Everything for the baptism had been arranged by the mother. She clothed her newborn son Antonio in a homemade satin outfit with tails and a matching cream-colored top hat embellished with rhinestones, which she sewed herself from scraps of fabric. She hired the photographers and purchased a gold crucifix for the newborn. She had reserved a large buffet lunch for the whole family at the Copacabana.
A crucial element was missing from the ceremony as the parish priest in the Sicilian city of Catania went through it, calling on the family to reject Satan and sprinkling holy water on the wriggling baby’s head, according to witnesses.
It was the church that accomplished it. This past October, the Roman Catholic diocese of Catania imposed a three-year moratorium on the centuries-old practise of designating godparents at baptisms and christenings, effective immediately. The Catholic Church claims that the once-crucial figure in a child’s Catholic education has lost all spiritual value in the modern day. It has instead evolved into a networking opportunity for families seeking to enhance their finances, obtain endowments of gold necklaces, and establish beneficial contacts, often with local power brokers who have hundreds of godchildren, according to the critics.
The practise of God parenting, according to church authorities, had descended to earth as a secular tradition amongst cousins or neighbours — many of whom were lacking in faith or living in sin — and was now just a means of reinforcing family connections.
Italian prosecutors have monitored baptisms in order to map out how underworld leaders spread power, and mafia widows in court have reserved their most venomous resentment for “the true Judases” who break the baptismal connection, according to prosecutors. Most people connect it with the film “The Godfather,” particularly the baptism scene in which Michael Corleone renounces Satan in church as his henchmen beat up all of his opponents.
However, church officials claim that secularisation, rather than anything else, was the driving force behind the removal of godparents, a Sicilian tradition that has existed for 2,000 years, or at the very least since the church’s rocky beginnings, when sponsors known to bishops vouched for converts in order to prevent pagan infiltration.
While holding a copy of the ban in his office behind the cathedral, Msgr. Salvatore Genchi explained that the restriction was an experiment. “It’s a test,” he added. The monsignor, who is a godfather to at least 15 godchildren, claimed he was fully prepared for the position, but he believed that 99 percent of the godparents in the diocese were not.