In January, following the death of a 3-year-old boy after a Mafia ambush, Pope Francis began speaking out against organized crime. Then in June, the pope traveled to the place of the murder and “accused Mafia members of pursuing the ‘adoration of evil’” according to a report in Huffington Post, and even went so far as to excommunicate members of the mafia.
Next, Pope Francis will visit a mafia stronghold near Naples, in the town of Caserta, and many are wondering what this fierce anti-mafia stance will do for his papacy and his papal legacy.
Philip Willian, author of The Vatican at War, says, “The church has been divided over what sort of stance to take against organized crime. When the Pope puts his weight decisively behind the people fighting that battle, he gives them extra strength and encouragement.”
Since the Pope has started actively speaking out, other clerics have been more active in fighting the Mafia as well. A bishop in Calabria “put a 10 year moratorium on naming godfathers at baptisms in a bid to stop Mafia members from spreading their influence” and another bishop “ordered an end to religious processions after hundreds of people carrying a statue of the Madonna bowed in front of the house of a powerful godfather.”
The problem the Vatican and the church is facing is that Catholic rituals and practices are often “embedded in the secret rituals and practices of the Calabrian Mafia” and other rings of organized crime.
Enzo Ciconte, a top Mafia expert in Italy, says many mafia members “use religion simply as a means to gain social approval and advance their criminal operations. The actions of the pope could drive a wedge between the Mafia and those who are genuine believers.”
While many have stressed their concerns for the Pope and his safety, Ciconte also adds, “The Mafia is not stupid. It is not worth it for [them] to attack the pope. They will look for ways to pressure the faithful or will stop giving money to the church.”