Pope Francis's life is in danger from 'ndrangheta, Italy's most feared crime group, a leading anti-mafia judge has claimed.
Nicola Gratteri, a magistrate in the southern city of Reggio Calabria, near 'ndrangheta's heartland, has said the Pontiff's crackdown on financial corruption in the Vatican, has angered bosses in the brutal crime syndicate, which is thought to rule Europe's cocaine trade.
"I don't know if organised crime is in the position to do something, but it's certainly thinking about it. It could be dangerous," he said.
He said Francis was "on the right path" in attempting to clean out the stables at the Holy City, which has seen its administrative body and its bank, the Institute for Religious Works (IoR), mired in scandal for decades.
But Mr Gratteri, who has written a book on the Church's links to 'ndrangheta, said the mob "that has until now profited from the power and riches derived directly from the church is nervous, agitated.
"Pope Bergoglio is dismantling centres of economic power in the Vatican. If the bosses can stop him they won't hesitate," he told Il Fatto Quotidiano newspaper.
The Vatican spokesman was not available to comment.
Rumours have swirled around the Vatican's financial activities since the collapse in 1982 of the Banco Ambrosiano, in which it was a major shareholder. The Vatican paid around £150m to compensate Ambrosiano's account holders - without admitting any wrongdoing.
But events became much murkier when Banco Ambrosiano chairman Roberto Calvi, known as God's Banker, was found hanging from Blackfriar's Bridge in London, his clothing stuffed with bricks and around £10,000 in his pockets. Many investigators believe Mr Calvi was killed for making off with mafia money.
Accusations of money-aundering activities have continued to be made against the IoR.
Last month it emerged that as part of Francis's efforts to crack down on graft, the IoR has been highlighted with news that the troubled institution is seeking to close 900 suspicious accounts.
According to Corriere della Sera newspaper, four of the suspect accounts are linked to the Vatican embassies of Indonesia, Iran, Iraq and Syria. Earlier this year a judicial report said the bank was money laundering hot spot.
Meanwhile, it emerged today that a luxury hotel property bought from the church has been sequestered by investigators, who suspect it is being run by the 'ndrangheta.
The Special DIA anti-mafia police, on the orders of another judge from Reggio Calabria, have sequestrated Rome's luxury Grand Hotel Gianicolo, a favourite of the rich and famous, as part of the huge seizure of €150m worth of money and properties linked to the crime syndicate.
According to investigators, the hotel's owners, the Mariani family, are key 'ndrangheta financial figures. They bought the property, then a monastery from the church, with the equivalent of about €5m in the 1990s. Federico Cafiero de Raho, the Reggio Calabria magistrate, said the money probably came from criminal activity.
Join our commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies