Religion in Italy

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The St. Peter's Basilica, viewed from the Tiber, the Vatican Hill in the back and Castel Sant'Angelo to the right, Rome (both the Basilica and the Hill are part of the sovereign state of Vatican City)

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Religion in Italy according to the Global Religious Landscape survey by the Pew Forum, 2012[1]

  Christianity (83.3%)
  No religion (12.4%)
  Islam (3.7%)
  Buddhism (0.2%)
  Hinduism (0.1%)
  Other religions (0.3%)

Religion in Italy is characterised by the predominance of Christianity, especially the Catholic Church, and an increasing diversity of religious practices, beliefs and denominations.

The country's Catholic patron saints are Francis of Assisi and Catherine of Siena.[2]


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 the remaining 0.6% adhere to other religions.[1] 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]

The Catholic Church

Italy is home to the headquarters of the 1.2-billion strong Catholic Church (see Holy See and Vatican City), whose 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). The current Pope is Francis, born Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who, before his election in 2013, had been Archbishop of Buenos Aires since 1998. Francis is the third non-Italian Pope in a row, after John Paul II (1978–2005) and Benedict XVI (2005–2013). 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.[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, 96% of the country's population is baptised.[14] Ecclesial life is 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 frequently supplied Italian politics with their members.[15][16][17][18] Italy's current President, Sergio Mattarella,[19][20][21] and 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.

Minor historical 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]

Italy is home to around 45,000 Jews,[27] who are one of the most ancient Jewish communities in the world. The Jewish presence dates to the pre-Christian Roman period and has continued, despite periods of extreme persecution and expulsions from parts of the country from time to time, until the present. Native Italian Jews, who form the core of the community in Rome, practice the Italian rite, but there are also Ashkenazi Jews, who have settled in the North, especially in the lands of the former Republic of Venice (Veneto, Friuli-Venezia Giulia and eastern Lombardy) and Piedmont, since the late Middle Ages, and Sephardi Jews, who have established themselves mostly in Livorno, Florence, Venice and several cities of Emilia, after their expulsion from the Kingdom of Naples.[28] The Jewish community of Milan, notably including a substantial number of Mizrahi Jews originating from the Middle East, is the most international in character and composition.[29]

Immigration and demographic scenarios

Immigration has brought to Italy many religious minorities, especially Muslims and 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."[30] Not surprisingly the Assemblies of God in Italy have the majority of their communities in the South.[31] 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.[32]

According to Caritas Italiana (the CEI's charitable arm), in 2010 the immigrant population was 53.9% Christian, 32.9% Muslim, 2.6% Hindu and 1.9% Buddhist.[33] According to the same source, in 2012 Italy was home to 850 "African Neo-Pentecostal churches", 750 foreign-language Catholic communities, 655 mosques or other Islamic houses of worship, 355 Orthodox parishes, 126 Buddhist temples, 37 Sikh ones and 2 Hindu ones.[34] The Mosque of Rome is one of the largest outside Muslim world.[35]

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%).[36][37]

Freedom of religion

The Constitution of Italy recognises the Catholic Church and the state as "independent and sovereign, each within its own sphere" (article 7), in respect of the principle of separation of church and state. In particular, the Lateran Treaty of 1929, which gave a special status to the Church, is recognised and modifications "accepted by both parties" to such treaty are allowed without the need of constitutional amendments. In fact, the treaty was later modified by a new agreement between the state and the Church in 1984. Freedom of religion is also recognised, with "all religious denominations" having "the right of self-organisation according to their own statutes, provided these do not conflict with Italian law"; "[t]heir relations with the state are regulated by law, based on agreements with their respective representatives" (article 8).[38] As of 2015, the Italian government has signed thirteen such agreements and eleven have been approved by the Italian Parliament and signed into law, including those with the following denominations:[39]

Both Waldensians and Jews have played an important role in Italian politics. While there have been many Catholic-inspired parties, from the aforementioned Christian Democracy to Forza Italia, Waldensians have been usually active in "secular" parties. More recently, a group of Pentecostals set up the Extended Christian Pact party.


This is a scheme of the religious composition of Italian population (58,751,711 – 2006, estimated):[citation needed]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 "The Global Religious Landscape" (PDF). Retrieved 2015-10-02. 
  2. "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". 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 italiano). 2008. Archived from the original on 8 December 2009. 
  27. "World Jewish Population, 2007" (PDF). Retrieved 2015-10-02. 
  28. "L’Unione delle Comunità Ebraiche Italiane". 
  29. Gatti Fabrizio. "Gli ebrei aprono la sinagoga". Corriere della Sera. 
  30. "Immigrati, crescono gli ortodossi". La Stampa. 
  31. "Dove siamo - Le chiese delle Assemblee di Dio in Italia sul territorio nazionale". 
  32. "I Testimoni di Geova". 
  33. "Caritas italiana // Fondazione Migrantes // Caritas di Roma : Dossier Statistico Immigrazione: stima dell’appartenenza religiosa degli immigrati in Italia" (PDF). Retrieved 2015-10-02. 
  34. "XXIII Rapporto Immigrazione 2013" (PDF). Retrieved 2015-10-02. 
  35. Stefan Grundmann (1996). The Architecture of Rome. Edition Axel Menges. p. 384. ISBN 978-3930698608. 
  36. OECD. "Statistiche Istat". ISTAT. 
  37. "Sud, Napoli non è più la "capitale laica" A Catania più "sì" davanti al sindaco - Corriere del Mezzogiorno". Corriere della Sera. 
  38. "Consitution of the Italian Republic" (PDF). Retrieved 2015-10-02. 
  39. "Governo Italiano - Le intese con le confessioni religiose". Retrieved 2015-10-02. 
  41. "Intesa Tra La Repubblica Italiana" (PDF). Retrieved 2015-10-02. 
  42. David M. Cheney. "Italy, Statistics by Diocese, by Catholic Population". Catholic Hierarchy. 
  43. 43.0 43.1 43.2 43.3 "Il panorama multi religioso in Italia" [A view of multiple religions in Italy] (PDF). Immigration Statistical Dossier 2007 (in italiano). 2007. Archived from the original (PDF) on 29 November 2007. 
  44. "Chiesa Evangelica Valdese - Unione delle chiese Metodiste e Valdesi". 
  45. "I protestanti in Italia" [Protestants in Italy]. (in italiano). 2006. Archived from the original on 18 January 2010. 
  46. "Italy - LDS Statistics and Church Facts - Total Church Membership". Retrieved 2015-10-02. 
  47. "NRI Sikhs in Italy". 
  48. "Most Baha'i Nations (2005)". QuickLists > Compare Nations > Religions >. The Association of Religion Data Archives. 2005. Retrieved 2010-01-30.