Published December 23, 2016
Pope Francis is making the Italian mafia “very nervous” – and there are concerns they could come after him.
A leading Italian anti-mob prosecutor warned this week that Pope Francis could get whacked by one of the European country’s notorious mafias as the reforms in the Catholic Church he’s proposed have made the gangsters uneasy.
Nicola Gratteri, a state prosecutor in the southern Italian region of Calabria, said that the ‘Ndrangheta is not happy with Pope Francis’ proposed reforms to combat corruption in the Church, which for decades has faced allegations of collusion with the southern Italian crime family.
“I cannot say if the organization is in a position to do something like this, but they are dangerous and it is worth reflecting on,” Gratteri said, according to the Washington Post. “If the godfathers can find a way to stop him, they will seriously consider it.”
The ‘Nhdrangheta is an organized crime family similar to the Sicilian mafia and based out of the Calabria region of Italy. It is estimated that the 'Ndrangheta earns between $30 billion and $50 billion annually, mostly from drug trafficking and pirated merchandise.
While not as infamous as the Cosa Nostra is in the United States, the ‘Nhdrangheta – which operates through small, individual groups instead of the mafia’s pyramid structure – is arguably more important to Europe’s drug trade as 80 percent of the cocaine entering the continent’s market come through docks in Calabria, Italian officials estimated back in 2004.
For decades, Gratteri said, the ‘Nhdrangheta have benefited from its dealings with the Church, by laundering money and making investments with the complicity of the church.
“Those who have up until now profited from the influence and wealth drawn from the church are getting very nervous,” he added. “[N]ow the pope is dismantling the poles of economic power in the Vatican, and that is dangerous.”
Just last week, Francis denounced parents who feed their children the "unclean bread" earned through bribes and corruption, saying dishonest work deprives parents and their children of dignity.
Gratteri's comments, in an interview with the Il Fatto Quotidiano daily, came in relation to his new book "Holy Water" which details the unholy alliance between the Italian Catholic Church and the 'ndrangheta organized crime group in southern Calabria.
In the interview, Gratteri said Francis was moving in the right direction by "breaking down the center of economic power in the Vatican."
The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said the Holy See was not concerned.
"We are absolutely calm," he told The Associated Press. "Everything is going ahead normally and it seems there's no reason to fuel such alarmism."
Even the pope doesn’t seem to be worried.
On Thursday, Pope Francis shunned a presidential guard escort for his first state visit to the Italian president in yet another breach of protocol and security. Francis' simple blue Ford Focus and the small Vatican motorcade pulled up quietly to the Quirinale Palace without the blaring of sirens that typically accompanies politicians and foreign dignitaries cruising through central Rome.
Once inside the onetime summer residence of popes, Francis walked slowly with President Giorgio Napolitano past the honor guard and then greeted staff members and their children, further evidence of a more casual approach to official duties by the Argentine "slum pope."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.