Pope to snub Sicilian prelate at heart of corruption probe on September visit

Salvatore Gristina
Archbishop Gristina who is being investigated for embezzlement of funds

In September Pope Francis will be visiting the southern Italian island of Sicily, where, in his usual style, he’ll meet youth, the poor, infirm persons, immigrants and detainees. Not on the list, however, is the Archbishop of Catania, who’s currently charged with embezzlement of funds destined for people with disabilities.

On September 15, Francis will land at Catania’s airport before taking a helicopter to the Sicilian town of Palermo, but the Vatican has confirmed there will be no greetings with the local curia.

While the pope is known for his touch-and-go trips, not meeting with the Metropolitan Archbishop of Catania, Salvatore Gristina, has raised a few eyebrows, especially considering that he heads the Sicilian bishops’ conference.

“I will come to Sicily for a pastoral visit,” Francis reportedly told an Italian journalist May 14 after Mass at Domus Santae Martae where he lives. The Vatican has confirmed the trip, which will occur on the 25th anniversary of Blessed Pino Puglisi, a priest from Palermo killed after challenging the local Mafia.

Sicily holds a special place in the Francis pontificate. It was the first place he visited as pope in July 2013, when he threw a flowered wreath in the Mediterranean Sea to mourn the death of migrants.

Francis has also expressed closeness to the Sicilian people in the fight against the mafia, which he has often condemned and described as “evil.” In a message sent to Sicilian bishops the pope invited them to learn from the example of Puglisi to hold off corruption.

“The plots of evil are fought with daily practices,” Francis told the bishops.

For years cases of financial mismanagement, criminal activity, sexual abuse and moral transgressions by religious and lay people have littered the island. There’s no doubt that the Church in Sicily represents a sui generis situation on the Italian peninsula, something the pope seems to have caught on to early on.

On one hand, Francis chose to make the Archbishop of Agrigento, Francesco Montenegro, a cardinal after their meeting in Lampedusa, a decision that defied the practice of giving the red hat to the bishop in the capital of Palermo. On the other, he made a simple parish priest, Corrado Lorefice, active in the fight against the mafia and human trafficking, the Archbishop of Palermo in 2015.