Early June 21, 2014, Pope Francis met with the family of a three year old boy and his grandfather who were both victims of a mafia outbreak back in January. The boy, Nicola Campolongo, and his grandfather were both shot and then burned in a car for no apparent reason. Later that same day, Pope Francis excommunicated the mafia from the Catholic church. Back in March, the Pope told the mafia that “hell…awaits you if you continue on this road” (Gallagher) , but June 21, 2014 was the first time a pope had ever spoken out against the mafia when concerning excommunication from the Catholic church. People are concerned that the Pope is in danger and that the mafia may retaliate against him. (Gallagher)
The Italian Mafia gave rise to the economy in Italy because of groups of people that emerged in the 19th century called “mafie”, small armies that obtained money from landowners by threatening them that if they did not pay, great harm would be done to them. While, at the same time, these same organizations claimed to be made up of religious, Godly men who identified with the beliefs of the Catholic church. More recently, the mafia been caught using the Vatican Bank, which is officially known as the Institute of Religious Works, to smuggle money. (Burke)
1.) How does Pope Francis justify members of the Italian Mafia, a criminal organization, identifying with the Catholic church?
2.) What events caused Italy, such a Catholic based country, to be so full of organized crime?
3.) What role does the Vatican city play in the history of the Italian Mafia?
Opelia Gallagher, with CNN, reported on June 23, 2014 that Pope Francis excommunicated Italian mobsters from the Catholic church during a one day visit to Southern Italy. He stated that “those who in their life have gone along evil ways, as in the case of the mafia, they are not with God, they are excommunicated”. It was during an outdoor mass in front of more than 100,000 people in Calabria, Italy and the Pope also exclaimed “they must be told, No!”. In Southern Italy, the mafia attempts to portray themselves as good, godly men, so for the Pope to in a sense, call them out on their evil doings was a very large deal. This is the first time that a Pope has ever said that the mafia is excommunicated from the Catholic church.
Dennis McCarthy’s soul purpose for writing the Italian Mafia chapter in the book “An Economic History of Organized Crime” was to consider the political, geographic, economic, and social factors of Italy in order for people to have a better understanding of why the Italian Mafia is the way it is today. Politically, Italy has had very unstable government officials due to a new political power taking over and then shortly after, losing the territory when another war broke out. Before 1860, when Italy became an unified nation-state, the people didn’t have confidence that they would be protected by a successful government. Geographically, Italy consists of a peninsula and two islands, making it surrounded by water on three sides. This makes trade, illegal and legal, in and out of Italy easy, maybe even too easy. Italy is apart of the European Union, a common market between countries that’s main goal is to eliminate as many barriers in trade as possible. In doing so, it has created some sort of “black market” or underground market.Socially, young people in Southern Italy do not have access to opportunities to go to school or get a job. This plays a major role in why every organized crime group Italy is primarily located in Southern Italy.
John Dickie, with CNN, reported that Pope Francis is a strong threat to established criminal organziations in Italy because of the relationship between the Catholic church and the Mafia. An anti-mafia prosecutor said “I don’t know if organized criminals have the capability to do something to the Pope. But they are certainly thinking about it” in an interview. Back in 1993, when John Paul II warned the mafia that God’s judgement was at hand when concerning the mafia’s actions, one of Italy’s major mafia’s, Cosa Nostra, decided to retaliate against what the Pope had said and two months later, placed bombs that successfully damaged two Roman churches. Due to political reasons, before that event, the priests and mafia members that gotten along reasonable well. The Catholic church became bitter against the Italian government because it “had robbed the Pope of his earthly kingdom, leaving him only with the Vatican City”. It is thought that the end of The Cold War and the bombing assassination that happened in 1992 that ended up killing two of Italy’ leading anti-Mafia prosecutors were the reason the Pope decided to in a sense, call the Mafia out. After the Italian government did this, the Church needed another source of authority at hand. The Italian Mobsters are very authoritative in their work and seemed like a good substitute to the church. Since this event, The Vatican has stayed firm in their stand against the Mafia.
The Vatican City is a walled city in Rome with a population around 850 people. It plays a large part in not only Italy’s history but also the Italian Mafia’s.
In May 2013, the Vatican Church published its first report on money that had obtained illegally by transfers involving foreign banks or legitimate businesses in order to improve its financial clarity. The Vatican bank did not say that the report had anything to do with the Italian Mafia, but six different charges of “suspicious activity” were found in the report. A month after the report came out, a priest that worked for the Vatican was arrested for attempting to “smuggle 10s of millions of euros across Europe using a private plane in July 2012”. An expert on Italian organized crime, Antonio Nicaso, said that “the Italian mafia and Catholic Church have a long and complicated history”. He explained that the members of the mafia often pay for the repairs on the local churches and provide the food at celebrations for Catholic saints. In return, the Catholic Church officials have kept quiet about their illegal doings. Nicaso also said that recently, the mafia used the Vatican Bank to smuggle money, but he had no evidence to support his claim.
Map of Sicily, Italy, August 27, 2014, https://www.google.com/maps/place/Sicily,+Italy
Pope Francis at Mass, September 7, 2014, http://www.nydailynews.com/news/world/pope-francis-declares-mafia-members-excommunicated-article-1.1839013#
The Vatican City, December 1, 2014, http://historycooperative.org/the-vatican-city-history-in-the-making/
Delia Gallagher, “Pope Excommunicates Italian Mafia Members”. CNN World, accessed September 9, 2014,//http://www.cnn.com/2014/06/21/world/popemafiaexcommunication/
McCarthy, Dennis M. P. An Economic History of Organized Crime A National and Transnational Approach. Hoboken: Taylor and Francis, 2011, 29-52
John Dickie, “Would the Mafia target Pope Francis over Vatican reforms?”. CNN World, accessed November 16, 2014,http://www.cnn.com/2013/11/15/opinion/mafia-pope-dickie/ .
Rafael Rodriguez Guillen, “The Vatican Mafia”.
Daniel Burke and Livia Borghese, “Prosecutor: Pope faces threat from the mafia”. CNN Belief Blog, accessed December 5, 2014,