The Pope’s still Catholic – but half of Italians aren’t

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.

The Pope's still Catholic - but half of Italians aren't
Thousands of Catholics gathered for Pope Francis' Easter Sunday mass. But how many are practising? Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

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

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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Al-Azhar university calls for Sweden boycott over Koran burning

The Sunni Muslim world's most prestigious educational institution, Al-Azhar in Egypt, has called for the boycott of Swedish and Dutch products after far-right activists destroyed Korans in those countries.

Al-Azhar university calls for Sweden boycott over Koran burning

Al-Azhar, in a statement issued on Wednesday, called on “Muslims to boycott Dutch and Swedish products”.

It also urged “an appropriate response from the governments of these two countries” which it charged were “protecting despicable and barbaric crimes in the name of ‘freedom of expression'”.

Swedish-Danish far-right politician Rasmus Paludan on Saturday set fire to a copy of the Muslim holy book in front of Turkey’s embassy in Stockholm, raising tensions as Sweden courts Ankara over its bid to join Nato.


The following day, Edwin Wagensveld, who heads the Dutch chapter of the German anti-Islam group Pegida, tore pages out of the Koran during a one-man protest outside parliament.

Images on social media also showed him walking on the torn pages of the holy book.

The desecration of the Koran sparked strong protests from Ankara and furious demonstrations in several capitals of the Muslim world including in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Syria and Yemen.

The Egyptian Foreign Ministry “strongly condemned” the Koran burning, expressing “deep concern at the recurrence of such events and the recent Islamophobic escalation in a certain number of European countries”.

Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson condemned Paludan’s actions as “deeply disrespectful”, while the United States called it “repugnant”.

US State Department spokesman Ned Price on Monday said the burning was the work of “a provocateur” who “may have deliberately sought to put distance between two close partners of ours – Turkey and Sweden”.

On Tuesday, Turkey postponed Nato accession talks with Sweden and Finland, after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan condemned Stockholm for allowing weekend protests that included the burning of the Koran.