An anti-mafia activist priest has praised the Pope’s commitment to fighting organised crime.

– Francis “not the first Pope to denounce the evil of the mafia, but he goes much further” than predecessors

Francis is “not the first Pope to denounce the evil of the mafia, but he goes much further” than his predecessors with his denunciations of the underworld, Don Luigi Ciotti said October 15 in a webinar with interfaith representatives on the “Social Harm of Organized Crime on Communities” and hosted by the Sigmund Freud University in Vienna.

Ciotti – who is known as the “most endangered priest in Italy” and has been under constant police protection since 2014 for the many death threats he has received – said that with his statements and actions Francis leaves the Church “no leeway for prudence or restraint” in terms of speaking out against organised crime.

The priest denounced that the mafia draws its strength on the one hand from moral and material corruption and on the other from “a financial system that, with few exceptions, has lost all sense of ethics and its relationship with the common good”, and is for that reason giving rise to a predatory economy and growing inequality.

However, Ciotti recognised that Pope Francis constantly calls on mafiosi to convert, and has even go as far as to declare members of the underworld excommunicated because the faith and organised crime cannot coexist.

– Organised crime also exists in the Church

In his virtual appearance at the webinar hosted in Vienna, Ciotti made reference to the Pope’s decision to establish a special department within the Pontifical International Marian Academy to study the interface of religion and the mafia and to “free the figure of Mary from the influence of criminal organisations”.

That decision of the pontiff’s was an important one, Ciotti said, since despite the fact that criminals try to show themselves as faith-filled people, their faith is “incompatible with the teachings of the Gospel, which is a word of truth, not of deception, and a word of love, not of violence”.

Francis’ determination to fight organised crime is also vital outside the sphere of popular devotion, Ciotti went on.

He emphasised that mafia activity occurs not only in the wider world but also in the heart of the Church, where in addition to resolute champions against it – like Pope Francis – there are plenty who greet organised crime with understatement, complicity and indifference.

– A new condemnation of the mafia in Fratelli tutti

Also at the webinar on interfaith cooperation in the fight against organised crime, auxiliary bishop of Vienna Franz Scharl pointed out that Pope Francis has again denounced the mafia in his new encyclical Fratelli tutti.

“The loneliness, fear and insecurity experienced by those who feel abandoned by the system creates a fertile terrain for various ‘mafias’. These flourish because they claim to be defenders of the forgotten, often by providing various forms of assistance even as they pursue their criminal interests. There also exists a typically ‘mafioso’ pedagogy that, by appealing to a false communitarian mystique, creates bonds of dependency and fealty from which it is very difficult to break free”, Francis writes in number 28 of his new teaching document.

“Who helps when people are really pushed to the margins? That is what we must be concerned about”, Scharl glossed the Pope, explaining that Francis’ condemnation of the mafia in Fratelli tutti is also a call to the Church to defend human dignity, fight criminalisation and offer concrete opportunities to leave the underworld behind.

More stories on Novena on the Church’s fight against the mafia:

After Pope backs push to “free” Virgin from mob devotion, Vatican official denounces mafia manipulation of religion to enslave

In latest battle in war against mafia, Pope cracks down on dons’ devotion to Mary

Italian bishops warn of new “epidemic” of mafia-induced “slavery” amid COVID-19 need

Italian Church denounces mafia taking advantage of poor caught in coronavirus credit crunch


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PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.