No wonder the Mafia are nervous. This pope is not one to indulge the wishes of gangsters

Many such criminals profess themselves to be extremely devout


Can the Mafia really be thinking of taking out Pope Francis? The question arises because the reformist Argentine pontiff has been poking his new broom into some murky corners since taking over from Benedict XVI in April. One particular focus of his attention is the Vatican bank, known as the Institute for Religious Works (the Italian acronym is IOR).

The bank has been targeted by the European Union on suspicion of facilitating money-laundering, but now the head of the church himself has taken up the task of purging it. And as we reported yesterday, the mafia clans of Calabria, known as the ‘ndrangheta, today richer and more powerful than their equivalents in Sicily, are unhappy about it.

Nicola Gratteri, a public prosecutor in Italy’s deep south, told Il Fatto Quotidiano, an Italian daily, the gang bosses “are really worried. Those who until now have been growing fat on the power and wealth they obtain directly from the church are nervous, agitated.” The new pope, he said, “is dismantling centres of economic power in the Vatican. If the gang bosses could trip him up they wouldn’t hesitate to do so.”

The 76-year-old Argentinian has cultivated an image of simplicity and humility since becoming pope, refusing to move into the lavish papal apartments and travelling around with minimum fuss and ceremony. And he has set his face against those Christians who believe their faith allows them to get away with anything. Of such people he said this week: “It would be better if a millstone were put around [their] neck and [they] be thrown into the sea” because “where there is deceit, the spirit of God cannot be.” 

Mr Gratteri disclaimed any inside knowledge of an assassination plot, and if removing the pontiff seemed the only way to preserve their fortunes, hesitate is exactly what they would do. For these men, some worth billions from cocaine smuggling and with the notches of many dead rivals on their gun barrels, are immensely devout. Bad men who pray: how very surprising. We may have felt disgust at the spectacle of al-Shabaab gunmen in Nairobi’s Westgate shopping mall getting down on their knees to pray before blasting away at terrified shoppers, but the hard men of Calabria are no better. “Before he kills someone, a Calabrian gangster prays,” says Mr Gratteri. “He appeals to the Madonna for protection.” One recalls what the police found when they finally tracked Cosa Nostra boss Bernardo Provenzano, on the run for 42 years, to his squalid hideout in Sicily in 2006: one Bible open on a cushion, four more dotted around, a rosary at his bedside. Mr Gratteri reports a survey of gang bosses in Italian jails which found that 88 per cent of them profess to be devout.

One comes back to the old Bob Dylan aperçu: “To live outside the law you must be honest.” To survive psychologically as either a member of al-Shabaab or the Mafia it is essential to believe firmly that your cause is just, and that God will therefore heed your prayers when you turn to Him. The British would-be jihadists heading off to Syria probably have as strong a sense of righteousness and moral obligation as George Orwell and his comrades, heading off to volunteer for the Republican cause in the Spanish Civil War.

  Pope Francis wants to tackle endemic corruption at the Vatican Pope Francis wants to tackle endemic corruption at the Vatican












But even those believers who know that they are doing wrong have frequent recourse to the Catholic Church, because forgiveness is in its very marrow. Joe Kennedy, father of the more famous John Fitzgerald, had a long affair with the film star Gloria Swanson. Of his attitude to adultery she said: “He believed you could wipe the slate clean just by going to confession. It worked for him like sleeping pills for other people.” But he only visited tame confessors who would only give him a few Hail Marys for penance. Swanson went on: “He never wanted to take the chance on running into some smarty-pants priest there in a dark confessional from some poor diocese where he didn’t have any real-estate holdings.”

The bosses of the ‘ndrangheta have been bolstered for many decades by tame priests and bishops, delighted and honoured to attend their weddings, bless their babies and share an ostentatious coffee in the town piazza, to make sure the locals know the score. And as part of the same cosy arrangement, the gangs have long been in secret cahoots with the Vatican Bank, it is widely believed, to their mutual benefit. These suspicions go back decades. Neither Pope Benedict nor John Paul II were interested in cleaning the Vatican’s Augean stables. Both had what they considered more important fish to fry. Besides, as foreigners they would have had the greatest difficulty in penetrating the Byzantine and armour-plated confines within which the Vatican does its work, as the lame results of Benedict’s efforts at reform revealed.

But now there is a smarty-pants pope – a native Italian speaker not compromised by being an actual Italian – who believes the church has a real mission in the world, and that blessing the babies of unreformed gangsters, and taking their ill-gotten gains, is inconsistent with it. No wonder the bosses are nervous.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

DevOps Engineer - Linux, Shell, Bash, Solaris, UNIX, Salt-Stack

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: A fast growing Financial Services organisation b...

Trade Desk FIX Analyst - (FIX, SQL, Equities, Support)

£50000 - £60000 per annum + excellent benefits: Harrington Starr: An award-win...

DevOps Engineer - (Linux, Shell, Bash)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: DevOps Engineer - (Linux, Shell, Bash)DevOps Eng...

Retail Business Architect

Flexible for the right candidate: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: I have a fa...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Would you fork out to spend time on Sting's Tuscan estate?  

Happy to pay for the privilege of picking olives? Then Sting might have a job for you...

John Walsh
Clockwise from top: Zafran Ramzan, Razwan Razaq (main picture), Adil Hussain, Umar Razaq and Mohsin Khan were sentenced for grooming teenage girls for sex in 2010.  

Nothing can make up for the trauma of Rotherham's abused young girls, but many more heads must roll

Jane Merrick
Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?
Rachael Lander interview: From strung out to playing strings

From strung out to playing strings

Award-winning cellist Rachael Lander’s career was almost destroyed by the alcohol she drank to fight stage fright. Now she’s playing with Elbow and Ellie Goulding
The science of saturated fat: A big fat surprise about nutrition?

A big fat surprise about nutrition?

The science linking saturated fats to heart disease and other health issues has never been sound. Nina Teicholz looks at how governments started advising incorrectly on diets
Emmys 2014 review: Can they genuinely compete with the Oscars

Can they genuinely compete with the Oscars?

The recent Emmy Awards are certainly glamorous, but they can't beat their movie cousins
On the road to nowhere: A Routemaster trip to remember

On the road to nowhere

A Routemaster trip to remember
Hotel India: Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace leaves its darker days behind

Hotel India

Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace leaves its darker days behind
10 best pencil cases

Back to school: 10 best pencil cases

Whether it’s their first day at school, uni or a new project, treat the student in your life to some smart stationery
Arsenal vs Besiktas Champions League qualifier: Gunners know battle with Turks is a season-defining fixture

Arsenal know battle with Besiktas is a season-defining fixture

Arsene Wenger admits his below-strength side will have to improve on last week’s show to pass tough test
Pete Jenson: Athletic Bilbao’s locals-only transfer policy shows success does not need to be bought

Pete Jenson: A Different League

Athletic Bilbao’s locals-only transfer policy shows success does not need to be bought
This guitar riff has been voted greatest of all time

The Greatest Guitar Riff of all time

Whole Lotta Votes from Radio 2 listeners
Britain’s superstar ballerina

Britain’s superstar ballerina

Alicia Markova danced... every night of the week and twice on Saturdays
Berlin's Furrie invasion

Berlin's Furrie invasion

2000 fans attended Eurofeurence
‘It was a tidal wave of terror’

‘It was a tidal wave of terror’

Driven to the edge by postpartum psychosis