Religion in Italy – Overview of the Catholic Church

If you know much about the history of Italy, or even the culture of Italy, then you probably are slightly familiar with the religion in the area. Home to Vatican City and many ancient Roman historical sites, it’s not surprising that the official religion in Italy is Catholicism.

While the catholic church is the most renowned religion of Italy, other religions are not banned. The Italian government allows International religious freedom to the population, with the right to choose and practice the religion of their preference.

Their only requirement is that your public religious practices cannot conflict with public morality.

Let’s learn some more about Italy’s religion.

History of Religion in Italy and the Roman Catholic Church

History of Religion in Italy

Italy recognizes the Catholic church as the state religion, but there are many other religious minorities and recognized churches throughout the country.

These are some of the churches that you may find or hear about in Italy:

  • Lutheran Evangelical Church
  • Eastern Orthodox Churches
  • Jewish Community Churches
  • Jehovah’s Witnesses
  • Latter Day Saints
  • Methodist and Waldensian Churches
  • Christian Church
  • Muslim Communities
  • Presbyterian Church

From practicing Christians to the Muslim community, Italy is a melting pot of religious beliefs and religious services. It has not always been so, and despite the myriad of religious groups, Italian society and state religion still heavily focus on the Catholic hierarchy.

They do so without banning non-Catholic Christian groups or other native churches of any kind.

This is something that isn’t practiced everywhere across the world. Different political parties have pulled their weight through the years. And yet Catholics remain dominant in religious orders while welcoming human rights to choose and practice your own religion.

Reaching back at the history of Italy’s religion, you will find that for hundreds of centuries, they have acknowledged Christian leadership, and Christianity has been present. The Edict of Milan in 313 AD was the beginning when the emperors of the Roman Empire proclaimed religious toleration.

Before this, the Roman Republic’s religion was Roman polytheism.

As the Roman Republic gave way to the Roman Empire, Christianity became the state religion. The only stipulation of the Roman Empire was acknowledging the birthright of the Emperor on the throne.

Religious freedom was never really questioned from a political stance. The death of Jesus led to the Patron Saint, the Pope, and the Catholic Church too. Jesus was the founder of the Catholic Church based on their traditions.

There was a time in early history when Islam was also prominent in the southern areas, like Sicily, while Arab conquering and conquests were going on during 700-800. Muslims were deported during the 13th century from Sicily.

But Islam has since returned in some areas, and it is allowed just like other religions in the country. Most of the Islam culture is overwhelmingly Sunni, and they stick to their own statutes.

The Norman Conquest didn’t affect the North West areas of Italy but did play a major role in the official language and modern state regulations of the church as we know them today.

It was in 1517, in the middle ages, when Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the local church door in Germany, leading to the Protestant Reformation and a change to Christianity in the area. There was quite a bit of turmoil among the Christian population of the Middle Ages, and yet Italy remained strong with the Catholic Church.

For a long time, the Italian government and the Catholic church were at odds. The church wanted control of the Italian government, which led to the government monitoring their actions.

It was when Prime Minister Benito Mussolini (from 1925 a dictator) came in and spearheaded the sovereignty of the Vatican City and the Holy See that things changed. The Vatican gained its independence and became a city-state. Catholicism became a state religion in Italy, and schools started to teach religion based on the beliefs of the Catholic Church.

The Vatican has since been a dominant focal point for religion in Italy.

The Italian Government and Religion

The Italian Government and Religion

Much of the freedom that Italy knows today came about after World War II ended. While they always spoke of religious freedom, there was a time when Italian Jewish communities were under fire, just like Jews all across Europe during that time frame. Many other religions in Italy felt the need to hide away for a while.

Catholicism was the official religion of Italy, but during that time, other faiths struggled to feel freedom. It had nothing to do specifically with Italian politics but rather with the state of the world at that time throughout Europe and South Asia.

In 1947, the Italian Constitution was ratified with the intent of allowing evangelical churches, Latin rite groups, Somali immigrants, Catholics, Muslims, and many other believers of the total population of the country to feel the freedom of the Italian Republic when it came to religious practices and community services to recognize one’s religion.

The struggles then became whether private schools and public schools should be allowed to display the crucifix or other religious artifacts. The argument was whether a public place should support any one dominant religion.

Since Italians identify with the Roman Catholic church as the majority religion, this was allowed in most places out of respect for the religion of the nation and Catholicism as a whole.

Now, the citizens make an effort to promote one religious practice over the other, and private schools are where you might see specific artifacts such as these. Other forms of worship and society are not frowned upon.

The country remains primarily catholic, and since the Catholic Church is one of the major religions in Italy, statistics will continue to work in that favor. That being said, through the centuries, they have never banned any other religions of Italy from being allowed or practiced.

Italian Population and Religion

If you take a look at the statistics of religion in Italy, you will find a wide variety of practiced religions. Catholic practices continue to be the main religion in Italy based on statistics, but there are many other tracked and recognized allowances.

From immigrant citizens to tourists to the general population, all are welcome to seek God as they please.

That being said, the majority practice continues to be Catholic Christians in religious settings from Rome to any other part of Italy.

Around 80% of the population is Catholic.

So nearly 20% of the population identifies as something other than Catholic, with Christianity being a top response. Many coincide Christianity and the Catholic church together, but they are not always recognized as the same. It depends on the perception of the person sharing these religious terms. There are orthodox Christians and other Christians.

Some of the other recognized religious forms are:

  • Jews
  • Protestants
  • Baha’i faith
  • Waldensian Evangelical Church
  • Hinduism
  • Buddhism
  • Orthodox
  • Sikhism

These religious groups may not be what most Italians identify as, but their religion is not negated in any way.

Muslims, Jews, Protestants, and other religious alliances are all allowed the same opportunities and freedom across the country. Immigration and freedom of religion go hand in hand. The numbers speak for themselves as to allowances for other belief systems.

Pope Francis

Apostolic palace in Vatican

The pope is the ultimate leader of the Catholic Church and is recognized as the head bishop of Rome. He leads the church worldwide and not just in Rome, Sicily, or other parts of Italy.

While that is his primary headquarters, his reach extends far beyond that, and he is a highly-esteemed individual, even for those who are Jews, Muslim, or choose not to follow the main religion of Italy.

Pope Francis is the first to be a member of the Society of Jesus Christ and comes from the South. He actually heralds from outside of Europe (Argentina), which is a unique aspect. He was ordained in 1969 and elected into the Pope position in 2013 after Benedictus XVI. This was when he took on the name Francis as a papal name. Prior to that, he climbed the ladders of success, with a vast history throughout his lifetime.

He is one of the first popes to allow women to hold positions such as deaconesses, perhaps initiating change in an environment that was previously not budging. His original birth name was Jorge Mario Bergoglio, and he was born in Buenos Aires in 1936.

He entered the priesthood in 1958. It was a shocking revelation to him, and he became interested thanks to a priest that inspired him as he went to confession. He chased his dreams of growing as a priest from that time forward

He spent many years in studies and in the perches of an episcopate and then a cardinalate before stepping into the shoes of the Pope position as we know him today.

The Apostolic Palace is where his residence is in the Vatican.

More About the Catholic Church

We know of Italy as a place of religious freedom. While they do not deny any religious practices that are publicly moral, we know that Catholicism remains dominant in the country, particularly with the Vatican and history. The country is loaded with history, including religious history, and this is a massive part of it.

The Vatican City is located in Rome and is a sector specifically designated for the Holy See. They come together here to hash out politics and religion in one common place. In many countries, you find religion either dominates the country or is separated from the government.

Here, while there is freedom, the church is heavily involved in the political atmosphere. The Italians and the Church work closely together. That being said, there are also many other orders that have headquarters within Rome, and they are allowed to practice and meet as they need to. This includes orders such as the Jesuits, Salesians, Benedictines, Dominicans, and more.

In Italy, there are 225 different dioceses divided. They each have regions that are separated and then organized beneath a bishop. The numbers display that more than 90% of the population of Italy has been baptized in Catholicism at some point in their life, whether they are currently practicing or not.

History has certainly recognized a number of other denominations as well. And you see many of these represented in the Holy See too. Catholicism certainly has a heavy role in the political field and in the country of Italy as a whole. However, it does not overrun the right to free will.

With a population of more than 60 million people, it only makes sense that there would be a wide variety of religions practiced in this free land. The highest numbers are still attributed to Catholics, but you might be surprised at the numbers from sectors such as Orthodoxy, Islamic, Jewish, Protestantism, and others in the region.

Religious Freedom to Practice

While history has always depicted some level of freedom in Italy, there are historical references to secure this in constitutional form as well. As of 1929, in the Lateran Treaty, the church (specifically the Catholic church) was provided a special status in the country.

However, the Constitution details a separation of church and state as well. Catholic locations are provided some special treatment as recognized by the government, including Catholic schools. However, they do not necessarily run the country as a whole.

The Constitution specifically designates that all religious denominations have the right of self-organization according to their own standards, as long as those standards do not conflict with Italian law.

Most religious orders have designated representatives that work together with Italian law to ensure agreements are regulated and monitored, and respect is given to the various sects. No agreement with the Italian government is required in order to practice a religion of choice, but they may not be funded by government funds.

Through the years, many agreements have been signed with the Italian government to allow for a designated chaplain in jails or hospitals representative of a specific religion.

Religion is Your Choice in Italy

Whether you want to be a practicing Catholic or you prefer some other religious choices, religion in Italy is granted the freedom to choose and worship as you please.

There is no need to hide or be ashamed, thanks to their constitutional rights, to practice religion your own way, as long as you are not breaking any laws in doing so.

The freedom to choose in regard to religion certainly sets Italy apart from many countries.

Learn more about life in Italy.


What is the Major Religion in Italy?

Catholicism is the official primary religion of the country, but people are free to choose.

What Percentage of Italy is Religious?

Close to 90% are religious in some way, with approximately 12% reporting non-religious stances.

Is Roman Catholic the Same as Catholic?

They are generally the same, but there are some sectors or instances where there may be a need to be specific with titling.

What are the Top 3 Religions in Italy?

Christianity through Catholicism is the top and has been for a very long time. Islam and Orthodox are the next of the top three.

What Was the Religion Followed in Italy Before Christianity or Catholicism?

Prior to Christianity and Catholicism, people followed primarily Romany mythology, which was similar to Greek mythology at the time. Some names of the Roman deities you probably recognize are Hercules, Mars, Jupiter, and Neptune.