March 29, 2016

Poll: Only 50 percent of Italians call themselves Catholic

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People stroll in front of the Pantheon's ancient temple downtown in Rome, Italy, on March 27. 2016. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini 
*Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-ITALY-CATHOLIC, originally transmitted on March 29, 2016.

People stroll in front of the Pantheon's ancient temple downtown in Rome, Italy, on March 27. 2016. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-ITALY-CATHOLIC, originally transmitted on March 29, 2016.

ROME (RNS) Italy may be the spiritual home of 1.2 billion members of the Catholic Church around the world, but a new poll shows only 50 percent of Italians consider themselves Catholic.

The poll, published in the liberal daily L’Unita on Tuesday (March 29), challenges long-held perceptions that Italy is a ”Catholic” country, despite the popularity of Pope Francis and the historic role of the Vatican City State in the heart of Rome.

In addition to the 50 percent who consider themselves Catholic, the poll, conducted in Italy by research firm SWG, found that 13 percent defined themselves as “Christian.”

Of the 1,500 respondents, 4 percent said they were Orthodox or Protestant, 2 percent were Buddhist, 1 percent were Jewish and 1 percent were Muslim.


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But a surprising 20 percent said they were atheist, while 8 percent said they were religiously unaffiliated.

Enzo Risso, research director at SWG, said Italy has witnessed a weakening of religious faith over the past 20 years and a growing trend toward personal spiritual inquiry.

Sixty-four percent of those surveyed said they did not feel part of a religious community. Of those, some said they believed in destiny, horoscopes, reincarnation, Tarot readings and miracle cures.

Monsignor Bruno Forte, archbishop of Chieti-Vasto near the Adriatic Sea, and an adviser to the pope, said the data was “worrying but not surprising.”

“It is not that those who do not believe in God don’t believe in anything; on the contrary, they risk believing in everything, as a ‘surrogate’ to faith, ” Forte, a prominent theologian, told news agency AdnKronos on Tuesday.

In July 2014, Francis appointed Forte as a consultant to the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, the Vatican group that oversees Catholic religious orders. In October he played a key role in the Synod on the Family.

(Josephine McKenna is a Rome-based correspondent)

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  • Jacob

    I lived in Italy in the 1970’s. The Communists were very strong then. I remember the city election in which 12 parties used the hammer and sickle in the voting list. This is also because the Communists concealed the fact that Hitler and Stalin had made a secret alliance to partition Poland which then led to the Second World War. The Communists painted themselves as the saviors rather than the co-conspirators. They were masters at falsifying history by a mixture of lies and half-truths. In 313 AD, the end of the persecutions of Christians meant that Christians played an important part in the political life of Italy. Needless to say, the Communists exploited this history and presented themselves as the saviors from the Catholic past. These ideas by now are deeply rooted in the academic culture of the country and will take a lot of time to correct (the newspaper that did the study is the former official Communist newspaper).

  • Everett

    Like the rest of Europe how many “Italians” are native born Italians?

  • Everett

    If so, then what will replace the church? If you think mankind will hold hands and break into a chorus of Imagine with world peace and unicorns… Well, one constant will remain, Man. I believe that man will find something else (probably involving something fare more denigrating to humanity) to fill the void.

  • Nonna

    Forgive me, but even a secular view of history shows the odds are with the Church, not with its detractors. It has outlived persecutions of all sorts & ages of faltering faith and corruption, for 2000 years. Despite failures of members (sometimes massive), it survives. It’s one proof that the Faith is true and the Catholic Church is the true Church founded by Christ. It was here before our era, and will be here after it. Don’t let Western decline fool you. The Church is on the rise elsewhere (e.g., Africa). It is Eurocentric to think Europe’s situation is the whole story! I’m sad to see you rejoice because you think the Church is faltering. I hope you come to peace of heart and forgiveness regarding whatever has caused you to feel this way, and that you end up among us who love Christ within the one true Church founded by Him. I personally invite you to explore the Catholic Faith, or return if you’ve left it. Jesus is calling you, too, to be His in the one Church founded by Him!

  • Chris

    I am sceptical of the conclusion about the entire population of Italy, given the sample size.

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  • Christy

    I’m just throwing this out there for the readers’ consideration: A large portion of humanity are becoming lukewarm at best or cold at worst to the older existing faiths JUST AS FORETOLD in the Bible as being the case when the Messiah was to return for the Latter Days.

    To us Baha’is (members of the worldwide community of the Baha’i Faith – about 6 million of us), we have reasons to believe (i.e. evidence) that the Messiah has returned already. First in 1844 when His Forerunner (the Elijah-Figure) announced His Identity, then in 1863 when the Messiah Himself made His Declaration. These events were foretold in the Bible.

    You can learn more about these Figures at site bahai(dot)org — or for the USA, bahai(dot)us

    How these 2 Figures fulfilled Bible prophecies is reviewed in several videos on YouTube. Just enter the channel name: IntegralDestiny9 and you will see the listing of these videos. There are many books that present this evidence also: “I Shall Come…