Thursday, 16 January 2014

Tough  Decisions (Part I)         


There are times in our lives when we have to make decisions and some of them are pretty tough to make. But some people are faced with decisions that are extremely tough to make. This is the first of a series of really tough decisions that were made that brought real controversy into the lives of everyone involved.


The funeral of a gangster


Vito Rizzuto was a hoodlum, of that there was no doubt. He was at one time, Canada’s most powerful Sicilian Mafia’s boss. You could say that he inherited that role because his father, Nicolo before he died was also Canada’s head of the Sicilian Mafia in Canada. The territory under its control is huge—more than a million square miles of Quebec and Ontario directly fall under the influence covered an area larger than one-quarter the size of the entire United States. It includes major cities and the busiest border crossings between the U.S. and Canada. In 2003, Vito Rizzuto was indicted by a Brooklyn federal grand jury in relation to racketeering conspiracy charges, including loansharking and murder, in connection with the 1981 gangland killings of three rival Bonanno crime family captains, Philip Giaccone, Dominick Trinchera and Alphonse Indelicato.           

Vito Rizzuto was arrested on January 20, 2004 in Montreal. On August 17, 2006, after a legal battle of 31 months, he was extradited to the United States, and appeared before a United States magistrate judge of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York in Brooklyn. On May 4, 2007, Rizzuto pleaded guilty to being present at the triple murder in 1981. As part of a plea bargain agreement, he received a 10-year prison sentence to be followed by a three-year supervised release.  Rizzuto was incarcerated at the ADX Florence, the federal supermax prison where the most dangerous male inmates in the United States are held.                     

He was released from prison on October 5, 2012, and immediately deported to Toronto, Canada. Upon his arrival in Canada, Vito Rizzuto met with representatives of the New York mafia families, and laid low in Toronto for a while before moving back to Montreal. Sources indicated that he had bought an armoured vehicle and was living in a well-guarded apartment. Obviously he knew his life was in danger yet he wanted to send the message that he was back in Montreal to stay, and would not be easy prey.  

He was aware that his father was previously killed by a sniper through his kitchen window in November 2010, at the age of 86. His eldest son, Nicolo Rizzuto, Jr., was gunned down on December 28, 2009, in the Notre-Dame-de-Grâce borough of Montreal. His brother-in-law and consigliere Paolo Renda disappeared on May 20, 2010, also in Montreal and is believed to be dead. His associate, Agostino Cuntrera was killed in broad daylight ten days later on May 30, 2010 in the Saint-Leonard borough of Montreal. It follows that Vito figured that sooner or later, he would be the next victim to be murdered. He fooled them all. On December 23, 2013, Vito Rizzuto died of pneumonia at a Montreal hospital. He was 67.     


The Decision


In Sicily, the birthplace of Vito Rizzuto’s Mafia, some Church leaders have called for a tough stand against gangsters having funerals in churches.  This past summer, Bishop Antonino Raspanti said convicted mobsters would be refused a funeral, declaring; “Being a Christian is incompatible with having links to Mafia organizations.” As far as he was concerned, gangsters and similar-like hoodlums should not be given funerals in churches.    


That issue came up in Montreal after Vito Rizzuto died. The family wanted him to have a funeral in the Notre Dame de la Defense, a large church in the Little Italy district in Montreal.  Three priests serve at the church.


Nicola Gratteri, Italy’s best known Mafia prosecutor and an authority on the Mafia told the National Post, “The risk is to legitimize the strength and power of mafiosi within the territory. The funeral pomp ensures maximum visibility and legitimacy. They should be avoided. The Mafia often communicates with a non-verbal language. Funerals and weddings have always been functional to power. I think Mafiosi should not be granted the sacraments and on the occasion of their funerals, they should be restricted solely to the blessing of the coffin and no homolies (sermons) should be given.”


I suppose it would be difficult to praise a deceased gangster during a sermon. Having never attended such a funeral, I have no idea if such praise is given. If a deceased gangster is praised during the sermon, it would refer to him being a loving father and being faithful to his friends etc.   


Monsignor Igino Incantalupo, who conducted the service for Mr. Rizzuto and a similar funeral in 2010 for Mr. Rizzuto’s father, Nicolo, also a Mafia boss when he was shot dead, defended his stance. He said;


“He was a Christian and he had the right to have a funeral in the church. Now, I know that everyone is not in agreement with that but the church cannot refuse a baptized person. We don’t have to judge so that is why we make the funeral of that guy and to make the funeral of his father two years ago and of his son more years ago.”

Asked if he considered refusing a mass for a man with notoriety, Msgr. Incantalupo said: “It’s not my problem. I don’t have to judge anybody. I don’t know even if before he died if he didn’t ask for a confession. I don’t know. I don’t judge. The family asked for a service and we did it. The church doesn’t refuse anybody.”

That is not always the case. In Hamilton, Ontario in 1997, another notorious Mafia boss, John ‘Johnny Pops’ Papalia died. He had been convicted in New York in the French Connection heroin smuggling ring and was an acknowledged criminal authority in Ontario until he was killed. The bishop of Hamilton told the Papalia family’s priest a funeral mass was out of the question. Instead, the priest gave a simple blessing in a private funeral chapel.

A Papalia family member, Domenic Pugliese, asked angrily of the decision, “Is the bishop above Jesus?” That is a legitimate question. If the bishop believes in Jesus as his saviour, then why did he ignore his teachings? It was Jesus who came to the aid of a woman accused of adultery and was about to be stoned and said to those who would stone her to death, “He who is without sin, let him cast the first stone.” And didn’t he say to one of the thieves who was crucified beside him that he (the thief) would be in heaven that very day?

Neil MacCarthy, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Toronto, said, in general, that most Catholics would receive a funeral mass. He also said, “Christians who have been baptized have the right to receive the sacraments of our faith. He also said, “In extremely rare cases, a public funeral may be denied if it is felt that the occasion would bring scandal to the faithful.”


Did the funeral of Vito Rizzuto bring scandal to the church where his funeral was held?  That was a question that Monsignor Igino Incantalupo might have asked himself before he made his decision to conduct the funeral in a church of a deceased gangster who was implicated in some manner or other with the killings of three other gangsters.

We should keep in mind that if he confessed his sins to a priest before he died, he would have been spiritually absolved of those criminal sins and as such, there would be no religious reason why he couldn’t have his funeral in the church. Unfortunately for the monsignor, he had no way of knowing if this man confessed his sins to a priest since what is said in a confessional is strictly between the sinner and the priest and no one else.
                                                                                                                                                          There is no doubt in my mind that a great many people frown on the concept of a convicted participant in a series of killings being given a funeral in a church.                             

In my opinion, I think all Christians are entitled to have a funeral in a church if that is their wish or the wishes of their families. What I think would really be obscene is the deceased killer or gangster being praised by the priest or the minister of the church during the funeral. That fact that he may have contributed generously to the church or is kind to little children and pets and then praising him for these attributes; is making a mockery of the funeral. I believe that the funeral should be more about asking God to accept him as a sinner.

If any of my readers were the head of a church, what would be your decision if the family of a gangster asked that you to permit and also to conduct the funeral of the gangster in your church?  If you want your opinion published at the bottom of this article, you don’t have to give your real name.




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