The Garden City Telegram

Pope takes bold steps

By Peter Smith

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

PITTSBURGH (MCT) — When Pope Francis declared last week that organized crime figures are "excommunicated" from the Catholic Church, he wasn't making a formal legal declaration against any individuals by name.

But by venturing into southern Italy with its historically ambivalent relationship between church and mob — with some priests actively fighting its influence but others lulled by the generosity and public piety of local dons — the pope was drawing a bold line in saying there can be no compromise with those involved in the "adoration of evil."

"The term (excommunication) is not meant to be a penalty, but it's meant to help a person who is involved in some kind of action to know what they're doing is seriously wrong," said Pittsburgh Bishop David Zubik.

Mob leaders who conduct a "double life" of piety alongside "horrendous evil" need to cease, he said.

The pope made his comments while visiting the southern Italian region of Calabria, which is still reeling from the recent killing of a 3-year-old boy in an apparent mob attack on his grandfather.

"When instead of adoring the Lord, one substitutes the adoration of money, one opens the path to sin, personal interests and exploitation," Pope Francis said in a homily at an outdoor Mass to the estimated crowd of about 250,000 near the town of Sibari. "When one does not adore the Lord God, one becomes an adorer of evil, like those who live lives of crime and violence. Your land, which is so beautiful, knows the signs and consequences of this sin. This is what the 'Ndrangheta is: the adoration of evil and contempt for the common good."

He added: "Those who follow the path of evil, like the mafiosi do, are not in communion with God; they are excommunicated!"

Past popes have also spoken out against organized crime, but Francis is the first to use the word "excommunicated," according to Vatican watchers. He has previously prayed with victims of mob violence and formally beatified a priest killed in 1993 by the Mafia.

Organized crime takes various forms in Italy — with the so-called Mafia in Sicily, the 'Ndrangheta in Calabria and the Camorra in Naples — but has common roots in the clans of pre-unification Italy. It is marked by extortion from local businesses and involvement in fields as varied as construction, drugs, human trafficking and political corruption.

And it has often been entangled with the local Catholic churches.

"It was always good for the Mafia to be seen as religious, as pious, donating to festivals and building chapels or churches or things like that," said the Rev. Thomas Reese, senior analyst at the National Catholic Reporter and author of books on the Catholic hierarchy.

The pope's words may not change the hearts of hardened murderers, "but it might help the people who are trying to take away the power of organized crime," Cafardi said in a phone interview from Italy, where he is spending the summer. "There's a movement of priests and young people to basically drive it out of business, make it a shameful thing to be associated with."