by Alan McElwain
LOOKING in from the out side, there is something macabre about Franciscan friars in a remote Sicilian town being exposed as accomplices of Mafia thugs and getting 13 years gaol for complicity in a fantastic series of crimes, ranging over murder, extortions, blackmail and general terrorism.
But if you live in Italy, nothing about the Mafia surprises you. Directly, or indirectly, you are conscious of its vast ramifications all the time; the name " Mafia ", for instance, appears more regularly in the newspapers than that of the Pope, the leading politicians or even the reigning film stars.
There is no aspect of Sicilian life which, over two centuries, it has not bedevilled — political.
social, business, religious—and, of course, its tentacles stretch out well beyond its native island.
The three friars who, having been absolved by one court, have now been convicted by another, lived in a monastery which, it has been proved, became the operations centre of fearsome activities that engulfed the entire surrounding countryside. Businessmen (one who refused to pay "protection" money was murdered), professional men, peasants—all were to some degree caught in the Mafia net.
Police claimed that the friars used their confessionals to extort "fees" from, and generally intimidate penitents. It was also proven that extortion notes sent to various people had been typed on the monastery typewriter. At their first trial, the friars claimed that they had joined up with the Mafia under threat of their lives and that the local Mafia boss who gave them their orders was the monastery gardener, a fellow who, when he saw that the law was likely to catch up with him. fled and subsequently committed suicide.
IT was the dreadful disclosures I made in the friars' trial (with two other men) that really brought home to the Italian authorities and the Italian people just how out of hand the Mafia, which had literally been "getting away with murder" for ages. had got. For the first time in history, the Sicilian regional government, among whose members from time to time were Mafia-selected politicians, appealed, first, to all Sicilians to join in a campaign to destroy the Mafia, and, secondly, to the Italian central government
in Rome to back its efforts.
After the traditional ditherings, an all-party Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry was formed just before the end of the last parliament. Since then there has been a general election and the former Premier, Signor Amintore Fanfani, has been replaced by another Christian Democrat, Signor Giovanni Leone.
A recent series of murders near Palermo has caused a fresh antiMafia outburst, and it now looks as though some action really will be taken to flush out into the open and destroy the gangsters who. until now, have operated entirely above the law.
But it will require more official guts and combative organisation than any government authorities have been inclined to display in the past. The Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry has power to call witnesses before it.
One big question-mark is—how many witnesses will be prepared to speak openly in the face of the Mafia's traditional "Death to those who talk" code?
POPE PAUL'S decision to hold weekly general audiences at noon on Saturday, instead of Wednesday, favoured by Pope John, is another indication of how the new Pontiff is determined to get right down to hard work from the start of his reign.
Mid-week audiences undoubtedly
hampered the flow of Papal appointments and other urgent business throughout the week. Pope Paul will obviate this by transferring the general audiences to the
Presumably, like Pope John. he will also keep private audiences to a minimum. Pope John found that a surfeit of these did more than anything else to hamper his essential work of "keeping the Church
WI IEN President Kennedy visited Archbishop Martin J. O'Connor. rector of the North American College. after seeing
Pope Paul during his recent Rome visit, Cardinal Richard Cushing of Boston presented him with one of
three copies of the encyclical
Pacem in Terris, personally signed by Pope John.
The late Pope, who had been looking forward keenly to meeting President Kennedy, had intended
to present him with the copy himself, because of Mr. Kennedy's enthusiastic comments on the encyclical when it first came out.
Cardinal Cushing, who with the other American cardinals, lived at the North American College during his stay in Rome, was chosen to make the presentation because Boston, of which he is Archbishop, is the Kennedy family's native diocese.
I've been wondering. incidentally, whether Cardinal Cushing will do a little spadework behind the scenes with Pope Paul in an attempt to introduce at long last a worthwhile press relations set-up within the Vatican.
In an audience with journalists soon after his election, Pope Paul emphasised how much he wanted to help them get the information they desired. Pope John used to do this, too, but as 1 have said before his desires were frustrated by officious people "below stairs". Cardinal Cushing has always been dead keen about good Church/ public relations. He once said that when it came to publicity the Church had a positive flair "for putting its worst vestment forward".