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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

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.

MORE ON CNN: Pope Francis won the Internet. Literally.

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.

MORE ON CNN: Even atheists love this Pope

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. Only 1 God

    You can't pray to Mary, saints, or Jesus. There is only one God. He has no son, he is just God. All humans are fallible, even all the prophets.

    November 14, 2013 at 8:23 pm |
  2. Only 1 God

    The catholic church is a money making scheme, thats it. Perhaps it started off religious but it turned into a political force and business, the political force is dead but it is still a business.

    November 14, 2013 at 8:20 pm |
  3. Al Capone

    Don Cornelioni is ready for action!

    November 14, 2013 at 8:16 pm |
  4. light

    He puts the light on them and they don't like it.

    November 14, 2013 at 8:09 pm |
  5. Puzzled in Peoria

    "if a millstone were put around his neck and he be thrown into the sea."

    Ironic. Jesus was referring to someone who caused little ones to "sin" when he made that statement. It has been interpreted in recent years to pedophiles and others who prey on children.

    November 14, 2013 at 8:08 pm |
  6. longtooth

    Here's a toast to Pope Francis, the first truly honest Pope in the history of the church. After the mafia kills him, maybe the Italian people will grow the balls to get rid of the criminal machine that has crippled their economy since before any of us were born.

    November 14, 2013 at 8:03 pm |
    • Vin

      They're trying to remove them friend,..but eradicating a parasite hundreds of years old, with tentacles all over the place, doesn't happen quick. And the honest folks there who try, they risk life and limb, ...and balls (literally). I know, for example, shops and restaurants there that now refuse to pay local mobsters "protection" money are banding together, asking for more protection from local authorities, and also actually display a sticker in storefront windows stating they don't participate in the "pizzo" or extortion. I wish then luck. If people patronize those places in stead of places that continue to pay the pizzo, the mob will begin to feel the pinch in the pocket good. As for Pope Francis, ..probably one of the better popes in a long time! I wish him luck too.

      November 14, 2013 at 8:45 pm |
  7. JJ

    Wow...besides parishioner's bank rolling child raping priests they are also helping the mafia launder money through the Vatican bank? How can one remain a member of this rotten to the core pedophile infested cult?

    November 14, 2013 at 7:54 pm |
    • Name*bangpoprocks

      Oh my god Calm down! Total over exaggeration . not all of the catholic church is corrupt.

      November 14, 2013 at 8:05 pm |
    • Lonewolf

      A real idiot!

      November 14, 2013 at 8:22 pm |
  8. Rumsfeld

    The reason the italian mob has been alive for centuries is because of corruption in the vatican. The vatican is used for laundering and they also outright steal money from vatican coffers. In return the mob offers the vatican, which is full of boy lovers, boys

    November 14, 2013 at 7:53 pm |
  9. Frank

    Thats horrible. This is something tottaly wrong. How can a church who claims to worship the God that is mentioned in the bible, a church who is supposed to be a good influence, actually has a long history with the Italian mafia. Pathetic. God is not part of such church.

    No wonder the catholic church changed a few things in 10 commandments that is in the bible. If you google the 10 commandments that the catholic church follows and vo to Exodus chapter 20 in the bible, you will see there are differences. Also the catholic church has many pagan traditions. And now connection with the mafia? The Catholic Church abandoned God a long time ago.

    November 14, 2013 at 7:52 pm |
    • Truth

      The Bible is a reference to astrological things too. The next age of Aquarius is when we leave Jesus (Pisces) behind. If there is a God like in the Bible then everyone worshiping Jesus will need to murder each other just like the time when we moved from The Bull (Taurus) to the Ram (Aries). They were worshiping a bull calf when he was bringing down the 10 commandments, when they should be worshiping the Ram (like the Ram horns Jews blow today, and remember they don't believe in Jesus, aka Pisces).

      November 14, 2013 at 8:03 pm |
      • G to the T

        12 Constellations, 12 Tribes, 12 disciples... hmmm... might have something there

        November 15, 2013 at 8:34 am |
  10. Don Corleone

    I'm gonna make him an offer he can't refuse.

    November 14, 2013 at 7:50 pm |
    • Walt

      A new Papal jet, that rivals Air Force One?

      November 14, 2013 at 8:07 pm |
  11. tony

    Goodness. Sarah Plain is aligning with the Mafia in being disappointed in Francis. That didn't take long.

    November 14, 2013 at 7:48 pm |
  12. tony

    Clearly a god has no need for money, or houses of worship, or earthly representatives. "He can make anythinh he wants jsut "happe".

    So why do churches need money so much? Follow the collection plates. . . . . and tell the world the truth.

    November 14, 2013 at 7:47 pm |
    • Rick Hatfield

      Christians and Christian churches give more money to the poor all over the world than any other group.

      November 14, 2013 at 7:54 pm |
  13. Priest

    I personally always thought the Catholic church to be a murderous, thieving, manipulative, destructive church. Why would they now try distance themselves from those that have always been so helpful to them?

    November 14, 2013 at 7:45 pm |
  14. Bhawk

    Mafia ain't shhhhaving cream but Palin says he is wrong

    November 14, 2013 at 7:45 pm |
  15. marc

    The prophet may foresee a straight jacket or some really strong meds in the future.

    November 14, 2013 at 7:40 pm |
  16. Casanova

    What a surprise, organized religion and organized crime becoming partners! They both prey on the naive.

    November 14, 2013 at 7:37 pm |
    • JJ

      Becoming partners? They've always been partners. Organized religion IS organized crime.

      November 14, 2013 at 7:59 pm |
  17. H. B.

    Mark Twain has been quoted as saying, "He who is without flaw is ALL flaw." I don't think many people understand the meaning of the quote. How can someone who is thoroughly good be presumed to be entirely NOT good?

    This is because people don't like people who are almost totally without flaws; it makes them realize how flawed THEY are, themselves, and for that they hate that person. They can often hate the person enough to want him or her dead. I have personal knowledge of this kind of thing. I've seen it happen.

    By the mere fact of being good, such a person will collect many enemies, and for no other reason than that they can find nothing bad in him. This pope seems to be one of those doomed to collecting enemies in that manner.

    I'm not Catholic, or even religious, but I admire this pope, and fear for his life, since it may be that he has almost no friends around him. In Christianity, even Jesus himself was a victim of this kind of hate for being good. And, though many Romans hated him, it was one of his intimate companions that did him in – purposely. People just don't seem able to ABIDE a genuinely good person.

    Isn't it funny? Religion tries to tell people that they should be good, yet when someone really IS good, the people around them come to hating them for it, including other "believers." Maybe, in truth, the believers will hate the person more than non-believers, although even they aren't exempt from hating this way.

    Most assassinations appear to be what are called "Palace Coups," where those closest to the target are the ones who make the assassination possible. So the pope's nearest and dearest are the most likely to help him go bye-bye.

    It seems that people who have some visible stains are much more likely to have friends and admirers. Those who are publicly touted as being good and respectable are more often those who are not, but put forth an image of being, good. That's okay, but genuine goodness, it seems, is socially unacceptable. But nobody proclaims that, and so there are always a few people who try to really BE good – then wonder why people detest them.

    And we call ourselves civilized?

    I genuinely fear for the Pope's life.

    November 14, 2013 at 7:36 pm |
    • Terry

      See the death of Pope JP I. If he was "eliminated", I'll eat my hat.

      November 14, 2013 at 8:26 pm |
  18. FrenchChef

    The GOP Catholic bishops in the US are a greater threat to the Pope than any mafiosi. This is a deflection.

    November 14, 2013 at 7:34 pm |
  19. Obey Gods warnings!

    That attack against all forms of false religion, including Christendom, is the start of the “great tribulation.” (Matt. 24:21; 2 Thess. 2:8) For many, this event will come as a surprise. Why? Because up to that point, the harlot will confidently view herself as “a queen” who will “never see mourning.” But she will suddenly discover that she has miscalculated her chances of survival. She will be wiped out rather quickly, as if “in one day.”—Rev. 18:7, 8.

    God’s Word identifies the harlot’s attacker as a “wild beast” with “ten horns.” A study of the book of Revelation shows that the wild beast refers to the United Nations (UN). “The ten horns” represent all present political powers that support this “scarlet-colored wild beast.”* (Rev. 17:3, 5, 11, 12) How devastating will the attack be? The nations of the UN will plunder the harlot’s wealth, expose her real character, devour her, and “completely burn her.” Her destruction will be final.—Read Revelation 17:16.

    Bible prophecy also indicates what will trigger this attack. Somehow The Almighty God will put it into the hearts of political rulers “to carry out his thought,” namely, to devastate the harlot. (Rev. 17:17) Warmongering religion continues to be a disruptive force in the world; hence, the nations may feel that destroying the harlot is in their own national interests. In fact, when the rulers attack, they will think that they are carrying out their own “one thought.” In reality, however, they act as God’s tool for obliterating all false religion. Thus, in a stunning reversal, one part of Satan’s system will attack another part, and Satan will be powerless to prevent it.—Matt. 12:25, 26.

    November 14, 2013 at 7:34 pm |
    • FrenchChef

      You need to learn the difference between fairy tales and real life.

      November 14, 2013 at 7:36 pm |
    • Observer

      (1 John 2:18) ”Children,it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have appeared; from this we know that it is the last hour."

      – News flash from TWO THOUSAND YEARS AGO.

      November 14, 2013 at 7:40 pm |
    • painterspainters

      Your right, and I know where you get your info....

      November 14, 2013 at 7:56 pm |
      • Obey Gods warnings

        Doesn't matter where I get the info from, what matters is that it has biblical background!

        November 14, 2013 at 8:07 pm |
    • longtooth

      Thank God we have you to interpret Biblical gibberish.

      November 14, 2013 at 7:59 pm |
    • shirodx

      You know, you can agree or disagree. It's fine. Just remember that you read this,that this event was told to happen.

      November 14, 2013 at 8:26 pm |
  20. Kimberlee

    Many people mistake the outer forms of worship, for belief itself. Someone committed to the Mafia cannot be committed to Jesus Christ, no matter how much money he gives to a church. Jesus doesn't ask for money, but for love of God and love of your fellow man. I hope the Pope is successful in his fight against corruption.

    November 14, 2013 at 7:34 pm |
    • tony

      I don't see that saving his life.

      November 14, 2013 at 7:49 pm |
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About this blog

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.