There can be few countries in which the influence of organized religion is as pervasive as Italy, and although Italians have adopted modern patterns of social behavior (the use of contraception, divorce, and abortion) disapproved of by the Church, most Italians still describe themselves as practicing Catholics. Almost all children are baptized and confirmed, and the number of nonreligious funerals is negligible. This is true even in the “red,” former communist regions such as Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna. The Church follows “Roman” rites everywhere except Milan, where rites initiated by Saint Ambrose are followed, and two small dioceses in Apulia, where the Byzantine rites traditional for the area’s Albanian minority are celebrated.
   The Church is organized hierarchically, with the pope, who is also bishop of Rome, as the spiritual and effective head of the Church in Italy, as well as of the Church worldwide. Beneath the pope are nine cardinals (who have the right to vote in the papal conclave), over 20 archbishops, approximately 250 bishops, and about 34,000 parish priests—approximately one for every 1,200 inhabitants. Nearly 5,000 young Italian men are studying for the priesthood—far fewer than in the early decades of this century, but still higher than in the 1970s and 1980s, when there was an authentic crisis of vocation. In addition, there are about 125,000 nuns in the various orders. All told, there are about 200,000 “religious figures” in Italy.
   The Catholic Church is an active promoter of social and youth associations through the various organizations coordinated by Azione Cattolica Italiana/Catholic Action (ACI). More than four million people are members of one Catholic association or another. Seven percent of Italian schoolchildren go to the 1,600 Catholic schools; parish priests provide religious instruction in state schools; and nuns are frequently employed in preschool care, nursing, old people’s homes, and charitable foundations for drug and alcohol addicts. Italians may give 8 euro for every 1,000 that they pay in taxation to help religious organizations in their charitable activities. Other religious faiths are growing in strength, however, not least because of immigration from North Africa. As a result of immigration, there are approximately 500,000 Muslims resident in Italy. Italy’s Jewish community numbers about 35,000. Protestant churches of all denominations have about 200,000 members. In recent years, Buddhism has excited an increasing interest among young Italians.
   See also Lateran Pacts; Papacy.

Historical Dictionary of Modern Italy. . 2007.


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