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For the first time in Italy's history, non-churchgoers outnumber churchgoers.
data from the Italian National Institute of Statistics (Istat) reveals a historic turn of events in Italian religious customs: in 2018, the percentage
of the population that has never attended a religious service of any kind has exceeded
the percentage of churchgoers in the country.
The figures also reveal that 50% of the total of number of marriages were civil marriages, outranking
their sacramental equivalent for the first time as well.
These statistics confirm how, for the past several decades, Italian Catholic religiosity has turned into a superficial cultural ornament for the majority of Italians. The heart of Christianity, one of the most Catholic countries
in the world a century ago, and the most Catholic country in Europe 11 years ago
, is now in lockstep with the trend
of secularization that has for years haunted the Old Continent — a troubling sign of a profound, possibly irreversible trend.
According to the survey, only a quarter
of Italian people go to Mass today, when in 2001 more than a third of the population did so consistently.
Women are leaving at an unprecedented rate, as described by the newspaper La Stampa:
Women, the traditional pillar of regular religious practice in Italy, are heading the change, being the majority of deserters. They still attend church services more than men, but the number of those who never attend has doubled, while regular attendees have been reduced by a third. A real revolution.
In 2001, 44.2% of Italian women were practicing Catholics, but presently
young women are less interested in the religious aspect of life. Between ages 20–24, there are three times more non-attendees than regular attendees; between ages 25–34, the number of non-attendees doubles.
Even young women from the Mezzogiorno region (Southern Italy), known for its strong religious identity, have been leaving in droves. In the Veneto region, which has always been known for its distinctive and homogenous religious
and social conservatism
, more than 45% of its practicing faithful have fallen away since 2001. Prior to that it ranked as the third highest region for the number of practicing Catholics. The numbers reflect a comprehensive transformation of the entire country.
Even occasional church attendance is dropping. While the tendency to skip service is stronger among the young, the Italian elderly are also flagging; their attendance has decreased by 30%. Between the ages of 6–13, only 46.4% practiced regular attendance — a drop of almost 20% compared to 2001. This is the age range within which the Italian Bishops' Conference recommends catechesis.
First Communion and confirmation are still considered an important "ritual passage" in the lives of Italian children, regardless of whether parents frequent the pews; parents are usually absent
in most parishes. Sadly, the abandonment of religious life after confirmation is such a widespread phenomenon that it has been coined
the "Sacrament of Farewell."
Parents 'Break the Chain of Memory'
La Stampa notes that today's parents are less likely to be concerned about their children's religious education. "The intergenerational transmission of religiosity is going in the opposite direction with respect to the past, when most parents guided children towards high levels of regular practice," it observed.
This specific concern had already been raised in 1998, when Fr. Tarcisio Bordignon, a parish priest in the town of Udine, affirmed after a survey
commissioned by the Italian Bishops' Conference, that today's children are the "offspring of the '68 generation" — a reference to the worldwide protests of 1968, which triggered the onset of many modern revolutionary movements.
"Few parents actually come to Mass, much less encourage their children to do so. Once we used to have 70 or 80 altar boys, now we barely arrive to four or five," he observed.
Following the 1998 survey, journalist and Vatican expert Marco Politi commented:
The most revolutionary event, to which not many are paying due attention, is the end of transmission of traditional religious culture within domestic walls. The mononuclear family (with rare exceptions) doesn't teach their children how to pray, doesn't explain the Decalogue, doesn't impart tales, facts and religious legends. They entrust schools with everything, but even our religious education [offered
in all Italian public schools] has become about everything, but often skipping basic Bible exegesis. So for the first time in the history of Christianity, the chain of memory has been broken. It's enough to look around to notice it. The children of the middle generation barely know who's Abraham, waver in their knowledge of Isaac, ignore who Jacob is. Parables are a mystery to them. When they themselves become parents, they'll have nothing to pass on.
Twenty-one years later, this is exactly what we're witnessing.
Declines Continue in Step With the 'Francis Effect'
Another independent survey
commissioned by the Italian Union of Rationalist Atheists and Agnostics (UAAR
) in early 2019 indicated
growth of 3.8% in the number of atheists, and a 7.4% decline in the number of Catholics, compared to an analogous UAAR poll
from five years ago. Secretary of UAAR Adele Orioli observed: "Italy is still Catholic, but steadily less and less, and it's destined to be even less Catholic over the next few years."
The trend of Italians forsaking the Barque of St. Peter was first studied in the 1990s, when the increase of irregular worshippers became noteworthy. In 2016, the numbers were already disturbing, as described
How about "The Francis effect"! Pope Francis, so popular and appreciated, doesn't seem to have any positive effect on Italians' religious practice. … The number of those who go to church at least on Sundays declines progressively. … Essentially, church attendance reached historical lows under Bergoglio
. … [D]uring the years of Benedict XVI's pontificate, attendance has always been over 30%, while it has significantly waned with Francis.
In fact, the reduction has been consistent
since the first year of Pope Francis' pontificate. Pilgrims' attendance to the Pontiff's public audiences has also notably slumped, dropping by half
from 2014 to 2015.
Even though the secularization process and the consequent abandonment of the Faith isn't a new tendency, Pope Francis' papacy has undoubtedly accelerated the process. The Vatican's alignment
, revolutionary powers
, as well as its complicity with corruption
and sexual scandals
, have certainly contributed to the departure of the faithful, as corroborated by a Pew Research Institute survey
in Western Europe; in Italy and Spain, one of the most cited reasons for leaving the Church was the scandals involving Church leaders.
Marriage and Family Facing 'Extinction'
The gloomy prospect for sacramental marriage is also a sign of the times. In Northern Italy, civil marriages comprise 63.9% of all ceremonies. What's more, civil matrimonies surpassing sacramental ones happened sooner than expected, according to a 2016 survey that predicted
the flip would first occur in 2020. The same survey also forecasted 2031 as "year zero" — the point at which no religious marriage will take place in Italy, if the current trend isn't reversed.
Last year, statistics expert Roberto Volp
i, a specialist in demographics and author of a 2007 book called The End of the Family
, wrote an article
proclaiming the "extinction" of the Italian population based on the 2017 marriage figures. In 2017 the total number of marriages in Italy had already hit a historical low — 30% less than the European average — and for Volpi these numbers indicated "the measure of how the ghost of disappearance is impending over Italy, as the end of marriage drags ... the entire society with it."
Because 70% of births in Italy still happen inside marriage, and first-married young, fertile couples are more prone to choose the religious option, Volpi argues that, demographically speaking, the disappearance of sacramental marriage "is cause for much worry, more than anything else. … Italy is literally destined to extinction."
He concludes: "Marriages indicate how sound or how ill we are. Currently we're more or less in a terminal state. It really wouldn't hurt if the Church, the first one to pay for the consequences in this matter, understood this and actually took action about it."
Catholics' Mistrust in the Pew Manifests in Politics
But Church leaders aren't taking the hint. With their insistent
focus on immigrants
and unwavering support
, the current hierarchy keeps feeding the exasperation between the Vatican and down-and-out Italian people. After the 2018 Italian general election, official data
showed that an overwhelming majority of practicing Catholics voted for "League," the party led by Rosary-flaunting, politically incorrect and loved-by-the-masses
politician Matteo Salvini
, currently the Vatican's archenemy
In Italy, the majority of practicing Catholics voted for League. Note: not the majority of overall Catholics, namely those who declare to be part of the Roman Church… . But the majority of practicing Catholics, an adjective that mustn't be omitted — those who every Sunday, at least, fill the pews of Italian churches.
Il Fatto Quotidiano's Vatican insider seems baffled by the fact that practicing Catholics decided to vote for the League despite "listening at least once a week to the homilies of the Pope, of the bishops and of the diocesan priests."
In spite of all the efforts to ostracize dissenting
priests, and the extensive campaign to demonize Salvini, Catholic magazine Famiglia Cristiana, broadly available in Italian parishes, used its front cover
to compare Salvini to Satan; the flock simply isn't listening.
The truth revealed by the voting numbers is the incontestable fact that the majority of practicing Catholics in Italy don't trust their pastors. As Antonio Socci acutely put
it, "This is the Bergoglio effect: It doesn't attract anyone who's far, and it scares away those who are close."
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