Italian prosecutor says pontiff’s leadership of Church is making mobsters ‘nervous’

BUENOS AIRES — Pope Francis could be in danger from a faction of Italy’s mafia because of his crusade against corruption, a leading state prosecutor warned yesterday.

Italian anti-mob prosecutor Nicola Gratteri told the Italian newspaper, Il Fatto Quotidiano, that the Argentine-born pontiff’s fight against graft and attempts to bring greater transparency to the Vatican was making the mafia nervous, specifically linking the threat to the ‘Ndrangheta organized crime group, based in the southern region of Calabria. He said the pope’s leadership of the Church was making the ‘Ndrangheta “nervous and agitated.”

“Pope Francis is dismantling centres of economic power in the Vatican,” Gratteri told the daily. “If the bosses could trip him up they wouldn’t hesitate. I don’t know if organized criminals are in a position to do something, but they are certainly thinking about it.”

“They could be dangerous and it is worth reflecting on,” he added.

Since becoming pope, Francis has surprised Catholics with his humble style and emphasis on the poor. He has also led efforts to increase transparency in the Church, particularly from the Vatican’s Central Bank, which has long been suspected by outsiders of being involved in money-laundering.

“The mafia that invests, that launders money, that therefore has the real power, is the mafia which has got rich for years from its connivance with the Church,” said Gratteri. “These are the people who are getting nervous.”

In the interview, Grattieri — who was appointed by Prime Minister Enrico Letta to head up a special committee against organized crime — said there were strong links between priests, bishops and mobsters in southern Italy. He also suggested that almost all of the ‘Ndrangheta were devout Catholics.

On Monday, Pope Francis delivered a strong speech against corruption, quoting from the Bible, saying that those who practised corruption should be thrown into the sea, rather than be allowed to continue with graft.

The pope’s leadership of the Vatican has often been surprising. In an interview earlier this year, Francis said that Church needed to change its approach, be more welcoming and should not allow its focus on controversial issues to dominate its teachings.

“We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods… the teaching of the Church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the Church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time,” he said.

PALIN NO FAN OF FRANCIS

One of the United States’ most recognizable politicians waded in the debate about Pope Francis yesterday. Former vice-presidential Republican nominee Sarah Palin revealed in an interview on US television that she was concerned about the pontiff’s “liberal” language since he became the head of the Catholic Church.

In an interview with CNN, where the former governor of Alaska spoke openly about her faith, Palin said she was “taken aback” by some of the pope’s comments and his “liberal” agenda. But she stressed she was only hearing the pontiff’s words second hand through the media and would therefore withhold judgement on the pope for now.

“I’m kinda trying to follow what his agenda is. You know he came out with a couple of things in the media but again I’m not one to trust the media’s interpretation of somebody’s message,” she told CNN.

“He’s had some statements that to me sound kind of liberal, (it) has taken me aback, has kind of surprised me. Then again, unless I really dig deep into what his messaging is, and do my own homework, I’m not going to just trust what I hear in the media,” she continued.

The Argentine-born pontiff has quickly become one of the most famous men in the world since he took control of the papacy in March — Texas-based Internet researchers, the Global Language Monitor, placed him at the top of its list of the most-talked about people of 2013 yesterday, beating the likes of Edward Snowden and Miley Cyrus.