Religion

Religion in Italy is characterised by the predominance of Christianity and an increasing diversity of religious practices, beliefs and denominations. Most Christians in Italy adhere to the Catholic Church, whose headquarters are in Vatican City, Rome. According to the 2012 Global Religious Landscape survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life (an American think tank), 83.3% of Italy’s residents are Christians, 12.4% are irreligious, atheist or agnostic, 3.7% are Muslims and 0.6% adhere to other religions. According to other sources, up to 10% of residents, including both Italian citizens and foreign residents, professes a faith different from Catholicism and the number of atheists and agnostics is rising. Among religious minorities, Islam is the largest, followed by Eastern and Oriental Orthodoxy, Protestantism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism and Judaism.

Regarding Italian citizens, according to a 2006 survey by Eurispes (an Italian research centre), Catholics made up 87.8% of the population, with 36.8% describing themselves as observants. According to the same poll in 2010, those percentages fell to 76.5% and 24.4%, respectively. Other sources give different accounts of Italy’s Islamic population, usually around 2%. In 2016 Eurispes found that 71.1% of Italians (not including foreign residents) were Catholic, 5 points down from 2010, but their religious practice was on the rise at 25.4%. According to Doxa (another Italian research centre) in 2014, 75% of Italians are Catholic. Finally, the Pew Research Center found in a survey in the spring of 2016 that 81.0% of the population of Italy was affiliated with the Catholic Church, out of a Christian population of 84.7%; non-religious people comprised the 12.2% of the total population and were divided in atheists (3.7%), agnostics (2.6%) and “nothing in particular” (5.9%). The country’s Catholic patron saints are Francis of Assisi and Catherine of Siena.[10]

Religious affiliation in Italy (2017)

According to the 2005 Eurobarometer poll (conducted on behalf of the European Commission), 74% of Italians “believe there is a God”, 16% “believe there is some sort of spirit or life force” and 6% “do not believe there is any sort of spirit, God, or life force”. According to the 2012 Global Religious Landscape survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life (an American think tank), 83.3% of Italy’s residents are Christians, 12.4% are irreligious, atheist or agnostic, 3.7% are Muslims and 0.6% adhere to other religions. According to a 2006 survey by Eurispes (an Italian research centre), Catholics made up 87.8% of the population, with 36.8% describing themselves as observants. According to the same poll in 2010, those percentages fell to 76.5% and 24.4%, respectively. Other sources give different accounts of Italy’s Islamic population, usually around 2%. In 2016 Eurispes found that 71.1% of Italians were Catholic, 5 points down from 2010, but their religious practice was on the rise at 25.4%.

Additionally, there are significant differences in religious beliefs by gender, age and geography. For instance, according to a 2014 Doxa poll: 80% of women defined themselves as “Catholic”, while 69% of men did so; 80% of the people in the age group above 55 defined themselves as Catholic, while 8% said to be irreligious or atheist and another 7% described themselves as “without religious reference”; among people aged between 15 and 34, percentages were 68%, 13% and 12%, respectively; in Southern Italy, 85%, 6% and 5%, respectively; in the North-West, 62%, 16% and 13%, respectively.

Catholic Church

The headquarters of the 1.2-billion strong Catholic Church, the State of Vatican City (see also Holy See), is an enclave within the city of Rome and, thus, the Italian territory. The Church’s world leader, the Pope, is the Bishop of Rome, hence the special relationship between Italians and the Church—and the latter’s entanglement with Italian politics (see Lateran Treaty and the section below on religion and politics). The current Pope is Francis, born Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who, before his election in 2013, is from Argentina and was the Archbishop of Buenos Aires from 1998 to his installation. Francis is the third non-Italian Pope in a row, after John Paul II (1978–2005) from Poland and Benedict XVI (2005–2013) from Germany.

Most of the leading Catholic religious orders, including the Jesuits, the Salesians, the Franciscans, the Capuchin Franciscans, the Benedectines, the Dominicans, the Divine Word Missionaries, the Redemptorists, the Conventual Franciscans and the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, have their headquarters in Rome too. The Italian territory is divided in 225 Catholic dioceses (whose bishops have been organised, since 1952, in the politically influential Italian Episcopal Conference, CEI) and, according to Church statistics (which do not consider current active members), 96% of the country’s population was baptised as Catholic.

Ecclesial life is somewhat vibrant and, despite secularization, some of the most active movements and associations are Catholic, including organisations as diverse as Catholic Action (AC), the Italian Catholic Association of Guides and Scouts (AGESCI), Communion and Liberation (CL), Neocatechumenal Way, the Focolare Movement, the Christian Associations of Italian Workers (ACLI), the Community of Sant’Egidio, etc., most of which have been involved in social activities and have frequently supplied Italian politics with their members.

image_pdfimage_print
Scroll Up