Earlier this month, the Roman Catholic dioceses of Catania, in Sicily, put a three-year pause on godparents, Jason Horowitz reports at The New York Times. "Church officials argue that the once-essential figure in a child's Catholic education has lost all spiritual significance," and that god-parenting 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. And sometimes mob ties, too."
"It's an experiment," Msgr. Salvatore Genchi, the vicar general of Catania, told the Times. He estimated that 99 percent of the diocese's godparents were not spiritually fit for the role. Fr. Angelo Alfio Mangano at Cataina's Saint Maria in Ognina church said he hopes the pause on godparents will also halt threats "against the parish priest" from questionable characters trying to pressure the priest into naming them godfather.
Catania isn't the first diocese to experiment with doing away with godparents. The next-door diocese of Acireale has made godparents optional, for example, and in Reggio Calabria — home to the 'Ndrangheta mob — Archbishop Giuseppe Fiorini Morosini petitioned Pope Francis in 2014 for a 10-year pause on godfathers, the Times reports. That effort was stopped by Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu, "now on trial in the Vatican on money laundering charges," who insisted all of Calabria's bishops had to agree to the move.
"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," Horowitz writes. "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." Read more, including from the former Sicilian president who insists there are no Mafia godfathers, at The New York Times.