The anti-corruption stance of Pope Francis has riled Italy’s powerful mafia groups, according to a prosecutor who specializes in mob cases.
State prosecutor Nicola Gratteri – who works in the southern Italian region of Calabria, where the ‘Ndrangheta mafia is active – told the Italian daily Fatto Quotidiano that Francis’ statements on transparency and dismantling economic power in the Vatican are making mobsters “nervous and agitated.”
“I cannot say if the organization is in a position to do something like this, but they are dangerous and it is worth reflecting on,” Gratteri said. “If the godfathers can find a way to stop him, they will seriously consider it.”
“Those who have up until now profited from the influence and wealth drawn from the church are getting very nervous,” he added. “For many years, the mafia has laundered money and made investments with the complicity of the church. But now the pope is dismantling the poles of economic power in the Vatican, and that is dangerous.”
Church officials have had a cozy relationship with ‘Ndrangheta in the past, lending the mafia legitimacy, said Gratteri, who has himself been under police protection from the mafia since the 1980s.
He told of one bishop in Calabria’s Locri who excommunicated mafia members after they damaged fruit trees owned by the church. “But before that episode, the bosses had killed thousands of people” without the church doing anything substantive, he added.
Francis has supported reform at the Vatican’s bank, which has long been suspected of having helped the mob launder money. In October, the Pope replaced Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who had been brought down by allegations of ties to corrupt Italian politics and the Vatican’s financial scandals.
“The mafia that invests, that launders money, that therefore has the real power, is the mafia which has got rich for years from its connivance with the church,” said Gratteri. “These are the people who are getting nervous.”
Police impounded this week a luxury hotel in Rome - a former monastery - that the ‘Ndrangheta had allegedly purchased from the religious order, the Guardian reported.
On Monday, Francis used a sermon to denounce corruption, quoting Jesus from the Gospel of St. Luke: “It would be better for [the corrupt man] if a millstone were put around his neck and he be thrown into the sea.”
Gratteri pointed out that the vast majority of mobsters are religious, boosting their relationship with the Vatican. In his 26 years as a magistrate, he said that he never raided a mob hangout where religious imagery was not present.
“There is no affiliation rite that does not evoke religion. ‘Ndrangheta and the church walk hand in hand,” he said.
A survey of mobsters in prison showed that 88 percent are religious, he said.
“Before killing, a member of the ‘Ndrangheta prays. He asks the Madonna for protection.”
The prosecutor said the mafia doesn’t consider what it does to be wrong. He used an example of a member pressuring a business owner to offer protection money. If the owner holds out, the mobster shoots up his store. A second time, he kneecaps the owner. “If the person still refuses, the mobster is ‘forced’ to kill him. If you have no choice, you are not committing a sin,” Gratteri said.