The Pope urged to purge clergy: Sicilian priests accused of Mafia links

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The Independent Online
A GROUP of Sicilian priests and lay people allege that numerous Sicilian bishops and clergy are involved with the Mafia and have appealed to the Pope to remove them from their posts.

And Agnes Borsellino, widow of the anti-Mafia judge Paolo Borsellino, who was murdered with five bodyguards by the Mafia last July, has written a letter urging the Pope to make the Sicilian Catholic Church a better 'mirror of justice'.

The appeals came as the Pope prepares to leave tomorrow for a three-day trip to Sicily during which he is expected to condemn the Mafia and its crimes and encourage those Sicilians who are trying to free their society from the stranglehold of the deadly 'octopus'.

The Pope has already spoken out against the Mafia, calling it 'a serious threat not only to civil society but also to the mission of the Church, since it undermines from within the Christian conscience and culture of the Sicilian people'. Cardinal Salvatore Pappalardo, Archbishop of Palermo, has warned that membership of the Mafia is a grave sin and threatened its bosses with excommunication.

But the Mafia is tightly woven into the fabric of Sicilian life and churchmen often co-operate out of fear, friendship or because of family ties. Critics believe leading churchmen are deeply involved with Mafia-tainted entrepreneurs, politicians and public officials, while even bosses in hiding such as Salvatore Riina, the alleged head of the Mafia, appear to have no trouble in finding a priest to perform a marriage ceremony or a baptism.

A group of politically active priests and academics in Palermo has drawn up a document appealing to the Pope 'to ask all bishops, priests, religious and members of the laity who are linked to the Mafia-political power system through family ties, culture, imprudent friendships or through long-standing interests, to step aside'.

They spoke of 'alliances and collusion' about which 'a large part of the ecclesiastical world has kept silent either because it is unable to grasp reality or because it wishes to defend Christian values even at the cost of protecting a political class which has little in common with such values, or . . . still enjoys considerable benefits from the Mafia- political system'. They alleged that churchmen and the Mafia 'intermingle . . . with the disturbing assistance of politicians, entrepreneurs, professional people, bankers, trade unionists, journalists and other members of the Sicilian ruling class'.

In her letter, published in the Vatican daily, Osservatore Romano, Mrs Borsellino urged the Pope to make the Sicilian church 'a better and clearer sign of hope, mirror of justice, and (source of) love'. It should 'reflect the Christian message in its basic ideals and in the people . . . who are willing to take risks so as not to compromise the true teachings of Christ by any kind of collusion'.