Pope Francis and Local Bishops Take on the Mafia: Mafia ‘betray the gospel,’ Italian bishops say in rare rebuke

Catholic bishops from the southern Italian region of Calabria have broken their silence and spoken out against the “inhumane” power of the Mafia that dominates their poverty-stricken area.

The 12 prelates from the Bishops’ Conference of Calabria endorsed a document condemning the local Mafia, or ‘Ndrangheta, on Jan. 2, just two days after Pope Francis took a strong stand on Mafia corruption in Rome in a forceful New Year’s Eve message.

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Monsignor Salvatore Nunnari, president of the Calabrian bishops, said the conference believed the Mafia was “something inhumane,” and church leaders wanted to spotlight the “painful evil” it caused.

“It is clear that this announcement will be like a sharpened sword that will injure those in a situation opposed to the gospel,” the Calabrian bishops said in the document.

“It is here that the debate on the ‘Ndrangheta begins. Those who are part of it not only betray the gospel but it is as if they were trampling all over it every day.”

The bishops expressed concern about the impact of high unemployment and the spread of political corruption in a region where ‘Ndrangheta has mushroomed into one of the most powerful organized crime groups in the world through drugs and arms trafficking, extortion and other operations.

The bishops said the nature of organized crime had now reached a “globalized” dimension and was finding allies on the fringes of politics through corrupt and deviant allies in positions of power.

“The church salutes only the wounded man and shouts out his pain and indignation,” said the bishops, who referred to the spread of bribes and political favors.

On Wednesday, the pope called for a “conversion” from a corruption scandal linking Rome’s politicians, a former right-wing terrorist and other criminal elements.

In March, the Argentine pontiff met the victims of Mafia violence and later called for the excommunication of the Mafia from the church when he visited Calabria in June.

In the past, Italy’s organized crime groups have had a cozy relationship with the Catholic hierarchy. Inside ’Ndrangheta, the initiation ceremony is known as a ‘‘baptism,” and for many members mob ties are no less sacred than their affiliation with the church. Newcomers must swear allegiance to St. Michael the Archangel, the patron saint of ‘Ndrangheta.

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