Italian bishops are warning of a new “epidemic” of mafia-induced “slavery” amid COVID-19 need.

– Archbishop of Palermo: COVID crisis perfect storm for “criminal entrepreneurship which wallows in degradation and need”

Corrado Lorefice, the Archbishop of Palermo on Sicily, became the latest Italian prelate to warn against the danger of the mafia taking advantage of the hard economic and financial times citizens have fallen on as a result of the pandemic and the associated downturn in business activity.

In a speech to the city July 14 to mark the feast day of Palermo’s patron saint, Saint Rosalia, Lorefice recalled that “the pandemic, in a burning way, has confronted us with the great question of the division between rich and poor, between South and North, between a privileged few and billions of unfortunate people”.

“The virus has told us that we cannot continue like this. That a world so dramatically divided is a world destined to destroy itself”, the archbishop warned.

“In our Palermo the crisis of the pandemic has aggravated economic problems, causing the loss of jobs, exacerbating the crisis of small businesses [and] weakening young people and families”, Lorefice denounced: creating the perfect storm “for a new flourishing of the mafia economy, of criminal entrepreneurship, which wallow in degradation and need”.

“If we do not change, if in Palermo the coronavirus becomes a new great opportunity for the mafia and criminality, it would be a tragic scandal and we, all of us, would be responsible for this scandal”, the archbishop warned, before asking the patron saint’s help that the citizens of Palermo may not become “women and men of the scandal of injustice and dishonest wealth”.

– Bishop of Caserta: “Under our eyes unthinkable things are happening”

Just two days before Archbishop Lorefice’s speech, on July 12, Bishop Giovanni D’Alise, of the southern diocese of Caserta near Naples in the Campania region, had warned in Italian Bishops’ newspaper Avvenire that with regard to the resurgence of the mafia in the times of COVID-19, “under our eyes unthinkable things are happening”.

“Now I have the impression that a new slavery is emerging. Just as the Camorra crept in and hid among us, so did the usury”, D’Alise said, in comments also reported by CNA.

Usury is the practice of lending money at unreasonably high rates of interest. Bishop D’Alise recalled that the Church regards it as “a serious sin, because you make money by taking advantage of other people’s needs. This is anti-human and anti-Christian”.

To drive home the point, the bishop likened usury to racism, particularly in the United States, which he said represents another failure to uphold human dignity.

“In both cases a person is worthless”, D’Alise lamented, adding that “I still have before me the image of the policeman holding George Floyd with his knee. It crushed him, not only physically”.

But the loan sharks in Caserta have managed to make the sinful practice of charging exorbitant interes rates on loans to needy local families even more despicable, with reports beginning to emerge that the usurers are now demanding that children work off their parents’ debt when their progenitors can’t pay.

“Many workers are increasingly exploited; we even go now to sons and daughters. Boys who are sent to work instead of adults, to pay off the debts incurred by parents”, D’Alise deplored.

As for how the Church can respond to this “new slavery” of loan-sharking taking off in Caserta in the shadow of COVID-19, the bishop said “I tell my communities and priests and all those in Caserta who have business dealings, to all the baptised who work more actively for the common good, to keep their eyes open”.

“What is required of the Church is a strong exercise of solidarity, each for what he can, but that is a sensitive and effective solidarity”, D’Alise continued.

“Often we do not realize how much goodness, but also how much evil there is between us. And kids cannot pay the price”, the bishop reflected.

– Cardinal of Naples: “It is up to us to get rid of all criminal organisations”

Lorefice and D’Alise’s warning of the return of the mafia had been echoed in May by Archbishop of Naples, Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, who in a livestreamed Mass warned of the Camorra turning into “another possible epidemic”.

“There are those who are good at making a fortune in times of epidemic”, Sepe warned.

“Let’s move, intervene immediately, because the underworld is faster than our bureaucracy. The Camorra does not wait. It is up to us to get rid of all [criminal] organizations. We must overcome and affirm the right to hope”, the cardinal insisted.

Novena’s full coverage of the Italian Church:

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

8/4: Santa Marta Mass: Pope rails against loan shark, mafiosi “Judases” who trade on coronavirus desperation, “sell their neighbour”


Progressive Catholic journalist, author and educator. Working on social justice, equality and Church renewal.