The Vatican and the Mafia – why Italy can’t seem to shake off organised crime

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The Sicilian Mafia is one of the most murderously amoral organisations on the planet – yet babyishly sentimental when it comes to Italian peasant Catholicism. And, like other branches of Italian organised crime, questions exist over whether they have allies in the Vatican, some of whose senior officials are as keen on money-laundering as the Mafia, only not so good at covering their traces.  The relationship between the hitmen and the hierarchy casts an exotic shadow over a new series of thrillers by Alexander Lucie-Smith, the first of which, The Chemist of Catania, has just been published. To quote A.N. Wilson, Lucie-Smith’s plots are fast and his characters unforgettable. ‘Menace, suspense,

Pope Benedict helped me know and love Christ

It was Benedict XVI’s election as Pope, his speeches and his writings that prompted my conversion, and it was his words at Bellahouston Park during his 2010 visit to the United Kingdom that first made me seriously consider my vocation. Without Pope Benedict XVI I would not have become a priest. His passing is for me incredibly personal, but it’s not just because of that, that I find him so incredibly difficult to sum up, it’s because whatever his detractors and admirers insist, he didn’t follow an ideology so much as a person.  ‘Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter

What is Pope Francis up to?

If you think your diary looks busy over the next few days, spare a thought for Pope Francis. The 85-year-old, who was confined to a wheelchair for several months this year, is preparing for a big weekend. He will be spending it in the company of the world’s cardinals – the red-clad figures who are supposed to be his closest advisers but seldom meet en masse in Rome these days. Now the pope has finally decided to gather them together – in the Eternal City’s unforgiving August heat. The pope will be adding to the cardinals’ number today. Tomorrow, he will be dashing off to L’Aquila, the Italian city that

Beautiful and revealing: The Three Pietàs of Michelangelo, at the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, Florence, reviewed

The room is immersed in semi-darkness. Light filters down from above, glistening on polished marble as if it were flesh. This is the installation for Le Tre Pietà, a remarkable micro-exhibition that has just opened at the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo in Florence. It is low in quantity, containing just three works. But stratospherically high in quality, since it comprises Michelangelo’s three versions of the Pietà – that is, the Madonna mourning the dead Christ. He carved these over almost 70 years: one in his early twenties, the next in his seventies, the last in his eighties. Admittedly, the first and the last are present only in a rather old-fashioned

The truth behind the Pope Benedict inquiry

How are we to interpret the revelation that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI misled a sex abuse inquiry? That might seem an odd question. What is there to ‘interpret’ about the former Archbishop Ratzinger’s decision 43 years ago to allow a child abuser, Peter Hullermann, to live in Munich after he was thrown out of the diocese of Essen in 1979 for molesting an 11-year-old boy? The priest subsequently reoffended after Ratzinger moved on from the diocese, becoming Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith under John Paul II. And shouldn’t we be shocked that a former pope told this huge inquiry into decades of abuse in Munich that he wasn’t at