(CNN) – Using his strongest language to date, Pope Francis told Italian Mafia members Saturday that they are excommunicated from the Catholic Church.
“Those who in their life have gone along the evil ways, as in the case of the Mafia, they are not with God, they are excommunicated,” Francis said. It is the first time a Pope has spoken of excommunication for the Mafia.
Excommunication, which excludes Catholics from the church, can be imposed by church authorities or incurred automatically for certain grave offenses. The Pope’s remarks will resonate strongly in this part of southern Italy, where the Mafia attempt to portray themselves as upstanding religious men in good rapport with the Catholic Church, in order to maintain local credibility.
During a one-day visit to Calabria, in southern Italy, the Pope denounced the local mafia, called ‘Ndrangheta, as an example of “the adoration of evil and contempt for the common good. According to reports, ‘Ndrangheta is one of the wealthiest international crime organizations, with an annual turnover of 53 billion euros, much of it from the global cocaine trade.
Calabria also suffers from 56% youth unemployment, which the Mafia exploits with promises of jobs for disillusioned young people.