Pope Francis made a decision to excommunicate members of Mafiosi, who are practicing “the adoration of evil.”
This is the first time that a pope used the word excommunication. It means a severe ecclesiastical penalty, resulting from grave crimes against the Catholic religion, imposed by ecclesiastical authority or incurred as a direct result of the commission of an offense; It excludes the offender from taking part in the Eucharist or other sacraments and from the exercise of any ecclesiastical office, ministry, or function.
“Those who in their lives follow this path of evil, as Mafiosi do, are not in communion with God. They are excommunicated,” the pope said this comments to hundreds of thousands of people while celebrating Mass in one of Italy’s most crime-infested areas.
The crowd applauded Pope Francis when he said: “This evil must be fought against, it must be pushed aside. We must say no to it.” He indicated the local crime group, the ‘Ndrangheta, an example of the “adoration of evil and contempt of the common good” and said the Church would exert its full force in efforts to combat organized crime.
“Our children are asking for it, our young people are asking are asking for it. They are in need of hope and faith can help respond to this need,” he said.
Vatican spokesman Father Ciro Benedettini said the pope’s stern words did not constitute a formal over-arching decree of canon law, with respect to excommunication, which is a formal legal process.
Rather, he said it was more of a direct message to members of organized crime that they had effectively excommunicated themselves, reminding them that they could not participate in Church sacraments or other activities because they had distanced themselves from God through their criminal actions.
The pope used a strong message, which is a significant gesture, to members of organized crime in Italy to see themselves as part of a religious, cult-like group, take part in sacraments, go to church and in some cases have also found complicity by some church members in the south.
Benedettini said: The pope was trying to “isolate Mafiosi within their own communities,” sending a message that they should not in any way be looked up to as “men of honor.”
In 1993, the late John Paul II warned members of Sicily’s Mafia that they would “one day face the justice of God.” The Mafia retaliated several months later with bomb attacks against some churches in Rome, including the Basilica of St. Johns, which is a pope’s church in his capacity of bishop of Rome.
Francis officiated a homily at the end of his long trip to the southern region of Calabria, home of its organized crime, ‘Ndrangheta, which investigators say has spread around the world.
Investigators said the ‘Ndrangheta is hard to combat compare to the Sicilian Mafia because of its structure is more lateral than hierarchical and its tightly-knit crime families are less flashy than the Sicilian mob and harder to penetrate.
Based on study by Demoskopia, in 2013, an economic and social research institute, estimated the ‘Ndrangheta’s annual turnover at some 53 billion euros, equivalent to $72 billion, in 30 countries, equal to about 3.5 percent of Italy’s total official economic output.
Approximately, half of its income came from drug trafficking, the study found.
Francis made the trip in part to pay tribute to Nicola “Coco” Campolongo, who was killed in the town together with his father, last January, when they were attacked by this organized crime.
The remains of the boy's burned body were entrusted to his grandfather Giuseppe Iannicelli after his parents were jailed on drug charges, was found along with those Iannicelli and a Moroccan woman in a torched car in the town.
Last January, Pope Francis strongly denounced the murder and asked the killers to repent, comforted the boy’s father and other relatives during a meeting, which is highly emotional as Vatican spokesman said.
“Never again violence against children. May a child never again have to suffer like this, pray for him continuously. Do not despair,” the spokesman quoted the pope.
Both the boy’s parents and grandfather were part of a drug trafficking clan of the ‘Ndrangheta. Social workers were criticized for entrusting the boy to his maternal grandfather, who is a convicted drugs runner and was out on bail.
Pope Francis visited the area, under the auspices of Bishop Nunzio Galantino, as one of the most progressive in Italy’s poorer, underdeveloped south and has taken strong stands against organized crime.
However, there are instances of collusion of some priests in other areas of Calabria where the ‘Ndrangheta has a strong hold, further south along the Italian peninsula near Reggio Calabria.