Pope Francis condemns Rome corruption scandal: 'We have to defend the poor'

by Staff |

(REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi)Pope Francis leads the First Vespers and Te Deum prayers in Saint Peter's Basilica at the Vatican December 31, 2014.

VATICAN CITY (Christian Examiner) -- On Wednesday, Pope Francis condemned administrators and criminals in Rome who allegedly pocketed public funds meant to help poor migrants. The pontiff said that the city needs a "spiritual and moral renewal" during the New Year's Eve vespers service at St. Peter's Basilica.

We need "a renewed commitment to building a city marked by justice and solidarity where the poor, the weak and the marginalized are at the center of our concern and our daily action," he continued.

Pope Francis was referring to a scandal revealed earlier this month, when police arrested 37 people suspected of being part of a "mafia-like" organization led by a former terrorist with criminal ties, according to Reuters. Public contracts for immigrant and refugee centers were steered to cronies of the alleged boss.

The Italian media has dubbed the investigation "Mafia Capital." The scandal continues to grow and the investigation has extended to over 100 prominent politicians and entrepreneurs.

Some of the contracts were to begin migrant centers and camps on the outskirts of Rome. Instead of using the public funds for that, though, the corrupt city officials, administrators and others stole the money. Those arrested have been charged with extortion, corruption, fraud, money laundering and embezzlement, according to The Telegraph U.K.

Pope Francis condemned those who took advantage of the poor and called Rome "our city."

"We have to defend the poor, not defend ourselves from the poor. We have to serve the weak, not use the weak," he said. "When a society ignores the poor, persecutes them, criminalizes them ... that society impoverishes itself" and "ceases to be Christian."

Mayor of Rome Ignazio Marino has since ordered a review of city contracts and Italy's Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has proposed tougher corruption laws throughout the country.

Reuters contributed to this report.