Archbishop in Sicily bans mafia from being godfathers

Image source, AP
Image caption,
Corleone, which gave its name to the mafia family in 'The Godfather', lies in the bishop's diocese

An archbishop in Sicily has moved to reclaim the term "godfather" from the mafia - by banning gangsters from taking the role at baptisms.

Michele Pennisi, a vocal mafia critic, has his diocese in Monreale, near Palermo.

He said he wanted to challenge the idea that crime bosses have a paternal side.

"The mafia has always taken the term godfather from the Church to give its bosses an air of religious respectability," he told AFP.

"Whereas in fact, the two worlds are completely incompatible."

Archbishop Pennisi's diocese includes the notorious village of Corleone, a vendetta-torn enclave made famous by Mario Puzo's novel The Godfather.

The cleric last made headlines in February by condemning a Corleone priest's decision to let the son of an infamous mobster, Toto Riina, become his niece's godfather.

The row gave rise to his latest decree, which bans anyone convicted of "dishonorable crimes" from acting as a godparent.

Archbishop Pennisi admits that the mafia culture of "omerta" - the law of silence - will make the ruling harder to enforce.

"If someone has not been convicted we cannot judge people on rumours, without proof," he said.

He added that the path to reformation is open for mobsters, as for others.

"If one of them admits to having done wrong, asks to be pardoned for the bad they have done - in that case we can discuss a path of conversion," he said.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Pope Francis, pictured during a baptism, has condemned the mafia's "adoration of evil"

The archbishop had faced death threats in 2008 after he refused to allow Crocefisso Emanuello, the head of a mafia family, a religious funeral.

He was granted police protection as a result.

Pope Francis took a stand against organised crime in 2014 by excommunicating all mafiosi - meaning they are banished in the eyes of the Roman Catholic Church.

"Those who in their lives follow this path of evil, as mafiosi do, are not in communion with God," he said.