The Pope's still Catholic - but half of Italians aren't

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Thousands of Catholics gathered for Pope Francis' Easter Sunday mass. But how many are practising? Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP
16:25 CEST+02:00
Italians might be enjoying the popularity of Pope Francis, who was named the world’s most popular leader in a poll just a few days ago, but that doesn’t mean to say they practise his religion.

Another poll, published by L’Unita newspaper on Tuesday, has revealed that just half of Italians consider themselves to be Catholic.

Church teachings might still hold some sway over Italians' mindsets and politics but the poll, conducted by the research firm SWG, also showed that a surprising 20 percent of those surveyed said they were atheist.

An additional 13 percent said they “felt Christian”, and eight percent said that while they believed in “a higher entity” they were not affiliated to any religion.

Four percent said they were Orthodox or Protestant, two percent said they were Buddhist and one percent each declared being Hindu, Jewish or Muslim.

And even though 70 percent of Italians have a Bible at home, they’ve only read about 30 percent of the scriptures, L’Unita wrote.

What was even more interesting about the poll is that, beyond traditional religion, some people admitted to having a variety of alternative spiritual beliefs, such as reincarnation and karma.

They also believed in coincidences, demonic possession and healing miracles, as well as Tarot card readings.

The report’s authors noted a gradual weakening of religious faith over the past twenty years but also a trend towards personal spiritual growth. 

Meanwhile, a record number of Italian Catholics are also thought to have defected from the Church in 2015, according to figures published in January by the Italian Union of Atheists, Agnostics and Rationalists (URR), an organization that helps Catholics abjure their religion by providing them with forms that can be downloaded online and sent to their local parish.

Some 47,726 forms were downloaded in 2015, beating the previous high of 45,797 set in 2012, while the not-so-popular Pope Benedict was still at the helm of the Catholic Church.

Read more: Losing faith: why Italians are spurning the Church

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Paolo Segatti, a sociology professor at the University of Milan, said “there a fewer practising Catholics in Italy” and that the decline had been happening for some time.

Clementina Bruno, from Turin, said that while she’s officially still a Catholic, she doesn’t practise the religion as much as she used to.

“For me, having a faith isn’t about going to Church or ‘being seen’ to be being religious,” the 48-year-old told The Local.

“I pray in my own time, but I don’t go to Church like we did every week when growing up. Times have changed a lot. I think people can share good values and practise their beliefs in other, less suppressive, ways.”  

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