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Lost in the Plethora of Anathemas

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It’s becoming clear that one important aspect of Pope Francis’s pontifical agenda is to clarify some misconceptions about who qualifies as authentically Catholic — by his definition, that is. It’s impressive how many enemies Pope Francis is quietly accumulating as he hurls one anathema after the next. Each day, each time he speaks, each time he gives an interview, he seems to have a fresh target — and many are members of the Catholic Church. One might be tempted to imagine Jesus thrashing His way through the Temple, expelling the moneychangers while quoting the prophet Jeremiah: “Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, burn incenses to Baal, and…then come and stand before Me in this house, which is called by My Name, and say, ‘We are delivered!’ — only to go on doing all these abominations? Has this house…become a den of robbers in your eyes?” (Jer. 7:9-11). Francis is justifiably disgusted by the hypocrisy of those who keep the Church’s rituals yet live in great covenant infidelity.

One notable target of the Pope’s ire this summer was the Italian Mafia, perhaps the apotheosis of hypocrisy. “The Mafia,” writes Alexander Stille in The New Yorker (June 22), “has a long history of appropriating the symbols and the language of Catholicism in order to create an aura of legitimacy for itself among the people of Southern Italy, an area where popular religiosity has been and remains widely felt.” For centuries, Mafiosi have used religion as a means to gain social approval and advance their criminal operations. For the Pope — and for all people of good will — this is an obvious problem.

In June the Holy Father traveled to the southern Italian town of Sibari, home to the global crime syndicate Ndrangheta. His visit was prompted by the much-publicized murder of Nicola “Coco” Campolongo, a three-year-old boy who was shot in the head and burned to death in his grandfather’s car, an act of Mafia retribution. Not only did Francis accuse the mobsters of pursuing the “adoration of evil,” he also pronounced a public interdict: “They are not with God. They are excommunicated!”

A month later, Pope Francis visited Caserta, another small city in southern Italy, headquarters of the Casalesi Mafia clan, whose global crime syndicate includes drug trafficking, prostitution, extortion, and money laundering. During remarks he made at a Mass that drew more than 200,000 people, the Pope renewed his attack on organized crime and called for nature to be protected from abuse in a region scarred by toxic waste that’s being illegally dumped by the Mafia.

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