16 Nov 2013

Vatican plays down mafia threat to Pope

7:32 am on 16 November 2013

The Vatican has downplayed a warning that Pope Francis could be targeted by the mafia because of his reforms to the Vatican bank.

"There is no reason for concern, and there is no need to feed alarmism," said spokesman Father Federico Lombardi.

The warning was voiced by Nicola Gratteri, a state prosecutor in the southern Calabria region, who said the 'Ndrangheta, is "nervous" the Pope is threatening its interests.

"Those who up to now have fed off the power and wealth coming directly from the Church are nervous, upset," he said in an interview published by the newspaper Il Fatto Quotidiano this week.

The Pope, Mr Gratteri said, "is dismantling the Vatican's economic centres. If the mafia bosses can trip him up, they won't hesitate."

Initially the Vatican tried to dismiss the matter. But from Thursday it started saying it was simply taking the warning in its stride.

Since taking the papacy in March, Pope Francis has set about cleaning up the Holy See's holdings and making them more transparent.

One of his first steps was to install a special commission tasked with investigating the Institute for Religious Works and another to probe Vatican finances in general.

The Pope has also called in the Promontory Financial Group, a US consultancy, to conduct an external review of the Vatican bank's money-laundering rules and to look into the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See, an agency handling its real estate holdings.

The Institute for Religious Works was the main shareholder of the Banco Ambrosiano, which collapsed in 1982 amid accusations of laundering money for the mafia.

Banco Ambrosiano's chairman Roberto Calvi was found hanging from a bridge in London in a suspected murder by mobsters.

The 'Ndrangheta has a tight clan structure and specialises in drug and arms trafficking, prostitution, extortion and illegal construction. it runs an international crime network from its base in Calabria.