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. Organized crime members - your days are numebered!!!

    Organized crime strikes again! Round these losers up and throw 'em in jail. Otherwise someone might take matters in their own hands and they won't be as nice as the police.

    November 14, 2013 at 7:33 pm |
  2. tc

    The prophet on here sure doesn't seem to know very much – not surprising of course.

    November 14, 2013 at 7:29 pm |
  3. Craig

    As a complete outsider to the Catholic Church, I have to say this man is a breath of fresh air. I'm sure he and I wouldn't agree on many things, but at least he's trying...and, more impressively, he's actually talking like someone who noticed that what the Church does and teaches doesn't much match with the words credited to Jesus, the guy who supposedly founded the church. I hope he's successful, but I have to admit I have little faith (no pun intended) should he need the help of Italian Justice.

    November 14, 2013 at 7:22 pm |
    • holdingbreathmemoir

      "...he's actually talking like someone who noticed that what the Church does and teaches doesn't much match with the words credited to Jesus, the guy who supposedly founded the church..."

      No pun particularly intended, but amen. 🙂 It's amazing how often Jesus seems to get left out of the picture, as if much of what he actually said about love, inclusiveness, helping the disadvantaged, forgiveness, etc., is just kind of an embarrassment, or perhaps an "inconvenient truth." I haven't considered myself a Catholic/Christian since I was a kid (and that was a LONG time ago!), but I'm kinda loving Francis. It's sad that a man with that kind of a heart has a way of making dangerous enemies of those who don't (just ask Jesus).

      November 14, 2013 at 9:10 pm |
      • Anna1953

        Beautifully stated.

        November 15, 2013 at 6:24 pm |
    • Anna1953

      I'm with you!

      November 15, 2013 at 6:25 pm |
  4. prophet

    the next reform is from God and there is not much time.

    November 14, 2013 at 7:20 pm |
    • midwest rail

      The exact same warning has been used for the last 2000 years.

      November 14, 2013 at 7:25 pm |
  5. prophet

    if the pope really wants to do good he should just leave the catholics and believe to God.

    November 14, 2013 at 7:19 pm |
  6. FS

    To late to make reforms....the next reform will come from God, directly against the church, and her religious daughters... But this time to destroy them completely. ( Rev chapters 17,18 )

    November 14, 2013 at 7:18 pm |
  7. prophet

    watch this space, russia china iran and north korea, how about this for world control, no country in the west could compete against this.

    November 14, 2013 at 7:16 pm |
    • rob0rah

      What the???????????

      November 14, 2013 at 7:19 pm |
  8. rob0rah

    The mob will not touch the Pope.........other people in the his circle may not be so lucky!

    November 14, 2013 at 7:16 pm |
  9. prophet

    the pope doesn't own an aircraft carrier anymore, but he could buy it but its too much hassle.

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

    people prayed to God in the storm and who came, it was the US government.

    November 14, 2013 at 7:12 pm |
  11. Shawn

    So the Catholic Church supplies the Mafia with money? Honestly, I am not surprised in the slightest. Both organizations are criminals.

    November 14, 2013 at 7:10 pm |
  12. prophet

    it was musollini who gave the vatican the authority it has today.

    November 14, 2013 at 7:09 pm |
  13. Jimmy

    Well seriously if he hadn't been such a public pope they would have already taken care of him as they did with Pope John Paul I in 1978. It seems when they have a true believer in power who wants to do the right thing it interferes with their very unbiblical cult. We'll see how long he lasts.

    November 14, 2013 at 7:08 pm |
  14. prophet

    look back in history, there was a pope who was a reformer and he was there for about three days.

    November 14, 2013 at 7:05 pm |
  15. Journey

    Ted Cruz 2016

    November 14, 2013 at 7:03 pm |
  16. jag

    There is No difference between Church & Mafia.
    Church is the biggest Mafia in the World.

    November 14, 2013 at 7:02 pm |
  17. prophet

    we are praying for them all

    November 14, 2013 at 7:02 pm |
  18. Guest

    I dunno, the mob is still Catholic. I don't know if a don could really pull it together to order a hit on the pope. How would you like to be that crime boss? I dunno some people are untouchable and I think the pope is one.

    November 14, 2013 at 7:02 pm |
  19. prophet

    he cannot reform the catholics because its a deception, it should all be completely began again but this time with the truth of God and not human version.

    November 14, 2013 at 7:00 pm |
  20. prophet

    God has already defeated the adversay, so ye of little faith.

    November 14, 2013 at 6:55 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.