This Italian Bishop Wants Out of the Godfather Game

This Italian Bishop Wants Out of the Godfather Game

In what might be described as an effort to break the Italian Mafia’s genetic code, a top Italian bishop has proposed a 10-year ban on the designation of godfathers in southern Italy. The idea originated with Archbishop Giuseppe Fiorini Morosini of the southern city of Reggio Calabria, which is the home of the notorious ‘Ndrangheta Mafia, known for its robust business operation in the European cocaine market, and some gruesome killings. Morosini wants to prevent passing criminal predilections from generation to generation.  

The bishop has written to Pope Francis requesting a moratorium on godfathers, a proposal the pontiff initially rejected, but according to Morosini, the pope is now reconsidering the ban after visiting the Mafia-infested Calabria region in late June. During his visit, the pope excommunicated members of the Mafia for what he described as their "adoration of evil." According to Morosini, Francis is now encouraging the idea of a ban and has asked the region’s bishops to submit a proposal.

In the Catholic tradition, godparents are named at a newborn child’s baptism ceremony, during which he or she is clad in white lace and absolved of original sin. They are meant to provide spiritual guidance for the young child. In the Mafia, of course, "godfathers" provide a different kind of guidance.

"Being a padrino at the sacrament of baptism or confirmation serves to create a union among [crime] families," Morosini told Vatican Radio, according to Reuters. "The ‘Ndrangheta is based fundamentally on collaboration and tight bonds among families and this comes through blood ties," Morosini said.

That theme was a central part of Francis Ford Coppola’s blood-oozing Mafia classic, The Godfather.   

"Mr. Corleone is Johnny’s godfather. To the Italian people, that is a very religious, sacred, close relationship," Robert Duvall, who plays the role of Al Pacino’s consigliere, says in the film.  

Morosini wants to end that relationship and prevent the use of a sacred bond to cement ties between the padrino and a future mafioso.

By using religious symbols and sacraments, Morosini says that mobsters try to "give themselves a clean image before society." Indeed, initiation rituals in Italian Mafia families often use religious imagery, including burning images of saints, Alexander Stille writes in the New Yorker. Some mobsters have gone so far in emphasizing their connections to the church, as well as their supposed piety, that they have even claimed sainthood. "All men of honor consider ourselves Catholic," Sicilian mob boss Leonardo Messina told investigators in the early 1990s, according to Stille. "Cosa Nostra sees itself as descending from St. Peter."