The Roman Catholic diocese of Catania, Sicily, has issued a three-year ban on naming godparents at baptisms, saying that almost all of them were not spiritually fit for the role, The New York Times reported over the weekend.
"Church officials argue that the once-essential figure in a child's Catholic education has lost all spiritual significance" and that being a godfather has "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."
Catholic Church leaders in the region have also expressed concern that the custom can embolden organized crime figures, with the Times reporting that "Italian prosecutors have tracked baptisms to map out how underworld bosses spread influence.”
Msgr. Salvatore Genchi, the vicar general of Catania, who called the ban an experiment, estimated that 99% of the diocese's godparents were not spiritually suitable for the position.
The Rev. Angelo Alfio Mangano, of the Saint Maria in Ognina church in Catania told the Times that he supported the ban due to “threats against the parish priest” that would be made by questionable characters who used the position for social blackmail and usury.
However, former Sicilian President Salvatore Cuffaro, who once served five years in prison for tipping off a mafia don to government surveillance, disagreed with the ban, telling the Times that he was a godfather of “just about 20” and treated the role with reverence.
“Despite what some priests think, I paid attention to all of my baptismal godchildren,” Cuffaro said, adding he only accepted only about one in 20 requests to be a godfather.
On the first Sunday of the godparent embargo, Jalissa Testa, a resident of Sicily, called the ban “shocking” at her son’s Catania baptism.
Since being declared, the ban has reportedly made christening celebrations in the region much less lively and opulent.
But Testa declared that, despite the decision by the Church, “in our hearts we know, and they will know, that he has a godfather.”
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