Bible studies may reveal Godfather’s secrets

Italian police codebreakers are turning to the Bible in their efforts to get at the many secrets of the mafia’s “boss of bosses”.

Bernardo Provenzano was arrested this month after 43 years on the run. When an undercover policewoman known as “the Cat” walked into his rural hideout on April 11 she found him surrounded by encoded messages to and from his lieutenants.

Piero Grasso, Italy’s chief anti-mafia prosecutor, said they offer investigators a mine of information on the inner workings of the world’s most notorious crime syndicate. But the meaning of some remains obscure, and there is a suspicion Cosa Nostra‘s leader used the Good Book as a key.

“It appears certain words in the Bible were associated with numbers in the scheme he used in some of his most important messages,” a source close to the investigation told the Italian news agency Ansa.

A Bible full of notes and underscorings was found at 73-year-old Provenzano’s bedside. Since he has been locked away in a high-security jail, he has repeatedly asked for it back. But investigators have refused to release it, and this week a senior official in the prison service, Sebastiano Ardita, gave Provenzano a replacement.

The capo di tutti i capi (boss of bosses) was quoted as saying that the Bible needed not just to be read but also understood – a remark that will scarcely allay investigators’ suspicions. They do not discount that there is a streak of real belief in Provenzano, who is beginning the first of three life sentences for murder.

A number of religious artefacts, including posters of the mystic saint Padre Pio, were found in his hideout.

Investigators said two things had emerged clearly from notes which had been deciphered. One was that Provenzano was solidly in control of Cosa Nostra. Other senior mobsters addressed him using the word “vossia”, the deeply respectful and indeed archaic, form of “you”.

The messages also confirmed investigators’ suspicions that the mafia was having huge difficulties with recruitment. According to official estimates, Cosa Nostra’s membership has fallen since 2000 from more than 5,000 to around 2,700.

Provenzano yesterday came face to face for the first time with the prosecutors who coordinated his arrest, at the jail in central Italy where he is being held. His lawyer said that he had declined to answer their questions.

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The Guardian, UK
Apr. 21, 2006
John Hooper in Rome

Religion News Blog posted this on Sunday April 23, 2006.
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