Last year I published a post on PrayTell telling how Bishop Michele Fusco of the central-Italian Diocese of Sulmona-Valva, Italy, had abolished godparents in his diocese for a three year ad experimentum period.
This weekend the New York Times reports that another Italian Diocese, that of Catania in Sicily, is starting a similar three year ban on godparents. The subtitle in the New York Times explains that Catania “has imposed a three-year prohibition on naming godparents, arguing that the tradition has become merely a way to fortify family ties — and mob ties, too.”
The article is heavy on the Mafia connections. But it doesn’t really provide any evidence that this is a specific anti-Mafia tactic. Undoubtedly organized crime is a problem in Sicily, as it is in many other places. All of our local Churches have problems with crime.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any information about this new ban on godparents on the website of the Archdiocese of Catania. Italy’s Corriere della Sera seems to have taken the details for their article from the New York Times and the Repubblica doesn’t have anything else to add.
Undoubtedly there will be more to say about this. But what interests me more here is that this marks a growing trend in Italy to try to combat secularization with the abolition of godparents. All of us have attended baptisms where there is little evidence of a lived faith. Indeed, I know that some priests would prefer to have the option of not baptizing in certain situations where the Faith is extremely hard to see.
Canon Law states that a hope of a Christian upbringing is necessary before Baptism can be conferred. Canon 868 §1.2 explains that, “for an infant to be baptized licitly: … there must be a founded hope that the infant will be brought up in the Catholic religion; if such hope is altogether lacking, the baptism is to be delayed according to the prescripts of particular law after the parents have been advised about the reason.”
However, this prohibition of baptizing children when there is no hope of a “Christian upbringing” is extremely rarely applied. In many cases, neither the parents nor the godparents practice Christianity in any meaningful way. But the argument is made that it is not the child’s fault. Then, for pastoral reasons, the child is baptized. Many children who are baptized today don’t make it as far as First Communion. Fewer receive Confirmation and even fewer get married in the Catholic Church.
There must be some cases when parents of faith cannot find practicing godparents within their family or social circles. But I wonder if there is any merit in concentrating on the lack of faith in the godparents. If today, for pastoral reasons, we often Baptize the children of those who do not seriously practice the faith, is this problem of a lack of faith helped in any way by abolishing the office of godparents?