Pope Francis Takes on the Mafia, Proves Once Again that He's a Badass

Our favorite risk-taking, peace-building, popemobile-eschewing Pope Francis took on the mafia on Saturday, during a visit to Cassano all'Ionio, Italy. The trip — in part a tribute to a toddler who was murdered in an allegedly mafia-related crime in January — saw the pope condemning the Catholic-loving mafia in no uncertain terms. "They are excommunicated," he told crowds during mass. Bam.

The pope arrived in Italy's southern region of Calabria Saturday morning, spending much of the day meeting inmates and prison staff at the penitentiary of Castrovillari. The area is known for being home to Italy's most brutal mob — known as the ‘Ndrangheta, the gang is the most pervasive and powerful in the country, dealing mostly in drug trafficking but often crossing into other more fatal crimes, including murders and bombings. They also were allegedly behind a January shoot-out that left a three-year-old child dead.

As you would know from watching any mob movie ever, the mafia also has strong ties with the Catholic church. Giuseppe Pignatone, a prosecutor who looks into Mafia cases, told the Wall Street Journal that this is mostly done in order to "exploit the bond between the church and large swaths of [Catholic] populations in southern Italy." The Pope, being clearly unhappy about this, took a big step in cutting these ties during comments he made during a mass on Saturday.

“Those who in their lives follow this path of evil, as mafiosi do, are not in communion with God. They are excommunicated,” he said in front of tens of thousands of people. “This evil must be fought against, it must be pushed aside. We must say no to it.”

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The last time a pope criticized the mob? 1993. That same year, Palermo Priest Pino Puglisi was killed after calling out organized crime. Back in April, some bishops called the mob a "cancer" — and got considerable heat. So it was no small risk that Pope Francis was taking on Saturday. But from a Pope who chooses to ditch his popemobile for a less sardine-can-like vehicle; visit Palestine via Jordan instead of casually flying into Tel Aviv; and would happily baptize an alien if it so asked — well, what else would we expect?