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Godfathers Banned at Sicily Baptisms Due to Mafia Exploitation Fears

Catholic Baptism
The Catholic diocese in Catania, Sicily has banned the practice of naming a baby’s godparents for fear of mob ties. Credit: Melchior2006 / Public Domain

Catholic church leaders have banned the naming of baptismal godparents in one Italian diocese amid concern that their role can be exploited by the Mafia. Earlier this month, the Roman Catholic dioceses of Catania, in Sicily, put a three-year pause on the naming of godfathers for infants.

They claim many families enlist local power brokers to be their children’s “compari.” They believe godfathers in Sicily are more interested in securing gold necklaces and networking opportunities for their family than spiritual leadership.

Bishops and priests in the Sicilian region also shared concerns that the now — mainly secular — godfather custom can embolden organized crime figures. Archbishop Giuseppe Fiorini Morosini reportedly argued just that in a letter to Pope Francis in 2014.

“It’s an experiment,” Msgr. Salvatore Genchi, the vicar general of Catania, reportedly said of the godfather ban. Genchi himself is the godfather to at least 15 godchildren. He estimated that 99% of the diocese’s godparents were not spiritually fit for the role, however.

Sicily godfather ban to halt threats on priesthood

The Rev. Angelo Alfio Mangano at Catania’s Saint Maria in Ognina church said he hopes the pause on godfathers will also halt threats “against the parish priest” from questionable characters in Sicily, trying to pressure the priest into naming them godfather.

Catania isn’t the first diocese in Sicily to experiment with doing away with godparents. The next-door diocese of Acireale has made the naming of godparents optional. In Reggio Calabria, home to the ‘Ndrangheta mob, Archbishop Giuseppe Fiorini Morosini petitioned Pope Francis in 2014 for a 10-year pause on godfathers.

That effort was stopped by Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu — who is now on trial in the Vatican on money laundering charges. He insisted that all of Calabria’s bishops had to agree to the pause.

Former Sicilian president a godfather of “just 20” children

Former Sicilian president Salvatore Cuffaro is a godfather of “just about 20” children, he says. He once served five years in prison for tipping off a mafia don to government surveillance. He says that he treated the sacrament with reverence.

“Despite what some priests think, I paid attention to all of my baptismal godchildren,” Cuffaro reportedly said. He added that he only accepted about one in 20 requests to be a godfather to children at baptisms in Sicily.

Cuffaro, nicknamed “Kiss Kiss” for his intimate greetings, said that no members of the Mafia ever served as a religious godfather in Italy’s southernmost island. “At least in Sicily, where I have lived, this doesn’t exist,” he said. “It’s only a religious bond; there are no bonds of illegality.”

The ban has reportedly put a damper on lively, opulent christening celebrations in the Sicilian region. “It’s shocking,” Jalissa Testa, 21, said at her son’s Catania baptism on the first Sunday of the godfather embargo. “In our hearts we know, and they will know, that he has a godfather.”

Catania residents are now sneaking off to have baptisms in nearby Aci Trezza. Rev. Giovanni Mammino’s diocese requires godfathers to swear they are believers — and not organized crime figures.

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