A church in Sicily, unhappy with the Italian mafia's use of the term "godfather" as a title of respect, has taken action against them by banning known members of the Cosa Nostra from taking part in baptisms.

Michele Pennisi, bishop of Monreale, in the province of Palermo, issued a decree on 17 March, prohibiting Mafioso from being named "godfathers" to children being baptised at his church. "The mafia has always taken the term godfather from the church to give its bosses an air of religious respectability, whereas in fact the two worlds are completely incompatible," the bishop said, according to The Guardian.

Typically, the role of a godparent is to help parents with the child's religious upbringing. The mafia however, adopted the label to describe some of its most powerful dons.

Along with baptism, the Monreale church has also banned members of the mafia from standing as sponsors for those receiving confirmation.

"Those who are guilty of shameful crimes cannot be admitted to the post of godparents for baptism and confirmation," Pennisi told Italian daily Corriere della Sera.

"We have to be clear. A Christian godfather should be a guarantee of raising a child in the faith. How can he be that, if he lives in opposition to the Gospel, in violence and total obedience to the god of money?" he added.

The Godfather
The Godfather by Mario Puzo was set in Corleone, a village in Italy Wikipedia

Pennisi's ban follows his criticism of a church in Padua where a son of a notorious Sicilian mafia boss, Salvatore 'Totò' Riina, was allowed to be the godfather for his nephew's baptism. Riina himself, has only just received the sacrament of confirmation a week before.

"You can't ignore the fact that serving as a baptismal godfather or a confirmation sponsor allows them to reacquire a religious consensus and honourability that a mafia leader doesn't deserve," he said.

However, the bishop stressed that his church would welcome mafia figures who wished to repent for their violent ways. "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."

Pennisi's diocese includes Corleone, the mafia-controlled village which Mario Puzo used as the birthplace for the fictional character Vito Corleone in his book The Godfather.