Pope Francis
Pope FrancisReuters

In a strongly worded statement, Pope Francis, who is fast becoming a pop icon for his liberal stance on several world issues, has excommunicated the Italian mafia and its members from the Roman Catholic Church.

Pope Francis, who has been on a clean-up in Vatican, is said to be on the mafia hit list, and excommunicating mafia members from the church is bound to anger the families.

There have been several accusations in the past that Vatican and Italian mafia families are working together. But Pope Francis can be heralded as the first of the Vatican head in the history of Roman Catholics to have excommunicated the crime syndicate.

"Those who in their life have gone along the evil ways, as in the case of the mafia, they are not with God, they are excommunicated," Francis said in an outdoor Mass in Piana di Sibari, Calabria, CNN reported.

The excommunication of the Italian mafia family members will be imposed by the church authorities, or will come in force automatically, in cases where a person has committed a grave crime.

Attached strongly to traditions, Italian mafia families often portray themselves to be devout Roman Catholics and, through high donations and favors, are able to win the support of local churches.

However, the Pope's statement is bound to hurt mafia families across Italy which often tried to hide behind religion to carry out criminal activities and win loyalties of its members.

In his statement in Calabria, Pope Francis openly denounced the local mafia family 'Ndrangheta as an example of "the adoration of evil and contempt for the common good".

According to reports, the organization's drug trafficking, extortion and money-laundering activities accounted for at least 3 percent of Italy's GDP. Despite being a local family, the group is currently the most powerful criminal organization in the world with a revenue that stands at around 53 billion Euros (72 billion US dollars) annually.

Pope Francis had openly hit out against mafia members earlier as well. Back in March, at a meeting in Rome, the Pope had admonished mafia bosses on their way of life and asked them to repent, stating "Hell... awaits you if you continue on this road." 

Since their first appearance early in the 18th Century, the Italian organized crime has infiltrated social, religious and economic life in Italy. The most notorious of families used to be the Sicilian Mafia, which still has a considerable presence in many foreign countries including the US.

There are three known mafia-like organizations in Italy: Cosa Nostra of Sicily, 'Ndrangheta of Calabria and Camorra of Naples. Recently, two new organizations - Stidda and Sacra Corona Unita of Puglia - have also grown their presence in the country. 

And it is against all these organizations that Pope Francis has declared an open war.