Pope Francis didn’t mince words during a recent visit to Calabria in southern Italy. Speaking of those responsible for one of the most horrific crimes Italy has seen in years — the murder of 3-year-old Nicola Campolongo, together with his grandfather and another adult, in a drug-related Mafia hit — the pope said the killers represent “the adoration of evil” and “must be fought, must be expelled.” He didn’t stop there. “Those who follow this evil path in life, such as members of the Mafia,” the pontiff told thousands of worshipers in a region long infected by an organized-crime syndicate known as the ’Ndrangheta, “are not in communion with God: They are excommunicated!”
Francis is not the first pope to denounce the mob. But he is the first, as Time magazine put it, to use “the e-word” — to publicly declare that members of the Mafia have, by their behavior, cut themselves off from the church. While the pope didn’t name specific individuals, and local priests will have to decide for themselves whether to deny communion to known Mafia members, his stance could still prove culturally powerful.
There are many towns where mobsters make a show of their piety, ostentatiously supporting religious festivals or raising money for church charities. But sham religiosity is no antidote to criminal activity. Time and again, Francis has gone out of his way to condemn the evils caused by lust for money. By openly declaring that Mafiosi are “excommunicated,” he has driven home that message more sharply than any of his predecessors.