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To Curb Mafia, Italian Bishop Wants to Ban Naming Godfathers

FILE - Pope Francis meets with relatives of Mafia victims in Rome's St. Gregorio VII church near the Vatican, March 21, 2014.
FILE - Pope Francis meets with relatives of Mafia victims in Rome's St. Gregorio VII church near the Vatican, March 21, 2014.

A leading Roman Catholic bishop in southern Italy wants a 10-year ban on naming godfathers to stop the Mafia and other crime groups from using religion to extend the tentacles of their families.

Scenes of mobsters taking part in the baptisms of newborns as a godfather, or "padrino" – thereby establishing a special bond with future generations of potential criminals – are replete in Mafia films such as "The Godfather" and "Prizzi's Honor."

Archbishop Giuseppe Fiorini Morosini of the southern city of Reggio Calabria said the problem is real and must be addressed.

Morosini is from Italy's southern Calabria region, home to the 'Ndrangheta, one of the world's most dangerous crime organizations, and has spread throughout the world.

Morosini told Vatican Radio on Monday that he wanted a 10-year moratorium on naming godfathers to break the chain of criminality from generation to generation until a new mentality could develop.

Mobsters "use religious symbols and sacramental practices almost as if to give themselves a clean image before society,'' he said.

"And there is the real factor that being a 'padrino' at the sacrament of baptism or confirmation serves to create a union among [crime] families. The 'Ndrangheta is based fundamentally on collaboration and tight bonds among families and this comes through blood ties," Morosini said.

In the Christian tradition, godfathers vow to teach children the tenets of the faith in case the parents die. But in some areas of Italy and in immigrant cultures abroad, the practice forms an almost sacred familial bond.

Morosini said that during his visit to Calabria last month, Pope Francis encouraged him to "go forward" and suggested that the region's bishops should make a joint proposal to the Vatican.

During his visit to Calabria, the pope issued the strongest attack on organized crime groups by a pontiff in two decades, accusing them of practicing the "the adoration of evil'' and saying mafiosi are excommunicated.

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