The Mafia without godfathers

The Mafia without godfathers

In a controlled study of Mafia marriages in Corleone, I found that Mafia members are historically more closely related to their brides than their non-mafiosi neighbors in Corleone. What are the implications, genetic and otherwise?

The rates of consanguinity among Corleone’s families, even its Mafia families, are not likely to represent an existential threat due to inbreeding. According to Cavalli-Sforza and his co-authors, nowhere in human civilization do we find sufficient rates of consanguineous marriage to threaten a population from pedigree collapse, even one as small and insular as Mafia families in Corleone. While the rate of consanguineous marriage approaches 50% in some populations today, in Sicily, it has not risen above ten percent. (Cavalli-Sforza 2004)

On the other hand, cousin marriage could represent a different kind of danger to a free society. Jonathan F. Shulz (2016) has shown that not only is consanguineous marriage highly significantly correlated with mafia activity, “cousin marriage is a highly significant and robust predictor of democracy.” Even controlling for a variety of other factors, including the year of onset of the Neolithic revolution, and duration of Church bans on consanguineous marriage, a ten percentage point higher rate of cousin marriage is associated with an approximately three points lower score on the Polity democracy index (a 21 point scale, from -10 to 10). This is equivalent to the difference between the “full” democracies of Italy and the United States (which both scored a “10” in 2015), and the more limited democracy found in countries like Bolivia, Kyrgystan, and Nigeria (which scored a “7” that year).

Another way of looking at it would be to compare the United States’ score in 2015, under Democratic President Barack Obama, and the current rating (2016) as a “Flawed Democracy” on The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index under Republican Donald Trump, who won the electoral vote in November. (Data for 2016 are not yet available from Polity IV.)

The Mafia has cultivated an image of itself that is indivisible from Catholicism and Sicilian culture. One way the two institutions are allied, is in sharing authoritarian values—which is to say, undemocratic ones. The Church authors and then reinforces the religious values and rituals which bind together Sicilians from different families and towns, even those living halfway around the world. And it does so while at the same time, honoring the local: the daily miracle of transubstantiation, the vision, the miracle, the saint who lived close by. The Cursa Santu Luca, celebrating the anniversary of a miraculous retreat by Bourbon forces at Corleone, is one such local, religious celebration.

Another local ritual reinforced by the Church is the “inchino,” where the effigies of saints are made to curtsy or bow, by the confraternity members holding them, in front of the homes of honored families. Not infrequently in Italy, the honorees are at the top echelons of local mafias. When the San Giovann’Battista confraternity in Corleone conducted the inchino in front of the home of Toto Riina’s wife, Ninetta Bagarella, last year, the resulting investigation brought down the corrupt city government, and dissolved the city council.

Collusion between members of the Catholic Church and the Mafia in Sicily has existed, and been overlooked, for decades. Toto Riina was married by a priest in a Palermo church, while living as a fugitive. Rome’s position on organized crime began to change in 1993, when the Pope denounced the Mafia. In 2014, the Vatican declared that Mafia members are to be excommunicated from the Catholic Church. Yet this has not completely severed relations between Church and Mafia, as recent events in Corleone demonstrate.

Complicating these institutional associations are the most personal of connections, those among family members. The Catholic Church holds a monopoly on the sacraments that quite literally create Catholic families. Exercising its right to refuse the sacraments could strike a mortal blow to the organization whose own mythology centers the Catholic family. After all, what is the mafia without godfathers?

The recent objection of the archbishop in Monreale, to a known mafia associate standing as godfather to his niece, may be part of a growing movement to uphold the 2014 Vatican position against mafia activity. Giuseppe Salvatore “Salvo” Riina, the son of Toto Riina, has served an eight-year sentence for Mafia association. Yet last December, Salvo stood as godfather to his niece, an honor Archbishop of Monreale Michele Pennisi has since publicly opposed. It is well understood by Catholics that godparents are obliged to uphold the faith and set an example for their godchildren, facts the archbishop repeated in his objections. “I am not aware that the young man has ever expressed words of repentance for his conduct,” Pennisi says of Riina.

People marry in for reasons other than a lack of opportunity to marry outside one’s extended family. And people who marry their close kin at higher than average rates, do not do so randomly. People who marry their cousins do so not in ignorance, but in concert with their own values, and they do so for legitimate social and economic reasons, such as to preserve inherited wealth, strengthen family ties, and increase one’s personal prospects. One reason for marrying in that cannot be casually discounted, is to preserve power accumulated through generations of mafia activity.

Marriages between close relations are not normally permitted by the Church. For first and second cousins to marry in Sicily requires dispensation from the local archbishop. In the past, dispensations were granted whenever possible: the lack of a dowry, the danger of unmarried cohabitation, and even the risk of social embarrassment to a family at having to break an engagement, were all considered valid reasons to permit a marriage that would otherwise be prohibited due to consanguinity. Unlike the selection of a godparent, which is approved by the local priests, the dispensation process puts each archbishop in position to decide, on a case by case basis, whether a marriage might go forward. While dowry is, hopefully, no longer a deciding factor in granting dispensations to marry, perhaps mafia association will soon become one.

 

Cited:

  1. Colleen Barry. “Italy: Mafia stronghold of Corleone has new ‘godfather’ saga.” Published 2 February 2017. Accessed 3 February 2017 at http://www.sfgate.com/news/article/Italy-Mafia-stronghold-of-Corleone-has-new-10903127.php
  2. Colleen Barry. “Italy: Mafia stronghold of Corleone has new ‘godfather’ saga.” Published and accessed 5 February 2017 at http://siouxcityjournal.com/news/weird-news/italy-mafia-stronghold-of-corleone-has-new-godfather-saga/article_6265cfb9-8275-5823-8249-6f1cf9867f69.html
  3. Jonathan F. Schulz. The Churches’ Bans on Consanguineous Marriages, Kin-Networks and Democracy (December 14, 2016). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2877828 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2877828
  4. Alexander Stille. The Pope Excommunicates the Mafia, Finally. Published 24 June 2014. Accessed 8 February 2017 at http://www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/the-pope-excommunicates-the-mafia-finally

 

Image credit: Rogier van der Weyden (1399/1400–1464). “Baptism, Confirmation, Penance.”

Are Corleone’s Mafiosi more likely to marry close relations? Part 1

Are Corleone’s Mafiosi more likely to marry close relations? Part 1

Over the next several weeks, I will share the results of my first study, into the rates of consanguineous marriage among known members of the Mafia in Corleone, and a control group matched by year of marriage.

I’ve noticed that Mafia members in Corleone appear to marry into other known Mafia families, engage in double in law marriages, and marry close blood relations, all at higher rates than is typical for the town as a whole. A few months ago, I decided to quantify my observations beginning with a controlled study of the blood relations between members of the Fratuzzi and their wives.

Cavalli-Sforza and his co-authors have written the definitive text on consanguineous marriage in Italy, and have paid special attention to Sicily which, owing to its geography and political history, is more isolated than the Italian peninsula. I planned to use their results as a baseline for my own research.

The genealogical documentation that accompanies every marriage is created by a priest, using the baptismal and marriage records. The results were used by the Church to determine degree of relation, which it labeled in degrees I through IV. First degree is the closest relations that are ever allowed to marry, and fourth is the most distant relations still requiring dispensation to marry.

Cavalli-Sforza et al’s research is based on these marriage records created by the Church. The authors are geneticists, with different research aims, and so their categories are slightly different, but map neatly onto the Church’s:

Church degrees of relation Cavalli-Sforza
I. uncle-niece/aunt-nephew 12
II. first cousins 22
III. first cousins once removed 23
IV. second cousins 33

consanguineous-marriages-percentageIn this table from the Cavalli-Sforza text, you can see the types of consanguineous marriages are coded by number. The last two categories, “34” and “44,” are second cousins once removed and third cousins, respectively.

At first, I interpreted this table as saying that half of all marriages required dispensation, due to the bride and groom being first cousins (“22”). In fact, that column shows not the percentage of all marriages, but of all marriages requiring dispensation. The total percentage of marriages that were consanguineous is in the second to last column of this table.

rate-of-consanguineous-marriage

Overall, the incidence of marriage in Sicily between third cousins or closer relations has historically been around five percent of all marriages, according to Cavalli-Sforza’s figures, peaking at around ten percent, and returning to those levels later in the century.

Typically, 25% of your genes will also be found in any one of your aunts’ or uncles’ DNA. You share half as much of your DNA with one of your parents’ siblings as you do with one of your own brothers or sisters. If you have a half-sibling, your coefficient of relationship is also 25%. In other words, you have as much in common with a half-sibling, genetically, as you do with one of your parents’ full siblings. Half-siblings were not allowed to marry, but uncle-niece or aunt-nephew pairings were, with a dispensation from the Church.

Double first cousins are the products of double in-law marriages. When two siblings from one set of parents marry two siblings from another set of parents, the offspring of these marriages are not just first cousins, but double first cousins. They share as much in common, genetically, as half-siblings, or a man and his niece, or a woman and her nephew. While you and your first cousins share just one set of grandparents in common, double first cousins have both sets of grandparents in common. The Church does not restrict double in-law marriages.

Degree of

relationship

Relationship Coefficient of

relationship (r)

0 identical twins; clones 100%
1 parent-offspring 50% (2−1)
2 full siblings 50% (2−2+2−2)
2 3/4 siblings or sibling-cousins 37.5% (2−2+2−3)
2 grandparent-grandchild 25% (2−2)
2 half siblings 25% (2−2)
3 aunt/uncle-nephew/niece 25% (2⋅2−3)
4 double first cousins 25% (4⋅2−4)
3 great grandparent-great grandchild 12.5% (2−3)
4 first cousins 12.5% (2⋅2−4)
6 quadruple second cousins 12.5% (8⋅2−6)
6 triple second cousins 9.38% (6⋅2−6)
4 half-first cousins 6.25% (2−4)
5 first cousins once removed 6.25% (2⋅2−5)
6 double second cousins 6.25% (4⋅2−6)
6 second cousins 3.13% (2⋅2−6)
8 third cousins 0.78% (2⋅2−8)
10 fourth cousins 0.20% (2⋅2−10)

Table source: Wikipedia

Cavalli-Sforza categorize marriages between double first cousins as “Multiple,” indicating that the bride and groom are related through multiple common ancestors.

Since the priests would go back at most three or four generations to complete the documentation supporting a marriage, any common ancestors revealed by the supporting documentation are close enough relations to have a significant impact on a potential couple’s shared coefficient of relation. While discussion of the existing research has focused on the rates of marriage in the first two categories (uncle-niece and first cousin marriages, respectively), and Cavalli-Sforza describe the first category as having an unusually high number of marriages, there’s no telling how much consanguinity lies unmeasured under the heading of “Multiple,” especially if, as I have observed, double in-law marriages are common in the populations being studied.

I have hypothesized that my control group in Corleone would turn out to “marry in” at roughly the same frequency as the rest of Sicily, i.e. around 5-10%, and that Mafia marriages would prove more consanguineous, on average, than the control group. Now, the genealogical research is complete. Over the next several weeks, I will share the results.

Sources:

  1. Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza, Antonio Moroni, and Gianna Zei. Consanguinity, Inbreeding, and Genetic Drift in Italy. Princeton University Press, 2004.
  2. “Coefficient of relationship.” Wikipedia.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coefficient_of_relationship Accessed 19 August 2016.

 

Featured Image: “The Olive Trees,” by Vincent Van Gogh