Italy reacted with disgust last week to the lavish funeral procession held for alleged Mafia boss Vittorio Casamonica, including a gilded horse-drawn carriage procession, rose petals dropped from a helicopter, and the “Godfather” movie soundtrack.
Now the Roman Catholic Church is grappling with its role in the extravagant funeral as it wrestles with how it might continue to offer the sacraments to members of crime syndicates without appearing to condone their lifestyles.
During the Aug. 20 funeral, the walls of Rome’s San Giovanni Bosco Catholic Church were adorned with posters, reading “King of Rome” and “You have conquered Rome, now you will conquer heaven.”
One of the biker gangs is called the “Bandidos.” They originated in Texas during the 1960s. In 2013, federal law enforcement produced a national gang report that identified the Bandidos as one of the five most dangerous biker gang threats in the U.S.
And they have a theology and an anthropology that you should know about. They’re summed up in one of their slogans:
God forgives. Bandidos don’t.
Half a dozen men stand nonchalantly in front of a grubby building on one of Rome’s busiest streets as cars whizz past. They stiffen whenever a stranger approaches.
But few would guess they’re undercover cops protecting Italy’s most endangered man.
Inside is the Rev. Luigi Ciotti, a 69-year-old priest with soft brown eyes and silver hair who has spent the past 20 years fighting the Italian Mafia.
He runs an organization called Libera, which means free. It’s become a household name because of its efforts to fight criminal organizations, to support victims and to redevelop land confiscated from mob bosses.
Yet Ciotti says there is still a lot more to be done.
“I dream of a country where every person, every citizen wants to assume their responsibility. On that day the Mafia and corruption will cease to exist,” he said in an interview.
Ciotti has had police escorts before, but when a notorious Sicilian boss named Toto Riina issued a death threat from his jail cell a couple of months ago, the authorities immediately doubled Ciotti’s protection.
It began with the murder of an innocent 3-year-old boy who burned to death in his grandfather’s car in a Mafia ambush in January. Pope Francis was so shaken by the death of Nicola “Coco” Campolongo that he spoke out against the ferocity of the crime and those behind it.
“They are not with God,” Francis said during his visit to the nearby town of Sibari in the region of Calabria where the global crime syndicate ‘Ndrangheta is based. “They are excommunicated!”