Christianity in Italy

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Catholic Basilica of Saint Francis in Assisi. Saint Francis is one of the patron saints of Italy.

Christianity in Italy is characterised by the predominance of the Catholic Church.

The country's Catholic patron saints are Francis of Assisi and Catherine of Siena.[1]


According to CISB China 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 the remaining 0.6% adhere to other religions.[2] 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.[3] According to the same poll in 2010, those percentages fell to 76.5% and 24.4%, respectively.[4] Other sources give different accounts of Italy's Islamic population, usually around 2%.[5][6][7]

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".[8]

Catholic Church

Before the unification of Italy, a large part of the Italian peninsula was part of the Papal states. However, even after the unification (1861), thanks to French aid, the Pope maintained the supremacy over the city of Rome. This ended on 20 September 1870, shortly after the defeat of Napoleon III. The Kingdom of Italy moved its capital to Rome and the Catholic Church lost any remaining temporal power.

The defeat of the Pope by the Kingdom of Italy gave rise to a long period of antagonism between ecclesiastical and Italian powers. This resulted in the Catholic Church suggesting its believers not to take part in the affairs of the Kingdom of Italy, and the consequent laicisation of Italian politics. The Kingdom of Italy and the Catholic Church managed to reapproach under Fascism with the stipulation of the Lateran Treaty. Among other things, the treaty allowed for the foundation of Vatican City, a microstate over which the Pope has full jurisdiction. The Lateran Treaty survived the fall of Fascism and the constitution of the Republic of Italy, and remains valid to these days.

For these historical and geographical reasons, many popes where born in pre-unitary Italian states, in the Kingdom of Italy, or in the Republic of Italy after 1946. The Pope is also the Bishop of the Diocese of Rome. The current Pope, Francis, from Argentina, 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.[9]

The Italian territory is divided in 225 Catholic dioceses (whose bishops have been organised, since 1952, in the politically influential[10][11] Italian Episcopal Conference, CEI)[12][13] and, according to Church statistics (which do not consider current active members), 96% of the country's population was baptised as Catholic.[14]

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.[15][16][17][18] Italy's current President, Sergio Mattarella,[19][20][21] and former Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi,[22][23] have been AC and AGESCI leaders, respectively, while the current President of the CEI, Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco,[24][25] has been a long-time AGESCI assistant.

Other Christian denominations

Other than that the Latin-rite Catholic Church, Italy has two more native churches: the Italo-Albanian Catholic Church, one of the twenty-two Eastern Catholic Churches in communion with the Pope, and the Waldensian Evangelical Church, a Christian movement originated from Lyon in the late 12th century and turned Calvinist denomination since the Protestant Reformation (see also: Waldensians). The two churches include the majority of the population in Piana degli Albanesi, Sicily and Lungro, Calabria, and the so-called "Waldensian Valleys" (Val Pellice, Val Chisone and Valle Germanasca) of eastern Piedmont, respectively. Most mainline Protestants, including the Waldensians, the Methodists, the mostly German-speaking Lutherans, the Baptists and minor Calvinist and Presbyterian communities, are affiliated to the Federation of Evangelical Churches in Italy, along with the Italian section of The Salvation Army and some minor evangelical and Pentecostal denominations.[26]

Immigration has brought to Italy new Christian communities, especially Orthodox Christians.

Massimo Introvigne, founder and director of CESNUR (an Italian think tank devoted to religious studies) and main author of L'enciclopedia delle religioni in Italia, predicts that, thanks to continued immigration from Eastern Europe, Orthodox Christians could soon become the second largest religious group, overtaking Muslims.

Also Protestantism, especially in its evangelical and Pentecostal forms, is on the rise: Introvigne recalls how Giorgio Bouchard, a Waldensian pastor, told him that "when he was born, the typical Italian Protestant was a man, lived in Piedmont, had a last name like Bouchard and was a Waldensian", while "today, the typical Italian Protestant believer is a woman, lives in Campania or Sicily, is named Esposito and is a Pentecostal."[27] Not surprisingly the Assemblies of God in Italy have the majority of their communities in the South.[28] Among the fastest-growing new religious denominations in Italy a special place is held by the Jehovah's Witnesses, who count around 250,000 members and an almost equal number of symphatisers regularly attending its meetings.[29]

Statistics on religious practice

Religious practice, especially church attendance, is still high in Italy, when compared to the average European country. The Italian National Institute of Statistics (ISTAT) found in 2010 that 32.0% of the population went to church, mosque, synagogue or another house of worship on a weekly basis. The share of practising believers was higher in Southern (39.5%) and Insular Italy (36.9%) than the North-West (30.4%), the North-East (28.6%) and the Centre (25.4%).

In the North-East religious practice was particularly high in Trentino (36.6%) and Veneto (35.1%), once dubbed "white Veneto" because of Christian Democracy's strength there (white being the party's official colour), in the Centre in Marche (35.5%), in the South in Campania (43.4%), Apulia (40.3%), Sicily (40.2%), Molise (37.8%) and Calabria (35.2%), while being particularly low in Aosta Valley (21.7%), Liguria (22.9%) and the so-called "red regions" (long-time strongholds of the left-wing/centre-left, from the Italian Communist Party to the current Democratic Party), especially Tuscany (21.5%) and Emilia-Romagna (21.7%).[30][31]

See also


  1. ^ "Breve Pontificio con il quale San Francesco d'Assisi e Santa Caterina da Siena vengono proclamati Patroni Primari d'Italia (18 giugno 1939) | PIO XII". Archived from the original on 2015-07-09. Retrieved 2015-10-02.
  2. ^ "The Global Religious Landscape" (PDF). Retrieved 2015-10-02.
  3. ^ "Corriere della Sera - Italia, quasi l'88% si proclama cattolico". Corriere della Sera.
  4. ^ "Cattolici maggioranza in Italia?". 2012-05-14. Retrieved 2015-10-02.
  5. ^ "Islam Italiano: Prospects for Integration of Muslims in Italy's Religious Landscape" (PDF). Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs. 28. April 2008. Retrieved 2015-10-02.
  6. ^ Andrea Spreafico. "La presenza islamica in Italia" (PDF). Retrieved 2015-10-02.
  7. ^ "Quanti sono e cosa vogliono i musulmani". Linkiesta. 1 August 2011.
  8. ^ "Social values, science and technology" (PDF). Retrieved 2015-10-02.
  9. ^ "Religious Orders". David M. Cheney. Retrieved 21 January 2015.
  10. ^ Giuseppe Sangiorgi. "La politica impossibile". Retrieved 2015-10-02.
  11. ^ "By hook or by crook". The Economist.
  12. ^ "Storia". Retrieved 2015-10-02.
  13. ^ "The Italian Episcopal Conference and its Presidents (by Gianni Cardinale)". Retrieved 2015-10-02.
  14. ^ "Statistics by Country". David M. Cheney. Retrieved 21 January 2015.
  15. ^ Wertman, Douglas A. (3 December 2007). "The catholic church and Italian politics: The impact of secularisation". West European Politics. 5 (2): 87–107. doi:10.1080/01402388208424359.
  16. ^ "Church and Politics. The Italian Exception". la Repubblica. Retrieved 2015-10-02.
  17. ^ Alex Roe. "How The Vatican Influences Italy". Italy Chronicles.
  18. ^ "The Catholic Church and Italian Politics". OpEdNews. Retrieved 2015-10-02.
  19. ^ "Sergio Mattarella chi è?". Il Post. Retrieved 2015-10-02.
  20. ^ "Mattarella al MSAC. La cultura è libertà". Retrieved 2015-10-02.
  21. ^ "Il MSAC durante il concilio «  Movi 100".
  22. ^ "Matteo story: Renzi, lo scout che studiava da sindaco". La Nazione. Retrieved 2015-10-02.
  23. ^ "Matteo Renzi, dai boy scout alla politica nazionale a colpi di rottamazione e slogan". Il Fatto Quotidiano. Retrieved 2015-10-02.
  24. ^ "Quando Bagnasco era uno sconosciuto". La Stampa.
  25. ^ "Bagnasco agli R/S: strada, servizio e fatica sono nobiltà e bellezza". Camminiamo Insieme. Retrieved 2015-10-02.
  26. ^ "Federazione delle Chiese Evangeliche in Italia" [Federation of Evangelical Churches in Italy]. (in Italian). 2008. Archived from the original on 8 December 2009.
  27. ^ "Immigrati, crescono gli ortodossi". La Stampa.
  28. ^ "Dove siamo - Le chiese delle Assemblee di Dio in Italia sul territorio nazionale".
  29. ^ "I Testimoni di Geova".
  30. ^ OECD. "Statistiche Istat". ISTAT.
  31. ^ "Sud, Napoli non è più la "capitale laica" A Catania più "sì" davanti al sindaco - Corriere del Mezzogiorno". Corriere della Sera.
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