During a mass in southern Italy on this past Saturday, Pope Francis harshly chastised those involved in organized crime, saying such people practice the "adoration of evil" and are excommunicated from the Catholic Church. It's the first time that a pontiff has ever used the word "excommunicate" in relation to mobsters, USA Today reported.
It wasn't exactly armchair proselytizing. The Pope was speaking in Calabria, where a crime group known as the 'Ndrangheta is based. In front of hundreds of thousands of people, he referred to the group as an example of the "adoration of evil and contempt of the common good."
"Those who in their lives follow this path of evil, as mafiosi do, are not in communion with God," he continued, according to Reuters. "They are excommunicated."
A 2013 study by Demoskopia, an economic and social research institute, estimated the 'Ndrangheta's annual turnover at some 53 billion euros ($72 billion) in 30 countries, equivalent to about 3.5 percent of Italy's total official economic output.
The largest share of that money comes from the group's involvement in drug trafficking. According to Italian prosecutor Nicola Gratteri, "80 percent of the cocaine entering Europe today is brought in by Calabrian mobsters," the Guardian noted.
The 'Ndrangheta (pronounced "en-drang-ay-ta") remain little known, at least compared to Cosa Nostra, in part because they are notoriously secretive. They aren't flashy. Made up of extended families, blood ties are often a prerequisite for inclusion. Compared to the Sicilian mafia they also have more of a lateral structure, as opposed to a single leader at the top, and they have been notoriously difficult to infiltrate by authorities.
"A Calabrian mobster considering turning state's evidence has to come to terms with betraying maybe 200 of his relatives," Gratteri told the Guardian.
In his short tenure, Pope Francis has made several statements against organized crime. Last time the pope took such a strong stand, mobsters allegedly retaliated, according to Reuters:
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.
Let's hope nothing like that happens this time. It should be noted that the pope's use of the term "excommunicate" was more symbolic than anything. Vatican spokesman Father Ciro Benedettini told Reuters that the pontiff's words "did not constitute a formal over-arching decree of canon (Church) law, regarding excommunication, which is a formal legal process." It was rather a message to mobster's that they "had effectively excommunicated themselves" by their actions, and must repent, Benedettini said.