ROME (Reuters) – An Italian judge has handed down jail sentences totalling 80 years to 39 people for diverting a Good Friday religious procession to the house of a Mafia family and paying homage to an imprisoned crime boss.
A Sicilian archbishop said he hoped it would deter others from doing anything similar in future.
“You should never invoke God or his name, which is certainly not on the side of the Mafiosi, who are violent and ruthless men,” Archbishop Luigi Renna said in a statement.
Locals were carrying a statue of Jesus Christ through the Sicilian village of San Michele Di Ganzaria during the Easter of 2016, when a group stopped the traditional cortege and forced it to pass before the house of Mafia godfather Francesco La Rocca.
La Rocca was serving a life sentence at the time for various Mafia-related crimes, but his wife came out of the house to greet the well-wishers and made an offering.
The mayor and priest of San Michele Di Ganzaria refused to follow the procession away from its official route and denounced those responsible for diverting it.
The group was convicted of disturbing a religious event and incitement to commit crimes. The eight ringleaders received three-year terms, and the others were sentenced to between six months and two years, nine months in jail.
“This sentence is certainly going to make people suffer, but I hope that the suffering will bear fruit,” the Catania archbishop said.
In Italy, many members of organised crime see themselves as part of a religious, cult-like group, invoking the help of saints and using religious statues in initiation rites.