Pope Francis travelled to southern Italy on Saturday to address one of Italy's biggest mob organizations head-on. Speaking to a crowd of tens of thousands in Calabria, home of the 'Ndrangheta criminal organization, the Pope took a hard line, expelling members of the organization from the church. "Those who follow this evil path, as Mafiosi do, are not in communion with the church. They are excommunicated," the Pope said.
“The 'Ndrangheta, less well-known internationally than the Sicilian Mafia, is Italy's most entrenched organized crime organization, in part because its reliance on family ties rather than friendships or ceremonial rites makes it difficult for police to infiltrate,” according to USA Today. “The organization has operations that stretch as far as Australia and Germany, resulting in annual revenue in the range of $75 billion — around 3.5% of Italy's gross domestic product — according to Demoskopika, a research firm based in Calabria.”
Despite the Pope’s tough stance, the church’s relationship with the 'Ndrangheta in the region has been complex. Here’s more from USA Today:
Calabria is the source of alleged mob threats against Francis. Last year, anti-mob prosecutor Nicola Gratteri said the pope's reform agenda was making the 'Ndrangheta "very nervous" and that Francis could become a target for the group… The pontiff's warnings about excommunication should resonate strongly in the region. The 'Ndrangheta is also highly religious, often paying for Roman Catholic Church initiatives and seeking the blessings of local priests, who will change their plans on short notice to officiate at mob weddings, funerals and baptisms. Sometimes, religious processions will pause in front of the homes of 'Ndrangheta leaders in order to bless the inhabitants.