excommunicated," Francis said in an outdoor Mass in Piana di Sibari, Calabria.

As CNN reported: It is the first time a Pope has spoken of excommunication for the Mafia.

Excommunication excludes Catholics from the church; it be imposed by church authorities or incurred automatically for certain grave offenses.

The Pope's remarks will resonate strongly in this part of southern Italy, where the Mafia are known to attempt to portray themselves as upstanding religious men in good rapport with the Catholic Church, in order to maintain local credibility. 
During a one-day visit to Calabria, the Pope denounced the local mafia, called 'Ndrangheta, as an example of "the adoration of evil and contempt for the common good."
"They must be told, No!" the Pope said to a crowd of over 100,000 gathered for the outdoor Mass.

Earlier during his visit, Pope Francis met with relatives of a 3-year-old boy, Nicola Campolongo, who was the victim of an alleged Mafia hit in January. Nicknamed Coco, the boy was with his grandfather when they were both shot and their bodies subsequently burned in a car. 
It is not the first time the Pope has spoken out against the Mafia. In March in Rome at a meeting with families of victims, the Pope called directly on Mafia bosses to repent, saying "hell ... awaits you if you continue on this road." 
Some anti-mafia prosecutors have worried that the Mafia may target Pope Francis, who is also reforming the Vatican, including its scandal-scarred bank, the Institute for Religious Works. 
"The strong will of Pope Francis, aiming to disrupt the gangrene power centers, puts him at risk. He disturbs the Mafia very much," Nicola Gratteri, a prosecutor in Calabria, told CNN in November.