ASIDE from a horse’s head in a bed, one of the most memorable scenes in the 1972 movie The Godfather shows Michael Corleone (played by Al Pacino, above) becoming godfather to both his niece and his Mafia family.
There’s a heavy irony in the scene, as Michael stands in church saying that he ‘renounces Satan and all his works’ while a massacre that he ordered progresses in the world outside. It demonstrates the wide chasm between appearance and reality: This churchly dude, renouncing Satan, is actually semi-secretly embracing the world’s evil.
I now learn that the Catholic diocese of Catania is so concerned that “spiritually questionable characters” like Michael Corleone are being chosen in real life to be godfathers is that it has banned godfathering for three years.
Archbishop Salvatore Gristina of Catania, above, said that he decided to temporarily suspend the naming of godparents and confirmation sponsors because the tradition had become:
A social custom in which the dimension of faith is hardly visible.
The archbishop said that in today’s “socio-ecclesial context” in Catania, particularly with “the irregular family situation of so many people,” often those who were selected by families to be the godparents or Confirmation sponsors do not meet the canonical requirements for the role.
The godfather ban was featured in a New York Times article ($) on October 16, which said that Italian prosecutors have used baptisms as a metric to map out the influence of Mafia bosses.
It cited a priest in Catania who said that in some instances “threats against the parish priest” had been made to pressure the cleric into allowing some “spiritually questionable characters” to be named as godfathers.
During a visit to southern Italy in September 2020, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin declared that Marian devotion in particular must be guarded against exploitation by the Mafia. Without a trace of irony he said:
Popular piety is a great treasure that the Church cannot do without precisely because it supports faith in all circumstances. But it also needs to be purified of some unsuitable elements, especially if it is the underworld or criminal elements.
Msgr Salvatore Genchi, Vicar General of Catania, told the Times “it’s an experiment.” He estimated that 99 percent of the diocese’s godparents were not “spiritually fit” for the role.
Genchi expressed hope in an interview with the Italian magazine Famiglia Cristiana that the three-year temporary suspension on baptismal sponsors would be an occasion of renewal in which Catholics come to a better understanding of the Church’s expectations of godparents.
We hope that things will change, and whoever is about to become godfather or godmother will really do so because they intend to be a witness of a journey of faith.
Gristina’s decree, which was first issued in March, came into full effect on October 1 after an interim period from May 25 to September 30 which allowed already scheduled baptisms with selected godparents – many postponed due to prior COVID-19 lockdown restrictions – to take place.
Catholic site Aleteia reported that:
Primarily, the problem is creeping secularism in society and among members of the Church. But there is a concern about the Mafia as well.
It quoted the Times as saying:
Church officials argue that the once-essential figure in a child’s Catholic education has lost all spiritual significance. Instead, they say, it has become a networking opportunity for families looking to improve their fortunes, secure endowments of gold necklaces and make advantageous connections, sometimes with local power brokers who have dozens of godchildren.
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.
The Vatican created a working group earlier this year to study how best to separate criminal organisations such as the Mafia from Catholic traditions.
Hardly surprising, really, as the Catholic Church hates competition posed by rival crime syndicates.