Prosecutor: Pope faces threat from the mafia
Pope Francis at a ceremony in Rome, shortly his election as pontiff in March.
November 14th, 2013
02:59 PM ET

Prosecutor: Pope faces threat from the mafia

By Daniel Burke and Livia Borghese, CNN

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ROME (CNN) - Pope Francis' crusade against corruption in the Catholic Church, including an overhaul of the scandal-scarred Vatican Bank, has put the new pontiff in the Italian mafia's crosshairs, according to two organized crime experts.

"The strong will of Pope Francis, aiming to disrupt the gangrene power centers, puts him at risk. He disturbs the mafia very much," Nicola Gratteri, a top anti-mafia prosecutor in Italy, told CNN on Thursday.

"I don't have precise information about a plan of the mafia against Pope Francis," Gratteri continued. "But if I did, I wouldn't say."

Gratteri, a deputy prosecutor in Reggio Calabria, a city in southern Italy, is a well-known foe of Calabria's notorious mafia, known as 'Ndrangheta.

The mob's anger with the Pope centers on the Vatican Bank, which the new pontiff has tried to reform, according to experts on the Italian underworld.

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Vatican officials were not immediately available for comment. Earlier on Thursday, a Vatican spokesperson strongly denied any concerns about the Pope's safety.

"The Holy See is not at all worried," the Rev. Federico Lombardi told the French wire service Agence I.Media. "These are the usual inventions."

In May, the Vatican Bank, officially known as the Institute for Religious Works, issued its first-ever report on money laundering, an apparent attempt to improve its financial transparency.

The 64-page report details the Vatican's efforts to crack down on money laundering in particular, though it made no mention of mafia connections. The report found six charges of "suspicious activity" within the past year.

In June, the Pope established a five-person papal commission to investigate the activities of the Vatican Bank, which has been under pressure from international finance authorities to clean up its murky business practices.

A month later, Italian prosecutors arrested a priest who worked as a financial analyst for the Vatican, accusing him of trying to help smuggle tens of millions of euros across Europe using a private plane in July 2012. That same month, two top officials at the Vatican Bank resigned, as Italian prosecutors continued their three-year investigation into the bank.

The Catholic Church and the Italian mafia have a long and complicated history, said Antonio Nicaso, an expert on organized crime in Italy and co-author with Gratteri of a new book called "Holy Water," which explores the relationship between mobsters and the church.

Underworld gangsters often paid for local church repairs or bankrolled feast day celebrations for Catholic saints, Nicaso told CNN. In exchange, Catholic officials kept silent about their illicit deeds.

"The church never raised the issue," he said. "The church has never excommunicated a mobster."

More recently, the mafia used the Vatican Bank to smuggle money, Nicaso said, though he offered no specific evidence. The Pope's reforms threaten that arrangement and will anger organized crime, he added.

"We believe that this is an unprecedented challenge to the economic power center of the Vatican, and for that reason he may face some kind of risk," Nicaso said.

The Vatican has strongly denied any ties to the Italian mafia at the Vatican Bank or at any other church institution.

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The Pope's penchant for wading into the massive crowds who attend his speeches and events poses a particular security risk, Nicaso said.

"He has to be more cautious. He can't go walk around Vatican Square anymore like he's a normal person."

Asked if the mafia would dare try to assassinate such a popular figure, Nicaso said, "There are so many ways to kill a pope. They have to be careful. But in the history of organized crime, whenever they had to remove an obstacle, they never thought about the consequences."

In addition to the Vatican reforms, Francis in his speeches has taken aim at corruption, saying on Monday, for example, that a Christian "who gives to the church with one hand but steals with the other hand from the country, from the poor, is unjust."

The Pope then paraphrased Jesus, saying that it would be better for a corrupt person "if a millstone were put around his neck and he be thrown into the sea."

"He is changing the church," Nicaso said. "It is not a church of power and luxury anymore, and his promise to restructure [the Vatican Bank] is like a Copernican revolution."

- CNN Religion Editor

Filed under: Catholic Church • Crime • Leaders • Money & Faith • Pope Francis

soundoff (606 Responses)
  1. FS

    No wonder the German pope got out of there, he knew what he was into!

    November 14, 2013 at 6:54 pm |
  2. prophet

    is the pope helping the people who were in the storm, thye are all catholics, but he is not there, its better to stay in luxury in the vatican.

    November 14, 2013 at 6:54 pm |
    • JMan

      Are you an idiot? The Pope makes visits all around the world.

      And of course he lives in Vatican City, it's their own country. He can't just go anywhere he wants, as there are plenty of people who want to kill him.

      You can make arguments about, "Oh, well then God should protect him if he exists" all you want, but God doesn't save someone who jumps from 35,000 feet with no parachute on, or someone who willingly drives off a bridge now, does he? You don't knowingly throw yourself into harms way and expect God to make you bullet proof or something

      November 14, 2013 at 7:03 pm |
      • G to the T

        Most people aren't the "vicar of christ". Surely you can understand how some people might feel there should be difference with a person who is supposed to have such a special relationship might be favored some how.

        And it's there a line about handling snakes and drinking poison? Could of sworn...

        November 15, 2013 at 7:44 am |
  3. FS

    Maybe the pope has good intentions to change the church, but he won't be able, why?

    1- Satan is the owner and originator of the church
    2- evilness is so engraved in it, that it is impossible to take it out...the lobby's are so strong that you have to play by their game or else...

    November 14, 2013 at 6:53 pm |
    • G to the T

      Agreed – if Yahweh and the devil exist, my theory is that satan met a certain man on his way to Damascus and convinced him to start a new religion to persecute the jews and keep the gentiles from ever truly knowing god.

      November 15, 2013 at 7:47 am |
  4. prophet

    God Save us from religion.

    November 14, 2013 at 6:48 pm |
  5. prophet

    the people who manage charities live in luxury especially the catholic charities.

    November 14, 2013 at 6:47 pm |
  6. prophet

    the money does go to charity but not to the people who need it.

    November 14, 2013 at 6:45 pm |
  7. prophet

    Our Saviour came to Save us from religion.

    November 14, 2013 at 6:30 pm |
    • Phil

      Save from religion? Not really. He came to save us from sin and death.
      About religion, God always used an Organization on earth. Something that was truly organized, not the mess you see on religious organizations today.

      November 14, 2013 at 6:58 pm |
  8. prophet

    the religion itself needs to not exist as it is a pagan religion but he has not realised this.

    November 14, 2013 at 6:29 pm |
  9. prophet

    he should be more interested in telling people the truth about God as the catholic religion is so misleading. There is nothing worse than distorting truth and misleading people with it.

    November 14, 2013 at 6:26 pm |
    • urr_qasdim

      You are absolutely right. Church = Mafia and only the nonexistence of god allows this to go on for hundreds of years. However, this pope is a wonderful person and should be protected while he continues his reform endeavor.

      November 14, 2013 at 7:10 pm |
  10. Thom

    The Catholic Religion is the biggest corporation in the world and has more property than even the US Government.

    November 14, 2013 at 6:26 pm |
    • andrew

      and collects more money in charity than any other organization. people willing give their money to this cause...

      November 14, 2013 at 6:40 pm |
    • ORChuck


      Do you have any reference source for that?

      November 14, 2013 at 6:58 pm |
  11. Thom

    Sounds like we have our TIME Man of the Year.

    November 14, 2013 at 6:24 pm |
    • ORChuck

      That wouldn't surprise me.

      November 14, 2013 at 6:57 pm |
  12. Thom

    He will change the church for good, even if it cost his life.......wow

    November 14, 2013 at 6:23 pm |
    • ORChuck

      That is the job of a Pope, yes.

      November 14, 2013 at 7:00 pm |
    • Dan

      I doubt the Pope values his life here more than he values doing God's will. As a servant of God, Christians should be willing to lay down our lives to God's will, whether it is to spread His Gospel, show true love and sacrifice for others or to protect those who are most vulnerable. If the Vatican Bank is taking part in harming the least among us (including laundering money that was generated from exploiting the weak), I suspect he finds absolute joy in being a servant of Jesus Christ. We Christians love this life because it is a gift from God and it is an opportunity to show in action as a representative of God the love God has for all of us (whether it is through fighting for justice for those who are wronged, sacrificing to help the poor and afflicted, or planting the seed of salvation for Jesus to reap), but that love is nothing compared to the eternal life we know we have with our Savior. Some may not believe in God, Jesus' salvation or the eternal life with our Lord, but for those who live by Faith in Him, we are blessed to enjoy true freedom and joy in this life by not being bound by this life or worldy desires but only by living for Him and being sanctified for eternity. Whether you are a believer or not, or whether you mock our joy or our faith or feel the need to belittle us, I sincerely pray that God blesses you and that you find the joy, love and hope that we have in Jesus.

      November 14, 2013 at 8:08 pm |
  13. styx

    Saint Malachy's prophecy of the popes comes to mind.

    November 14, 2013 at 6:21 pm |
  14. FS

    This Pope will have to get out of there...Satan dominates the Church, and he does what he wants with it!

    November 14, 2013 at 6:20 pm |
    • Won

      Yep! Even SDA (Seventh-Day Adventist).

      November 14, 2013 at 6:44 pm |
  15. notacatholic

    I"ve never been to a Catholic Church, and I'm starting to like this guy.

    Go Pope!

    November 14, 2013 at 6:19 pm |
  16. SLB

    We found out awhile ago that the Vatican is a center of child abuse...now we figured out that its evolved with the mafia...Whats next?... The CAtholic Church is very rotten!!

    November 14, 2013 at 6:17 pm |
    • Susan StoHelit

      Financial abuses have been known for some time. It's not exactly news. But a Pope tryign to clean it up – that is big news.

      November 14, 2013 at 6:23 pm |
    • FKell

      All things which this Pope is actively working to fix, being an ideological conservative reformer. He has basically said, lets look back on what Jesus's original message was and is, and try and turn back all the changes that man has made to the Church over the last 2000 years, some of which were needed during those times for self survival, but may not have really been in the spirit of Jesus's teaching, which are no longer needed for the Church to survive in today's world. And as he has the power to enact these changes, he is stressing certain aspects of Jesus's teachings that had been almost all but forgoten and is applying them to today's world challenges. Jesus taught that His was an inclusive Church. That people of all backgrounds, races, and even previous religions were welcome. That His message wasn't just for the select "chosen ones", but for all of mankind, including and especially to the downtrodden, the poor, the sick, the persecuted. And this Pope is framing those very teachings to this current age, where the new persecuted and downtrodden are people that may have been in those positions because of things that the Church itself has done, and he is attempting to correct it.

      November 14, 2013 at 6:39 pm |
  17. Neat-O

    It sounds like someone is using the prosecutor to deliver a message to the Church. And since the church has such a long history of being complicit in some of the mafias works, it will be difficult for Francis to drag the Vatican Bank into the modern world. I give him credit for trying and wish him well.

    November 14, 2013 at 6:11 pm |
  18. acrabahyiouspe

    Assassinating the Pope in Vatican City or even Italy would be suicide for the Mafia, I would think. They wouldn't stand a chance.

    November 14, 2013 at 4:23 pm |
  19. Vern

    Good for the pope, clean up the Catholic church!

    November 14, 2013 at 3:56 pm |
  20. Reality # 2

    More Vatican PR. I am sure the mafia can find any number of banks in the USA to launder their money.

    November 14, 2013 at 3:09 pm |
    • ME II

      I'd guess it's not the same. The Vatican bank would not be restricted by any federal laws since the state is the Vatican. As the article implies the only influence from outside is basically international political pressure. I don't think any group has any legal authority over this bank, except of course the Vatican itself.

      November 14, 2013 at 3:24 pm |
      • Reality # 2

        I imagine there a few pure internet banks that have no regulations.

        November 14, 2013 at 4:34 pm |
        • Biz

          Imagine all you want. That doesn't make it so.

          November 14, 2013 at 6:50 pm |
        • Reality # 2

          As an example of money laundering via internet banking:


          November 14, 2013 at 11:47 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.