The mother had prepared everything for the baptism. She dressed her infant son Antonio in a handmade satin suit with tails and a matching cream-colored top hat glittering with rhinestones. She hired the photographers and bought the baby a gold cross. She booked a big buffet lunch for the whole clan at the Copacabana.
But as the parish priest in the Sicilian city of Catania went through the usual liturgy, calling on the family to renounce Satan and ladling holy water on the squirming baby’s head, one major part of the ritual went missing.
There was no godfather.
“It’s not right,” said Agata Peri, 68, little Antonio’s great-grandmother. “I definitely didn’t make this decision.”
The church did. That weekend in October, the Roman Catholic diocese of Catania enacted a three-year ban on the ancient tradition of naming godparents at baptisms and christenings. 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.
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.