Rome — Only two weeks after Pope Francis announced he was excommunicating the Mafia, a religious procession in southern Italy has provoked uproar after paying homage to a convicted mobster.
Catholic bishops condemned the detour of the traditional procession, which carried a statue of the Madonna past the house of 82-year-old Peppe Mazzagatti, a Mafia boss serving a life sentence under house arrest.
The town of Oppido Mamertina is home to some powerful criminal clans associated with the Calabrian Mafia known as 'Ndrangheta. For health reasons, Mazzagatti is serving his sentence at home.
Msgr. Nunzio Galantino, secretary of the Italian Bishops' Conference, condemned the detour, saying the Madonna was used for "a gesture that the Mother of God would never have done," while the Vatican daily, L'Osservatore Romano, described it as a "perversion of religious sentiment."
Interior Minister Angelino Alfano also blasted the tribute as "deplorable and disgusting" and anti-Mafia prosecutors have opened an inquiry into the incident.
On a visit to Calabria in June, Francis denounced the 'Ndrangheta for its "adoration of evil."
"Those who go down the evil path, as the Mafiosi do, are not in communion with God. They are excommunicated," the pope warned.
The procession took place July 2 and included Catholic clergy, the mayor, young families and local men carrying the Madonna statue. Local priests also took part in the traditional event.
Meanwhile, a prison chaplain in southern Italy, Fr. Marco Colonna, has told the daily La Repubblica he was continuing to give Communion to imprisoned Mafia bosses despite the pontiff's recent announcement on excommunication.
"I tried to explain to them that the church doesn't kick anyone out, and after a few days of reflection, I told them that they would continue to receive the sacrament," said Colonna, who works at a prison in the southern town of Larino. "I continued to give Communion to bosses."