The Italy of the Primate of Italy Is a Bit Less Catholic

By Sandro Magister
The Chiesa
November 11, 2016

In addition to being bishop of Rome, Jorge Mario Bergoglio is also primate of Italy. And in spite of the very small number of pastoral visits that he makes to Roman parishes and Italian dioceses, the Church that is in Italy and Italy itself have become his natural habitat.

Not only that. The social phenomenon that lies closest to Pope Francis’s heart is undoubtedly that of migration, to such an extent that he has reserved for himself - and for himself alone - the management of the office in the curia that deals with it, within the newly constituted dicastery “for integral human development.”

Well then, it is precisely migration that is notably changing the human and religious landscape in Italy.

In the religious field, the Catholic Church no longer has that uncontested monopoly which it had for centuries, until a few years ago.

Catholicism remains by far the dominant religion in Italy. But alongside it are growing other Christian confessions and other faiths. Not only on account of immigration, but also, to a lesser extent, through conversion.

On November 8 the CESNUR, the Center of Studies on the New Religions directed in Turin by the sociologist Massimo Introvigne, made public the up-to-date statistics as of this year on the religious minorities present in Italy, contextualizing them in a very thorough and detailed presentation:

> Le religioni in Italia

The CESNUR has provided two statistical snapshots. The first concerns only Italian citizens who are regularly registered as such, while the second extends to all foreigners present in Italy, including an approximate estimate of illegal immigrants.

Among the more than 55 million Italian citizens, the members of religious minorities number 1,781,207, equal to 3.2 percent of the entire population.

The largest religious minority among Italian citizens is that of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, with more than 424,000. They are followed by the Muslims, with 302,000, and Orthodox Christians, with 212,000.

In fourth place, first among the Protestants, appear the Pentecostalist Assemblies of God, with about 150,000 faithful, but if to these are added the Protestants of all the other denominations (Waldensian, Methodist, Baptist, Adventist, other Pentecostal groups, etc.) their overall number brings them to the top of the ranking with 450,000 faithful.

In fifth place the Buddhists, with 157,000 faithful, constitute the segment in strongest expansion among Italian citizens, not through immigration but through conversion, especially to the Buddhist movement of Soka Gakkai with its 80,000 faithful.

Here is the complete picture of the non-Catholics, among those with Italian citizenship:

Protestants 450,392

Jehovah’s Witnesses and related 424,259

Muslims 302,090

Orthodox 212,318

Buddhists 157,011

Jews 36,256

Hindus and neo-Hindus 35,672

Human potential movements 30,000

Mormons and related 26,750

“Fringe” and dissident Catholics 25,500

Organized New Age and Next Age movements 20,000

Esoteric and “ancient wisdom” area 16,450

Sikh, Radha Soami, and related 14,693

Other groups of Christian origin 6,000

Baha'i and other groups of Islamic origin 4,250

Osho groups and related 4,100

Other groups of Eastern origin 3,530

New Japanese religions 3,150

Other 9,386

But if the view is expanded to all foreigners present in Italian territory, including illegal immigrants, the picture changes.

Foreigners amount to 5,026,000, 8.3 percent of the resident Italian population, which is over 60 million. Among them there are 908,000 Catholics. If these are removed from the reckoning, the total of non-Catholic immigrants is therefore 4,118,000, 6.8 percent of the entire population.

And among these the numerical primacy does not go to the Muslims - contrary to widespread opinion - but to Orthodox and Protestant Christians, who together with the Catholics make up 53.9 percent of foreigners.

The Muslims come next, with 32 percent, down by two tenths since 2015, and then come the followers of other religions, also with a significant portion of agnostics and atheists.

To summarize:

Orthodox 1,541,000

Muslims 1,609,000

Protestants and other Christians 255,000

Atheists and agnostics 227,004

Hindus 149,000

Buddhists 111,000

Other Easter religions 78,000

Traditional religions 56,000

Jews 7,000

Other 85,000

If the foreigners of Catholic faith are added back in, it emerges that immigration has brought 2,704,000 new Christians to Italy, many more than the Muslims.

Professor Introvigne commented:

“There is not the Islamization that many fear, but rather a certain new Christianization, because through immigration the percentage of Christians in Italy is destined to grow, because religious practice is much higher for Catholics who have come from Africa, Peru, or the Philippines, compared to those who were born in Italy.”

But this last indicator also has a flip side for the Catholic Church. The increased plurality of religions in Italy favors an increase in mixed unions, with one parent being Catholic and one not, and therefore with a less sure transmission of the Catholic faith to the children.

This is what is happening on a wider scale in the United States, as shown in a very recent survey by the Pew Research Center:

> One-in-Five U.S. Adults Were Raised in Interfaith Homes

While with both parents being Catholic two children out of three remain members of the Catholic Church, the same does not happen for children who have one Catholic parent and the other Protestant.

Among the children of these mixed couples, 29 percent say they are now Catholic, 38 percent Protestant, and 26 percent with no religious affiliation.

And analogously, among the children of one Catholic parent and another with no religious affiliation, 32 percent say they are now Catholic, 20 percent Protestant, and 42 percent with no religious affiliation.


English translation by Matthew Sherry, Ballwin, Missouri, U.S.A.


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