VATICAN CITY – Pope Francis long has railed against corruption and the mafia, but now the Vatican is considering developing a whole doctrine around excommunicating corrupt and mafia-tinged Catholics.
The Vatican this week hosted its first conference on corruption and organized crime, inviting 50 prosecutors, U.N. officials, bishops and victims of organized crime for a day of talks.
Organizers said in a statement Saturday that the time had come to develop a new legal doctrine for the Catholic Church around "the question of excommunication for corruption and mafia association."
Excommunication is one of the most severe penalties in the Catholic Church, with the guilty party forbidden from participating in the sacraments and effectively excluded from the "communion" of the church.
"Our effort is to create a mentality, a culture of justice, that fights corruption and promotes the common good," said Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Vatican's retired ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva, who participated in the conference.
Francis has already declared off-hand that mobsters were destined for hell. During a 2014 visit to the heart of Italy's 'ndrangheta mafia heartland, he denounced the 'ndrangheta for its "adoration of evil and contempt for the common good" and declared that those who follow in the mob's path were automatically excommunicated.
He has similarly denounced corruption, in politics, business and even at the Vatican. While he was the archbishop of Buenos Aires, he penned a booklet "Curing Corruption," where he makes the distinction between sin and corruption and explores the culture that allows corruption to thrive.
He is up against a tough reality in Italy, however, where both organized crime and corruption are deeply embedded. Transparency International ranked Italy 60 out of 176 in its corruption perception index last year. Only Greece performed worse in Western Europe.
The Catholic Church has produced many anti-mafia campaigners in Italy, some of whom have been killed for their efforts. And a few years ago a Calabrian archbishop proposed a 10-year moratorium on the naming of godfathers when children are baptized to break the "padrino" system that mobsters use to spread their influence over the next generation.
But the church is also deeply integrated in the cultural fabric of the parts of Italy where the mob holds sway. In one famous incident just weeks after Francis' 2014 excommunication of the 'ndrangheta, a religious procession carrying a statue of the Madonna detoured from its route in Calabria and went to the home of a convicted mobster under house arrest in a show of honor.