By Enza Ferreri
Is Italy a Catholic country?
Is the Pope Catholic?
Although the latter is used among English speakers as the ultimate example of a rhetorical question – a question the answer to which is already well known – we are now in the historically unprecedented situation in which the answer to that question is not so straightforward, due to some novel positions adopted by Pope Francis in relation to Catholic tradition.
The same applies to the question with which this article opens, the one about Italy.
The very fact that Italy is now among the countries with the lowest birth rates in the globe/world in itself shows that the majority, or at least a large number, of Italians don’t put at the first place Catholic faith and doctrine when making choices of behaviour, not even in the most important spheres of life.
Italy doesn’t have a state religion. This may surprise many but, whereas, for example, the United Kingdom has an official state religion, which is Christianity, and England has an established state church, which is the Church of England, with monarch as its head, Italy doesn’t have an official religion.
It is surprising if you consider that you’ll find that a larger percentage of people in Italy than in Britain define themselves as religious and give more importance to faith and religious practices.
You’ll find that in Italy there is formal, exterior respect for Church. For example, the administrators of Viareggio Carnival, a great traditional festival held every year in my hometown, are usually careful about not extending the Carnival festivities too long into Lent so as not to offend the Bishop of the diocese, Lucca, but then may or may not follow natural law (when in bed) with their wives or even other women.
My mother, a devout Catholic, like many others voted in favour of a new law permitting divorce in an Italian referendum.
Then there the many (self-professed) Catholics who are communists or socialists. This in itself shows how diluted the concepts and doctrines of Catholicism have become in many people’s minds.
Claiming to be something, in this case Catholic, and being it are two distinct things. Poland is a Catholic country but has low birth rates. According to 2021 figures from Eurostat, Poland has one of the lowest fertility rates in the European Union.
In Italy, similarly, numerous couples have only one child.
The country of Romeo and Juliet, the most romantic couple which has become a metaphor for love, Italy has the second oldest population in the world.
When I came to live in England in 1984, I could not find any person who did not believe that Italians have a lot of children. You could see the idea that Catholics had very large families expressed even on supposedly progressive shows like those of Monty Python. Later on, the newspapers began to spread the news that Italy had, with Spain, the lowest birth rate in the world. Quite a discovery, albeit with several years of delay.