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Italy – The Vatican and the Mafia

When mention is made of Italy, mixed in with thoughts of pasta and wine will be the Vatican and, the mafia.

With regard to which springs to mind first, Vatican or mafia, I have no idea, but it does not matter really; both are intrinsically Italian.

Yet the Vatican champions the morally right, while the mafia certainly does not.

In theory the Vatican should be constantly and highly critical of the mafia, or, for that matter, any other organisation which encourages human beings to harm one another.  In practice, however, this does not seem to be the case.  The Vatican does make disgruntled noises on the mafia front in Italy from time to time, but the criticism is by no means constant.

This reluctance of the Vatican to speak out openly against the mafia  is something which has always struck me as being faintly odd about Italy.

Recently though, something has changed and the Vatican appears to be firming up its anti-mafia stance.

The Vatican Condemns the Mafia

Il Fatto Quotidiano, Italy’s newest daily newspaper, and the only one which covers issues which most other Italian dailies avoid, carried an interesting article on the Roman Catholic church in its Friday 13th November edition.

The article reports on calls from within the Roman Catholic church for it to take a hard line stance on the issue of organised crime in Italy’s mafia-wracked south.

But why?

What could be behind the Vatican making anti-mafia noises? Noises which seem to be rather rare in Italy, or at least that is my impression.

Roberto Saviano

Saviano, who, you might remember, wrote a book which put one of Italy’s many mafia organisations, Naples’ camorra, in a bad light.  The book also showed Italy in a dark light, and left Italy with a tarnished image.

In his book, Gomorrah, which caused quite a stir in Italy – and seems to have stirred Italy into action to a great extent – there is a story of an anti-mafia Roman Catholic priest.  This brave priest stood up against the mafia in his parish and spoke out openly against their activities.

For his pains, this priest, Don Peppino Diana was executed by the camorra mafia.  While the execution did not do the camorra’s public image any favours, what struck me about the Don Peppino Diana affair was that he appeared to be a lone crusader.

For reasons unknown, the Vatican seemed to have left its representative to his own fate. Support from Rome appeared to be virtually zero. Certainly Saviano does not mention loud condemnation of the murder of one of its priests coming from the Vatican in his book.  Nor did the Vatican try to stand up for its man when attempts were made to blacken his name in local newspapers.

It is possible that the handling of Don Peppino Diana affair did not show the Vatican in a great light – especially in the eyes of those the Vatican purports to love the most – the young people of this world.  It is probable that the young in Italy’s most mafia dominated areas felt as though they had nobody to turn to, not even the church.

Possibly as a result of the attention Saviano’s book garnered, someone in the Vatican realised that this situation reflected badly upon the Roman Catholic Church.

To attempt to redeem itself, and thus attempt to restore the faith of Italians in the church, taking a clear position on the mafia issue was probably considered as being one way for the church to win back hearts and minds in Italy, particularly those of the country’s youth.

And hearts and minds did need winning back in view of the sticky issue of the Roman Catholic church and paedophilia.

Paedophilia Accusations

At least some of Italy’s younger generation, and their parents for that matter, will have heard of the cases, largely in the United States of America, in which Roman Catholic priests had been accused of child molestation.

In the United States alone, the Vatican has paid out more than one billion dollars in compensation to victims.

Again, for an organisation which courts the attention of the world’s youth, this did (does) not look good.

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Initially the Vatican tried to keep these sordid affairs as hush-hush as possible, but people speak, and there are a lot of Italian-Americans who probably keep in contact with relatives and friends back in the old country.   Word of unholy acts by holy-men will have got back to Italy.

Questions would have been asked by Italians, and some will have become disillusioned with the ways of Catholicism.  Conversations may well have moved on from priests and young people to the Vatican’s virtual silence on Italy’s mafia.  Silence, whether honest or not, tends to be looked upon negatively.

Net result?  Widespread disillusionment with the Roman Catholic church and the Vatican in Italy.  The image of the Roman Catholic church had been damaged.

Young Italians

Young people were the victims of the wayward priests and their sexual desires, and young people are also the mafia’s favourite recruits, as Saviano’s book observes.

The Roman Catholic church though, loves to demonstrate its all embracing love for young people.  The Vatican is as keen to recruit young people as the mafia is, or so it would seem.

However while the Roman Catholic church tried to encourage young people to swell its ranks, it did not appear to openly discourage the same young people from becoming part of the mafia.  It was almost as if mafia membership and church going went hand in hand.

To the uninformed the relationship gave the impression that good was holding hands with evil.

The mafia though, does not believe it is evil.  Quite the opposite in fact.  Mafia initiation ceremonies often include some religious artefact or other.

The mafia likes to be associated with the Roman Catholic church, and, on the face of it, the Roman Catholic church never seems to have done very much to question the validity of this relationship.  Could it be that the mafia is one 0f the Roman Catholic church’s greatest benefactors?

I know it’s stereotypical, but Catholic themes do often feature in films about Italy’s mafias.

All in all, by keeping silent on certain ‘relationships’, the Roman Catholic church was not doing itself any favours.

The War Against the Mafia

Another thing which may have encouraged the Vatican to speak up on the mafia issue in Italy is that the war being waged against the mafia seems to be having an effect.

Hardly a day goes by without Italy’s newspapers reporting on the arrest of some mafia bigwig or other.  For example, the supposed number two of Sicily’s cosa nostra, Domenico Raccuglia, was caught by Italian police very recently.

Mafia assets are being seized right, left and centre too. It does look as though progress is being made.

I’ll round this post off with a question, which might explain why the Vatican has been able to find the courage to speak up against the mafia in Italy:

Does the Vatican think that the mafia presents less of a threat than it did in the past?

Which leads to the obvious next question which is:

Is Italy winning the war against the mafia?

Well, the mafia is one of Italy’s greatest mysteries.  Almost makes you consider joining a mystery club, or even a mystery book club.  There are a few mafia books out there too.

Some further reading:

Wikipedia: Catholic sex abuse cases

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