The Catholic church has been on my mind recently. No, it’s not because of Dan Brown’s latest book (although the review in this week’s Spectator is priceless). Rather it’s the recent rearing up of that church against some of its more ruthlessly commercial members – the mafia.
First we had the beatification of Sicilian priest Don Giuseppe Puglisi, murdered by a mafia hitman in 1993 in front of the church where he urged his congregation to disobey mafia bosses. (Beatification is the penultimate step on the path to sainthood.) And then last Sunday Pope Francis, speaking after his weekly blessing in St Peter’s Square in Rome, condemned mafia groups for “exploiting and enslaving people” and urged mafiosi to repent. “I think of the great pain suffered by men, women and even children, exploited by so many mafias, who make them slaves, through prostitution, through many social pressures,” he said. “They cannot do this, they cannot make our brothers slaves.”
In the past, the Catholic church’s relationship to the mafia has been less clear. Father Puglisi himself was ordained as a priest in 1960 by Cardinal Ernesto Ruffiani. When the cardinal was asked during an interview, “What is the Mafia?”, he replied, “As far as I know, it could be a brand of detergent.” Ah, so maybe that’s where we get the phrase “money laundering”.