Catholic Church leaders ban baptismal godparents in one Italian diocese amid concern the role is more unsavory than sacred — and can be exploited by the Mafia.
Religious leaders in Catania issued a three-year ban on naming godparents at baptisms this month, claiming many families enlist local power brokers to be their children’s compari because they are more interested in securing gold necklaces and networking opportunities for their family than spiritual leadership, according to the New York Times.
Bishops and priests in the Sicilian region also shared concerns that the now mainly secular custom can embolden organized crime figures, as Archbishop Giuseppe Fiorini Morosini reportedly argued in a letter to Pope Francis in 2014.
“It’s an experiment,” Msgr. Salvatore Genchi, the vicar general of Catania, reportedly said of the ban.
Although Genchi is the godfather to at least 15 godchildren, he argued that most of the diocese’s godparents were not cut out for juggling so many responsibilities, according to the article.
The Rev. Angelo Alfio Mangano, of the Saint Maria in Ognina church in Catania, told the Times he approved of the new ban because he no longer had to deal with “threats against the parish priest” from questionable characters who sometimes used the position for social blackmail and usury.
Former Sicilian president Salvatore Cuffaro, a godfather of “just about 20” children, who once served five years in prison for tipping off a mafia don to government surveillance, told the Times he treated the sacrament with reverence.
“Despite what some priests think, I paid attention to all of my baptismal godchildren,” Cuffaro reportedly said, adding he only accepted about one in 20 requests to stand on behalf of children at baptisms.
Cuffaro, who is nicknamed “Kiss Kiss” for his intimate greetings, said that no members of the Mafia ever served as a religious godfather on Italy’s “boot,” according to the article.
“At least in Sicily, where I have lived, this doesn’t exist,” he reportedly said. “It’s only a religious bond; there are no bonds of illegality.”
The ban has reportedly put a damper on lively and opulent christening celebrations in the Sicilian region.
“It’s shocking,” Jalissa Testa, 21, reportedly said at her son’s Catania baptism on the first Sunday of the godparent embargo.
“In our hearts we know, and they will know, that he has a godfather.”
In nearby Aci Trezza, where Catania residents are sneaking off to have baptisms, Rev. Giovanni Mammino’s diocese requires godfathers to swear they were believers and not organized crime figures, the article said.
“They keep coming here so that they can have the godfathers,” Mammino reportedly said.
Nicola Sparti, 24, drove to Aci Trezza to take photos with his newly christened son in front of sea rocks that the Cyclops is said to have thrown at Odysseus, the report said.
As toddler Antonio rode in a tiny remote-controlled white Mercedes, Sparti reportedly shrugged off the new rule.
“One day the godfather’s there and the next he’s gone. But a father is forever.”
Antonio’s uncle Alfio Motta, 22, reportedly had a different take.
“I feel like the godfather,” Motta told the paper. “Even if I don’t have the title.”