Pope’s edict affects local Mafia boss

Published: 7/27/14 @ 12:00

Lost in all the news coverage about the Second Coming of the King — James, that is, he of the miraculous slam dunk — was a story out of Cassano all’Jonio, Italy, that must be giving a local king (of sorts), organized crime leader Lenine “Lenny” Strollo, sleepless nights.

While LeBron James’ return to the Cleveland Cavaliers grabbed the headlines, an edict from Pope Francis was just as significant — for the Mahoning Valley, which has yet to shed its reputation as a haven for the Mafia.

Last month, the pope ventured into the heart of Italy’s biggest crime syndicate, met with the father of a 3-year-old boy killed in the region’s drug war, and made the following declaration:

“Those who go down the evil path, as the Mafiosi do, are not in communion with God. They are excommunicated.”


During his one-day pilgrimage to the southern region of Calabria, Francis comforted the imprisoned father of Nicola Campolongo in the courtyard of a prison in the town of Castrovillari.

In January, the boy was shot, along with one of his grandfathers and the grandfather’s girlfriend, in an attack blamed on drug turf wars in the nearby town of Cassano all’Jonio. The attackers torched the car with all three victims inside.

The boy’s father and mother already were in jail at the time on drug trafficking charges. Though news stories of the visit focused on the Mafia in Italy, there can be no doubt about the reach of the pope’s declaration.

Which brings us to the Mahoning Valley.

Although the mob no longeris actively involved in murder and mayhem, and even though Strollo is officially designated a federal government informant and witness (snitch), he and others who took the blood oath remain Mafioso.

And that means they would have been looking forward to a Mass of Christian burial so as to be spared a certain one-way ticket to hell.

It’s no accident that members of the Mafia have traditionally given a lot of money to the Catholic Church. It buys forgiveness — especially when it’s time to meet your maker.

Until last month’s papal declaration, Mafia boss Strollo had every reason to expect a burial Mass. After all, a rival mob boss who was killed after Strollo got the green light for the hit from the Mafia bigwigs in New York City left this world with all the blessings of the Catholic Church.

Indeed, the burial of Joseph N. “Little Joey” Naples at St. Anthony Catholic Church in Brier Hill was a major news event. That’s because Mafiosi from Pittsburgh and Cleveland showed up in church to hear the parish priest, Father John DeMarinis, talk about Naples being a loving, wonderful family man who not only supported his community, but also his church.

There was no mention of the fact that Naples, like Strollo and all other mob bosses, used murder as the ultimate weapon against enemies real or imagined.

But, the Catholic Church’s practice of forgiving the sins of society’s dregs was called into question when one of the nation’s most famous Mafia bosses, New York’s John Gotti (“The Dapper Don”) died and his family sought to have the burial Mass in St. Patrick Cathedral. The bishop slammed the iconic church’s doors on the former head of the Gambino family.

Controversial issues

Now, Pope Francis, whose brief tenure as head of the 1.2 billion Catholics worldwide has been marked by his willingness to take on highly controversial issues, has issued an edict that can be summed up thus: You Mafiosi are going to burn in the fires of hell.

Strollo, who undoubtedly is taking stock of his life and probably regretting the testimony he gave in court about murder just being business, faces the reality that excommunication from the Catholic Church means his sins won’t be forgiven by a priest.

During his visit to Cassano all’Jonio last month, Pope Francis denounced the Italian Mafia for what he called its “adoration of evil and contempt for the common good.”

That denunciation fits Strollo and other members of the Mahoning Valley La Cosa Nostra like a glove.

For years, they personified evil, only to receive the church’s blessing when they died.

Parish priests in the Mahoning Valley must know that they will be opening themselves up to harsh criticism if they even think about giving mobsters a God-filled send off.

The days of buying absolution are gone.


Posted by robotboy (anonymous) on July 27, 2014 at 1:59 a.m.

I've never understood your penchant for referring to informants as snitches. Why denigrate those who are aiding authorities in the pursuant of the common good?

Posted by Photoman (anonymous) on July 27, 2014 at 8:37 a.m.

We frequently ask citizens to report crimes and criminal activity they observe or of which they are aware. Shall we label those helpful citizens as snitches?

Posted by questionreality (anonymous) on July 27, 2014 at 10:43 a.m.

What about the atrocities of the Catholic Church - the Inquisition, the Crusades, the aid to the Nazis, and the pederasts? Those people - heaven or hell?

Posted by Kernaloftruth (anonymous) on July 27, 2014 at 12:41 p.m.

Please, for the love of God, for once talk about something relevant. How much do they pay you to write this crap? Give me the job, I'll write columns for the Vindicator for half of what they are paying you and actually make them relevant to something that happened in the last five years, not something that is and has been old hat since 1999.

For your sake Bertram I hope the Mafia does make a comeback so maybe you will be able to justify your job for a change.

Posted by johnyoung (anonymous) on July 28, 2014 at 11:15 a.m.

While the weary columnist may be excused for writing such 'pea-brained' drivel, since he has consistently demonstrated a lack of literary acumen, it is unimaginable to me that the Vindicator management would allow such an irrelevant piece of trash to be published.

Whether the Catholic Church may or may not accept criminals into everlasting life? Come on, the Vindy is now playing God? The entire staff should be ashamed of themselves.

@Kernalofthuth: You may want to withdraw your offer to write for half of Bertram's salary. I doubt if they're paying him very much based on his recent and past performance.

Posted by Askmeificare (anonymous) on July 29, 2014 at 5:05 a.m.

questionreality said it best:

"What about the atrocities of the Catholic Church - the Inquisition, the Crusades, the aid to the Nazis, and the pederasts? Those people - heaven or hell?"

Also, I imagine the former pope whose job is was to reassign priest pedophiles will be going to Hell, never mind he was a Hitler youth as well.

I imagine 99.999% of all xians will be going to hell since they CONSTANTLY play the "I am forgiven" trump card and continue to disobey their orders from jeezus except for their one hour sunday mass up to and including most of the 10 commandments. Makes you wonder just how many sins a xian commits while sitting in traffic... ?

And face it, Strollo only murdered those whom indeed had it coming whether it be drugs or the deceased’s wanton need to hang out with mafia people. So I ask, where is the harm in that? xians kill BILLIONS every year with PREmarital sex and they get away with it so give Strollo and the mafia a bit of a break here.

Besides, who cares about the vatican, really?! They don't have any power and if they did millions of xians would be turning the other cheek and welcoming the Mexican children across the border and adopting children themselves instead of protesting abortion clinics and sharing their home with the homeless and show others how to be humble and xians would not be celebrating Halloween NOR Thanksgiving and on and on.

If the vatican really mattered and xians truly desired gods love then there would be far more television channels devoted to god instead of the few xian channels I have to surf past to get to my 'Ancient Aliens' channels.

Great article Bert. When I read jerky responses from readers such as kernaloftruth and johnyoung, I start singing the song, "Keep It Coming Love" from the great KC and the Sunshine Band in hopes that you Bert continue on in the face of low reader I.Q.

Posted by johnyoung (anonymous) on July 29, 2014 at 8:19 a.m.

@ Askmeificare:

I've only read but one "jerky" response to Bertram's latest musings. Guess who it was from???