SIBARI, Italy: Pope Francis Saturday issued the strongest attack on organized crime groups by a pontiff in two decades, accusing them of practicing the “the adoration of evil” and claiming that mafiosi were excommunicated. It was the first time a pope had used the word excommunication – a total cutoff from the church – in direct reference to members of organized crime groups.
“Those who in their lives follow this path of evil, as mafiosi do, are not in communion with God. They are excommunicated,” he said in impromptu comments at a Mass before hundreds of thousands of people in one of Italy’s most crime-infested areas.
Vatican spokesman Father Ciro Benedettini said the pope’s stern words did not constitute a formal over-arching decree of church law regarding excommunication, which requires a formal legal process.
Rather, he said it was more of a direct message to those involved in 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 crime.
Many members of organized crime groups in Italy 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 in members of the clergy in the south.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 23, 2014, on page 11.