In one of the most powerful inaugural addresses in Italian history, Italy’ new president Sergio Mattarella came out swinging Tuesday, promising a war on corruption and organized crime.
“The fight against the mafia and corruption are absolute priorities,” he said. “Corruption has reached an unacceptable level; it eats up resources that could be aimed at citizens, prevents the correct expression of the rules of the market, encourages factions and penalizes the honest and capable.”
Mattarella’s own brother, Piersanti, was assassinated by the mafia in 1980 while governor of Sicily.
The head of state cited the “harsh words” Pope Francis used against the politically corrupt, when he called them “men of good manners but bad habits.” And he underscored the “alarming spread of old and new mafias in regions that were historically immune to it.”
The Mafia, Mattarella said, “is an invasive cancer that destroys hopes and tramples rights.”
Mattarella held up Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino as heroic examples of people who stood up to the mafia. Judge Falcone was a Sicilian prosecutor who devoted his life to battling the mafia, and was finally assassinated in May 1992 when mafia hit men blew up his car with five hundred pounds of TNT, killing Falcone, his wife and three bodyguards. Falcone’s friend and colleague Judge Paolo Borsellino was also killed by a car bomb two months later in Palermo.
“To defeat the mafia we need a multitude of honest, competent and tough people,” Mattarella said, “and a political and administrative leadership capable of carrying out their duty.”
Reactions to Mattarella’s words were immediate. Manfredi Borsellino, the Police Commissioner of Cefalù (Sicily) and son of the late Judge Paolo Borsellino, said: “I can only applaud a President who, in his inaugural address, cites as heroes in the fight against the Mafia Giovanni Falcone and my father, Paolo Borsellino, without even mentioning his own brother Piersanti, who died for the same ideals.”
The President of the Sicilian Region, Rosario Crocetta, said: “I’m really happy. I’ve never heard from a head of state or the head of an institution, such a forceful speech against the Mafia.”
In 1993, Pope John Paul II visited the city of Agrigento in southern Italy and spoke out forcefully against the mafia. “I say to those responsible: Convert! One day, the judgment of God will arrive!” he said. Later the Mafia bombed the Pope’s cathedral of Saint John Lateran and another church in Rome, which was seen at the time as a retaliation against the pope for his words against organized crime.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome.