God parenting, church officials said, had fallen to earth as a secular custom between relatives or neighbors — many deficient in faith or living in sin — and was now a mere method of strengthening family ties.
And sometimes mob ties, too.
Italian prosecutors have tracked baptisms to map out how underworld bosses spread influence, and mob widows in court have saved their most poisonous spite for “the real Judases” who betray the baptismal bond. It is a transgression most associated with, well, “The Godfather,” especially the baptism scene when Michael Corleone renounces Satan in church as his henchmen whack all of his enemies.
But church officials warn that secularization more than anything led them to rub out the godparents, a Sicilian thing that’s been going on for 2,000 years, or at least since the church’s dicey first days, when sponsors known to bishops vouched for converts to prevent pagan infiltration.
“It’s an experiment,” said Msgr. Salvatore Genchi, the vicar general of Catania, as he held a copy of the ban in his office behind the city’s basilica. A godfather to at least 15 godchildren, the monsignor said he was well qualified for the role, but he estimated that 99 percent of the diocese’s godparents were not....
In 2014, Archbishop Giuseppe Fiorini Morosini of Reggio Calabria, where the ’Ndrangheta mob is rooted, proposed a 10-year stop on godfathers, arguing in a letter to Pope Francis that a secular society had spiritually gutted the figure. That, he said, also made it ripe for exploitation by mobsters.
Archbishop Morosini said that a top Vatican official, Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu, who is now on trial in the Vatican on money laundering charges, responded that all of Calabria’s bishops needed to agree before moving ahead. They did not.
But Archbishop Morosini said he kept bringing the issue up with Francis, who “showed himself very attentive” to it, and, in a meeting in May, told him, “‘Every time I see you, I remember the godfather problem.’”
The Rev. Angelo Alfio Mangano, of the Saint Maria in Ognina church in Catania, welcomed the ban, especially because it gave him a rest from spiritually questionable characters using “threats against the parish priest” to pressure him and others into naming them godfather.
The Rev. Angelo Alfio Mangano, of the Saint Maria in Ognina church in Catania, welcomed the ban.Credit...Gianni Cipriano for The New York Times
Catholic Church in Sicily Bans Godparents For Now - The New York Times (nytimes.com)