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Organised crime is best left to the Catholics [Godfather is the greatest Catholic movie of all time]
Catholic Herald UK ^ | 12/7/2012 | Fr Alexander Lucie-Smith

Posted on 12/12/2012 2:35:42 PM PST by Alex Murphy

Godfather movies are still a huge industry, it seems. By Godfather movies, I do not mean films about gangsters as such, but more the sort of films that have been spawned by Francis Ford Coppola’s great movie. We’ve just been treated to an example of the genre on Channel 4, entitled The Fear. 

The Fear harked back to The Godfather in several ways. First of all it lifted the plot from The Godfather. Ritchie, our Brighton gangster had two sons, Cal who was rather wild and wanted to go in with the Albanian gangs, and Matty who was altogether more respectable. It was Cal’s indiscretions that opened up a crack in the otherwise solid family façade which the drug-dealing and girl-running Albanians were able to exploit. This is exactly what happens in The Godfather, where Il Turco, the drug-dealer, spots that Sonny Corleone does not agree with his father’s rejection of any deal to do with drug-running. As Don Corleone says to Sunny: “Never tell anyone outside the family what you are thinking.” It is a mistake that costs Sonny his life.

If it pinched the plot device from The Godfather, then The Fear pinched the setting from Brighton Rock. Of course, Brighton is a rather seedy place, and it sure makes a better backdrop that let us say, Basingstoke. Drugs and prostitution are a feature of Brighton life, and Brighton is one of the few places in Britain that owes its existence to the leisure industry. It is the nearest we have to Vegas or Atlantic City.

The Fear was good enough to keep me watching, and the acting and dialogue were both fine, to my mind. (Having catch-up sure helped, as four evening appointments might have been a stretch.) But what is the appeal of this sort of movie? The key to it is of course what Francis Ford Coppola identifies – family and family loyalty. Cal and Matty seemed very fond of their old man, as did their mother, who otherwise didn’t seem very married to him. The crime family with its tightly held code of conduct is perhaps emblematic of the sort of family life that has otherwise disappeared. They were an unholy family in The Fear, but a family nevertheless, and we are all fascinated by families. One of the best things about The Fear was to see how sibling rivalry was contained by the conventions of criminal fraternity. How closely related males get on is interesting. Nowadays a lot of men do not “get on” with their fathers; the fact that we like Godfather movies is some indication, surely, that though we have rejected the traditional family structure (or so we are told) we do not seem to have found anything quite as interesting to replace it.

The Fear lacked one ingredient that Francis Ford Coppola and Graham Greene use in abundance: religion – and not just any old religion, but Catholicism, in particular pre-Vatican Two Catholicism. It is an odd thing to note, but one cannot really think of an Anglican crime family, a Methodist gang, or a bunch of Presbyterian mobsters. Organised crime, in artistic terms at least, is best left to the Catholics, and of course the Jews: Hymen Roth, a relatively minor character in The Godfather saga, makes a huge impact (“He’s been dying of the same heart attack for forty years,” as Michael Corleone remarks.) The same is true of Mo Green, who is supposed to be based on the character of Bugsy Seigel. Roth is supposed to be based on Myer Lansky.  Say what you like about these mobsters, they had a certain panache.

Why the nexus between religion and the mob movie? My feeling is that The Godfather cycle is the greatest Catholic movie of all time. The outward show of the faith makes a superb backdrop for some of the climactic scenes – such as when Don Fanucci is murdered while a religious procession is passing through the streets of Little Italy.  But religion is not just wallpaper for Francis Ford Coppola. It is at the heart of what the movies are about.

First of all there is the question of death, which, in the world of the Corleone family, is never far away. Traditional Catholicism is very much at home with the idea of death. In the novel, by Mario Puzo, Kay Corleone, originally a nice American and Episcopal girl, becomes a convert and a daily Mass goer, along with her mother-in-law and sister-in-law. The Mass is the only rationalisation we have for the world of sin and death. Because prayer and liturgy deal with death in this way, they become associated with it too: hence Fanucci dies on the sidelines of an act of worship, and Freddie Corleone is shot dead while he innocently recites a Hail Mary, hoping that this will help him catch a fish. The words of that prayer “… at the hour of our death” might have provided an alternative title to the film.

But the title we have explains it all. The greatest scene is when Michael stands as godfather to his nephew, and where the Latin phrases are intercut with the various scenes of the Corleone family settling its accounts with its enemies. Michael will of course go on to have his nephew’s father killed too. As godfather, he is, to put it mildly, a deeply ambiguous figure, holding his friends close and his enemies closer. Godfather is a religious role, and a deeply evil one too – a contradiction that meets in the person of Michael and his father Don Vito Corleone, two people in whom good and evil combine. And, this is the hard bit, that makes the film so great, we love them both. The godfathers of Francis Ford Coppola’s world disturb our stupid assumptions that we would ourselves be on the side of the angels. Oh no we would not.

In The Fear, both Matty and Cal told their old man that they loved him, and the words were backed up by manly hugs. But it never quite convinced me. As for the deep love Michael Corleone had for his family, that chilled my blood.


TOPICS: Catholic; Moral Issues; Religion & Culture; Religion & Politics
KEYWORDS: catholic
It is an odd thing to note, but one cannot really think of an Anglican crime family, a Methodist gang, or a bunch of Presbyterian mobsters. Organised crime, in artistic terms at least, is best left to the Catholics, and of course the Jews: Hymen Roth, a relatively minor character in The Godfather saga, makes a huge impact (“He’s been dying of the same heart attack for forty years,” as Michael Corleone remarks.) The same is true of Mo Green, who is supposed to be based on the character of Bugsy Seigel. Roth is supposed to be based on Myer Lansky. Say what you like about these mobsters, they had a certain panache.

Why the nexus between religion and the mob movie? My feeling is that The Godfather cycle is the greatest Catholic movie of all time. The outward show of the faith makes a superb backdrop for some of the climactic scenes – such as when Don Fanucci is murdered while a religious procession is passing through the streets of Little Italy. But religion is not just wallpaper for Francis Ford Coppola. It is at the heart of what the movies are about.

1 posted on 12/12/2012 2:35:49 PM PST by Alex Murphy
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To: Alex Murphy
Well, are the "Jamaican Voodoo Posses" Catholic? How about the Russian Mafia? What about the Japanese Yakuza and the Chinese Triads?

And incredibly, Discovery Channel is going to start a show on the Amish Mafia...

2 posted on 12/12/2012 2:39:05 PM PST by Lysandru
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To: Alex Murphy

Thereis nothing Catholic about the activities of the crooks in “Godfather”. Nothing Catholic about their unrepentant selfisness.


3 posted on 12/12/2012 3:00:37 PM PST by TalBlack (Evil doesn't have a day job.)
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To: Lysandru
It is an odd thing to note, but one cannot really think of an Anglican crime family, a Methodist gang, or a bunch of Presbyterian mobsters.

Well, are the "Jamaican Voodoo Posses" Catholic? How about the Russian Mafia? What about the Japanese Yakuza and the Chinese Triads?

And incredibly, Discovery Channel is going to start a show on the Amish Mafia...

IOW, it's more about crime syndicates emerging from close knit ethnic communities that are outside the mainstream, than any particular religion.

4 posted on 12/12/2012 3:01:27 PM PST by Hugin ("Most times a man'll tell you his bad intentions, if you listen and let yourself hear."---Open Range)
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To: Alex Murphy
Organized crime tends to be associated with tightly-knit immigrant communities in cities. For most of the 20th century, those groups were largely Catholic (or Jewish), so mobsters -- especially movie mobsters tended to be Catholic. Now that the demographics have changed, one can expect real-life (and showbiz) gangsters to come from other groups: Eastern European, Russian, Latin American, Asian, Middle Eastern.

Graham Greene tied mobsters with Catholicism, but Pinkie, his Catholic gangster, was only one of several gangsters in the book. I don't know if any of the others were Catholic. A lot of criminals in Greene's Britain were Catholic, because a lot of the urban lower classes were Catholic, but I doubt the mobsters were as preoccupied with theological questions as Greene or Pinkie were.

I notice that Peter Mullan played the dying mob boss in the television film mentioned at the beginning of the article. I assumed he was Irish. Actually, he's Scots, but one of those Catholic Scots of Irish ancestry, so in a sense, the television show was about a Catholic mobster. I also find out Mullan is a Marxist -- literally and self-professedly.

5 posted on 12/12/2012 3:01:52 PM PST by x
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To: Alex Murphy
It is an odd thing to note, but one cannot really think of an Anglican crime family, a Methodist gang, or a bunch of Presbyterian mobsters.

Dixie Mafia? Not to mention the black gangs. Most of them aren't Catholic or Jewish.

This is playing up Italian (or lesser extent Irish) stereotypes.

6 posted on 12/12/2012 3:07:29 PM PST by Darren McCarty (If most people were more than keyboard warriors, we might have won the election)
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To: Alex Murphy
You mean it beats "Going My Way"?
7 posted on 12/12/2012 3:07:42 PM PST by muir_redwoods (Don't fire until you see the blue of their helmets)
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To: x
Organized crime tends to be associated with tightly-knit immigrant communities in cities.

For good reason. In a criminal enterprise, everything depends on your knowing everything about the people you need to trust, so you don't recruit a police snitch. The way to do that is to recruit people who you have known all their lives, and whose every move has been the subject of gossip as they were growing up.

Then you make them shut up, and have everybody who knows them shut up about them to outsiders.

8 posted on 12/12/2012 3:15:17 PM PST by PapaBear3625 (You don't notice it's a police state until the police come for you.)
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To: x
Organized crime tends to be associated with tightly-knit immigrant communities in cities.

For good reason. In a criminal enterprise, everything depends on your knowing everything about the people you need to trust, so you don't recruit a police snitch. The way to do that is to recruit people who you have known all their lives, and whose every move has been the subject of gossip as they were growing up.

Then you make them shut up, and have everybody who knows them shut up about them to outsiders.

9 posted on 12/12/2012 3:15:31 PM PST by PapaBear3625 (You don't notice it's a police state until the police come for you.)
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To: Alex Murphy

And the 9/11/2001 event is a muslim crime but don’t say that out loud or you will be branded an islamophobe.


10 posted on 12/12/2012 3:16:57 PM PST by 353FMG
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To: TalBlack

I was in Chicago on a visit and saw Al Capone’s grave. The inscription below his name reads “My Jesus Mercy” - wonder how much mercy he expected.


11 posted on 12/12/2012 3:21:20 PM PST by SkyDancer (Live your life in such a way that the Westboro church will want to picket your funeral.)
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To: Alex Murphy

In all fairness, if The Godfather is the greatest Catholic movie, it is *only* because of an absence of other great Catholic-centric movies.

However, much of the problem denotes from the history of Italy and the Vatican. The unification of Italy began with the downfall of Napoleon Bonaparte in 1815, and didn’t end until 1870.

Then just about 40 years later, Italy was decimated in a dozen or so horrific battles with Austria-Hungary and Germany, in the Alpine region of the Isonzo River. 650,000 military dead and about 1 million wounded. It had not come close to recovery by World War II.

Yet before, during, and after the war was the peak of Italian migration to the United States. From 1910 to 1920 about 5.3 million Italians came to the US, though about a third eventually returned to Italy.

Importantly, Catholic Italians were greeted by Catholic Germans and Irish, who had been coming to the US since about 1850, so had established a “Catholic infrastructure” in the US that the Italians could greatly expand upon.

In any event, this means that the most profound Catholicism in the movies needs to be based in that period, in the immigrant community, because there you will find not just religious Catholicism but cultural Catholicism as well, integrated throughout the community.


12 posted on 12/12/2012 3:58:35 PM PST by yefragetuwrabrumuy (Pennies and Nickels will NO LONGER be Minted as of 1/1/13 - Tim Geithner, US Treasury Sect)
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To: Lysandru
...a show on the Amish Mafia...

Clippety clop, right past the toll booths without paying, after the bang, bang, bang.

13 posted on 12/12/2012 3:59:20 PM PST by BlueDragon (I sang Dixie as he died The people just walked on by as I cried...)
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To: yefragetuwrabrumuy
In all fairness, if The Godfather is the greatest Catholic movie, it is *only* because of an absence of other great Catholic-centric movies.

Or because the good father isn't actually looking for such movies. Maybe among Hollywood films that had spectacular success in the secular world it could be the greatest Catholic movie, but if you look at all kinds of films from all over the world it probably isn't.

14 posted on 12/12/2012 4:18:27 PM PST by x
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To: Alex Murphy

It’s not really religion that makes for successful organized crime. In fact it must be expressly denounced by those involved. What it requires are insular communities wherein the criminals trust eachother because they grew up together and the neighborhood has greater allegiance to their kind than the cops. This usually results from recent immigrant groups of low economic standing and easily identifiable ethnic or racial traits cramped in a tight geographical area.

Religion plays a part in binding groups together. Obviously it is a major component of ethnicity. It also works against lives of crime, so there’s a sorta wash, there.


15 posted on 12/12/2012 4:45:38 PM PST by Tublecane
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To: muir_redwoods
Or The Song of Bernadette. With Jennifer Jones...story of Lourdes...
16 posted on 12/12/2012 4:52:18 PM PST by goat granny
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To: Darren McCarty

The article doesn’t hide the fact that it is highlighting Catholics because of the movies. And it happens to be true that no organized grime syndicate in the US was ever more successful than the Italians. No one else owned an entire big city like they did Chicago. No one else took over anything so big as the New York waterfront, the New York textile industry, the teamsters union, etc. Jews come along for the ride because the hung with Italians and because they had colorful characters like Bugsy Siegel.

This arrival is idiotic for extrapolating from it that no non-Catholic gangsters ever mattered. Gave they ever wondered what it is rap music is always talking about? Those people aren’t Italians or Jews.


17 posted on 12/12/2012 4:53:35 PM PST by Tublecane
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To: Darren McCarty

The article doesn’t hide the fact that it is highlighting Catholics because of the movies. And it happens to be true that no organized grime syndicate in the US was ever more successful than the Italians. No one else owned an entire big city like they did Chicago. No one else took over anything so big as the New York waterfront, the New York textile industry, the teamsters union, etc. Jews come along for the ride because the hung with Italians and because they had colorful characters like Bugsy Siegel.

This article is idiotic for extrapolating from it that no non-Catholic gangsters ever mattered. Gave they ever wondered what it is rap music is always talking about? Those people aren’t Italians or Jews.


18 posted on 12/12/2012 4:53:46 PM PST by Tublecane
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To: yefragetuwrabrumuy

I feel I should point out that the mafia originated as a Sicilians only club. Not that the very same problems you mentioned didn’t drift over from the boot. Just thought it should be made clear it wasn’t until later that Italians proper were allowed in.


19 posted on 12/12/2012 4:56:52 PM PST by Tublecane
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To: Alex Murphy; Hugin; All
It is an odd thing to note, but one cannot really think of an Anglican crime family, a Methodist gang, or a bunch of Presbyterian mobsters. Organised crime, in artistic terms at least, is best left to the Catholics, and of course the Jews: Hymen Roth, a relatively minor character in The Godfather saga, makes a huge impact (“He’s been dying of the same heart attack for forty years,” as Michael Corleone remarks.) The same is true of Mo Green, who is supposed to be based on the character of Bugsy Seigel. Roth is supposed to be based on Myer Lansky. Say what you like about these mobsters, they had a certain panache.

Meyer Lansky was the prime architect of the Jewish Mafia.The area around Hallandale and Gulfstream Park Race Track in Florida is still referenced by some local residents there as "Lanskyland." They said that by 1980, Lansky's worth may have grown to $400 million (he died in '83).

The Detroit Purple Gang during Prohibition times was Jewish mobster-run. Some estimates put their death totals beyond 500.

20 posted on 12/12/2012 5:00:54 PM PST by Colofornian
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To: PapaBear3625
The Mafia started out as “the black hand” by Sicilian immigrants. Back at the turn of the 20th century....It was Italian, but Italians and Sicilians say Sicilians aren't really Italian...the originated down it the boot of Italy...My brother in law was Sicilian, his mother Italian first generation in American and his father an immigrant from Sicily....made the best zacita /sp. Italian sausage. Opened up a little store and could hardly keep up with the orders of sausage he made. Made the old fashion way....
21 posted on 12/12/2012 5:02:44 PM PST by goat granny
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To: Alex Murphy
"It is an odd thing to note, but one cannot really think of an Anglican crime family, a Methodist gang, or a bunch of Presbyterian mobsters."

You seem to have overlooked the Klu Klux Klan. Not too many Catholics or Jews amongst their ranks but they were definitely an organized crime gang.

Peace and Blessings.

22 posted on 12/12/2012 5:05:48 PM PST by Natural Law (Jesus did not leave us a Bible, He left us a Church.)
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To: Darren McCarty; Alex Murphy; Tublecane; All
It is an odd thing to note, but one cannot really think of an Anglican crime family, a Methodist gang, or a bunch of Presbyterian mobsters. (Alex Murphy)

Dixie Mafia? Not to mention the black gangs. Most of them aren't Catholic or Jewish. This is playing up Italian (or lesser extent Irish) stereotypes. (Darren McCarty)

Stereotypes are indeed exaggerated truth; but the element of truth is usually imbedded somewhere...and, as I said, exaggerated.

Take the Brooklyn crime family boss, Joseph Profaci (1896-1962). Profaci "has often been described as the most devout Catholic of the Mafia leaders, although there were those in the underworld, among them the Gallos and their followers, who said Profaci embraced religion most fervently after he developed cancer. Profaci attended St. Bernadette's Catholic Church in Brookly and even had a private altar constructed in his basement so that mass could be celebrated at family gatherings by a priest who was a close friend of the Profacis. In 1949 a group of leading Italian Americans, including some priests, petitioned Pope Pius XII to confere a knighthood on Profaci, a 'son of Sicily' who, they said, had become a benefactor to the Italian-American community...These citizens...pointed out that Profaci was a most generous donor to many Catholic charities. Profaci's dream of papal approval was shattered however when the Brooklyn district attorney, Miles McDonald, protested to the Vatican that Profaci was a leading racketeer, extortionist, murderer and Mafia leader." (The Mafia Encyclopedia, Carl Sifakis, pp. 297-298)

23 posted on 12/12/2012 5:18:53 PM PST by Colofornian
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To: Natural Law

There was a chapter of the Ku Klux Klan in the Borough of Queens, New York comprised entirely of Irish-American Catholics in the 1980’s, Natural Law.

Thought you might find that an interesting historical fact.


24 posted on 12/12/2012 5:27:58 PM PST by RegulatorCountry
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To: Darren McCarty; Alex Murphy; All
This is playing up Italian (or lesser extent Irish) stereotypes.

And Irish gangs were more than a mere "stereotype"...for a full century plus...

Besides the NY 19th-century gangs, many of which were Irish-based, by the end of that century, several powerful Irish gangs had combined on the Brooklyn waterfront to form the Irish White Hand Gang.

"Following the pattern of the Irish-American gangsters of the 19th century, the White Handers were a violent lot and could be counted on to kill one of their own if there was a quick profit in so doing." (The Mafia Encyclopedia, p. 382)

From about 1900-1925, the turf gangster war was waged there between Irish and Italians.

"After World War I, the White Handers retained a firm grip on he Brooklyn Bridge-Red Hook sections and collected tribute from barge and wharf owners. Those who declined to pay saw their wharves and vessels looted, burned or wrecked. All longshoremen had to pay a daily commission for the right to work. Some paid willingly because they were Irish and saw their salvation in the vows of the White Handers to keep the docks clear of Italians." (The Mafia Encyclopedia, p. 382)

So what about almost a century later?

"An argument could be made on both sides whether the most kill-crazy mobsters in New York in recent years [book published in 1999] were the btural hit men of the Gambinos under Roy DeMeo, who maintained what can only be called a slaughterhouse flat in Brooklyn, or the Westies, who terrorized Manhattan's Hell's Kitchen neighborhood and the surrounding West Side...Those aficionados who favored the Westies (many of whom were former choirboys) could cite as an example the fate of one of the gang's own members, Patrick 'Paddy' Dugan."...Dugan murdered one of Westies leader Jimmy Coonan's close buddies and his fate was sealed. Dugan was murdered, and in typical Westies style his body was sliced up into little pieces for disposal. Coonan retained the severed fingers, which he added to a bag full of the fingers of other victims. Coonan showed the bag to others to encourage them to be more cooperative. This hardly meant the Westies were not a sentimental bunch. They decided Dugan still was a reasonably good lad, so they took his severed head to a local ginmill, propped it up on the bar and for several hours Coonan, other Westies and frieds of Dugan sentimentally toasted the deceased's memory. They even lit a cigarette of Dugan's brand and placed it between the dead man's lips. The Westies never comprised more than a couple dozen men, but they were so kill-cracy their foes must have thought they were up against a Roman legion." (The Mafia Encyclopedia, p. 380)

25 posted on 12/12/2012 5:40:37 PM PST by Colofornian
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To: Natural Law

Oh, and in case anyone was wondering where it was located: Far Rockaway, Queens, New York.

It apparently existed in the seventies as well.

Source:

http://archive.jta.org/article/1977/04/22/2978513/jewish-community-leaders-do-not-feel-menaced-by-kkk-in-area-but-angered-by-publicity-overkill


26 posted on 12/12/2012 5:49:43 PM PST by RegulatorCountry
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To: Colofornian
Well, then there's the Irish. My first mother in law grew up back in the 20s and 30s in an old school NYC Irish family with 13 brothers and sisters. She used to say there were five career paths in her neighborhood; Priest, Cop, Fireman, Bartender and Gangster, and she had at least one brother in each. Actually the gangster was a numbers runner for the Dutch Shultz mob (another Jewish gangster) for a couple of years, but he got out and bought a bar.

Anyway, she and her siblings used to try to get to sleep in a bit on Sunday by promising to go to Mass at the Italian church later. Her mom used to tell them “Italians aren't real Catholics!”, which she always found hilarious.

27 posted on 12/12/2012 6:00:38 PM PST by Hugin ("Most times a man'll tell you his bad intentions, if you listen and let yourself hear."---Open Range)
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To: Tublecane

The grandfather of the Mafia was the Camorra, who are from the region of Naples. It predates the Sicilian Cosa Nostra by about a hundred years. What also confuses the issue is that some of these groups were at least partially like the secret patriotic revolutionary organizations, such as the Carbonari.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Camorra


28 posted on 12/12/2012 7:11:15 PM PST by yefragetuwrabrumuy (Pennies and Nickels will NO LONGER be Minted as of 1/1/13 - Tim Geithner, US Treasury Sect)
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To: yefragetuwrabrumuy

Sorry, I shouldn’t have said mafia when I meant specifically La Cosa Nostra. Of course I realize there were forerunners in the old country, and frankly I don’t know enough about the institution to say where it started or how it spread. What I do know is that the basis for the family in The Godfather, the group out of which grew the five families, the most significant and powerful organized crime syndicate in US history, began as a Sicilians only club. That’s all I meant to say.


29 posted on 12/13/2012 8:43:34 AM PST by Tublecane
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