Roman Catholic Church in Italy

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Catholic ecclesiastical provinces in Italy

The Roman Catholic Church in Italy with about 80.8% of the population, the largest religious community in Italy . It also includes the state territory of San Marino (see Diocese of San Marino-Montefeltro ). Due to its large number of dioceses and their equal territorial units, Italy is the only country in which the Roman Catholic Church is divided into ecclesiastical regions.



The history of the Roman Catholic Church in Italy goes back to the first Christian parishes, of which the parish in Rome is attested as nationally known by Paul's letter to the Romans shortly after the middle of the 1st century. The Apostles Peter and Paul came to Rome and suffered here probably during Nero's persecution of Christians , the martyrdom . Peter is considered to be the first bishop of Rome, although contrary to tradition he can hardly have been the founder of the community. The primacy of the bishops of Rome , which can be traced back to Peter, and the veneration of the tombs of the apostles in Rome were of decisive importance for the further development of the Church in Italy, alongside the role of Rome as the capital. The pilgrimage to the graves of Peter and Paul and the graves of martyrs in Rome as well as the demand for the unity of all bishops with the Pope brought many clergy and lay Christians who were important for the development of the Church as a whole. Important church fathers such as Ignatius of Antioch or the apostle student Polycarp of Smyrna worked here and died as martyrs. In the letter to the Corinthians , written by Clemens of Rome , one of the first bishops of Rome in the 1st century, there are references to the early primacy of the Church of Rome over other episcopal seats.

From Rome, Christianity spread before the Constantinian Turn , especially in central and southern Italy. In this area a larger number of dioceses emerged , while in northern Italy only a few dioceses of larger dimensions initially emerged. A stronger expansion and the establishment of further dioceses followed with the systematic missionary work and the establishment of a church organization after Constantine the Great allowed and privileged Christianity after the period of persecution. Constantine's son Constantius II promoted Arianism against the Catholic Church , against which Ambrosius of Milan, among others, was successful. Milan was the only metropolitan seat in Italy besides Rome until the end of the 4th century ; in the 5th century the dioceses of Aquileia and Ravenna were also elevated to archbishopric.

During the Migration Period , Italy was ruled by the Arian Ostrogoths under Theodoric the Great towards the end of the 5th century . In addition to Gothic Arianism, Catholic Christianity was able to assert itself. After the fall of the Ostrogoth Empire , Emperor Justinian I reorganized both civil and ecclesiastical conditions with the Pragmatic Sanction of 554 .

Early Middle Ages

With the penetration of the Lombards, who also adhered to Arianism until the end of the 7th century, the Catholic Church began to decline through persecution in their sphere of influence in the second half of the 6th century. A number of dioceses remained unoccupied for a long time or went under completely. The territories unoccupied by the Lombards such as Istria , Ravenna, Rome with popes such as Gregory the Great , the Pentapolis or Naples remained politically and ecclesiastically connected to Eastern Europe. When Rome threatened to be conquered by the Longobards in the middle of the 8th century, Pope Stephen II sought protection from the Franks under Pepin the Younger in 754 . As a result, the Papal State came into being . In the area of ​​the northern Italian, Middle Franconian kingdom of Italy, monasteries and monasteries flourished, but on the other hand got into political entanglements. The cultural decline was intensified by the Hungarian invasions . Parts of southern Italy, Sicily and Sardinia came under the influence of the Saracens . This hardly changed after Otto I took control of northern and central Italy. In the sphere of power of the Ottonians , the bishops rose to considerable power through the imperial church system. At the same time this led to a strong secularization and subordination of the church to imperial interests. As a result, the bishops and the papacy often came into conflict.

Papal States

In return for the confirmation of the election of Pippin the Younger as King of the Frankish Empire by Pope Zacharias in 751, Stephan II asked the Carolingian as Catholic king for protection from the Lombard expansion. In the so-called Pippin donation, he guaranteed the Pope the ducat of Rome, the Exarchate of Ravenna , the Pentapolis , Tuscany , Veneto , Istria and the duchies of Spoleto and Benevento as ecclesiastical territories. With the coronation of Charlemagne by Pope Leo III. the connection between the Church and the Franconian Empire was strengthened, the foundation for the Holy Roman Empire was laid and the protective relationship between the Empire and the Papal States established. Emperor Otto I confirmed the Papal State in the Privilegium Ottonianum and Emperor Friedrich II (HRR) confirmed the Papal State in 1213 with the gold bull of Eger .

In the 15th century the papal state reached its greatest extent. From the 16th century it lost its importance and territory, especially during the Napoleonic period and through the Italian efforts to unite in the 19th century, until it finally went under in 1870 with the invasion of Rome by Italian troops and the proclamation of the Tiber city as the capital of Italy. Only in 1929 was the legal succession of the papal state between the Pope and the Italian state regulated in the Lateran Treaties .

High and late Middle Ages

With the Normans, the popes in southern Italy received allies against the German Empire from the middle of the 11th century. At the same time it was possible to push back the Saracen and Byzantine influence and to renew the ecclesiastical connection of the southern Italian dioceses with Rome. A spiritual renewal was initiated with the Gregorian reforms . In disputes with imperial power, the emerging cities were often on the side of the papacy as well as monasticism. The republics of Genoa and Pisa received metropolitan seats. At the end of the 11th century, the University of Bologna became the first European university, a symbol of the flourishing educational system.

In addition to the conflicts between imperial and papal power, between Ghibellines and Guelphs , the high Middle Ages in Italy shaped the emergence of spiritualist movements such as the Cathars and Waldensians . Counter-movements were the mendicant orders that were emerging in Italy, especially the Franciscans , but also the Augustinian hermits and servites . Towards the end of the High Middle Ages, the constituted church suffered from the internal turmoil of the country and from the absence of the popes during the Avignon exile .

With the return of Pope Gregory XI. The Avignon exile ended in Rome in 1377. A comprehensive church reform did not materialize, however, not least because of the fragmentation of Italy into many small states. The pacification of secular rulers advanced with the pentarchy after the Peace of Lodi . In the spiritual field, the activities of the Franciscans and Dominicans had a reforming effect .

Modern times

With the advent of Renaissance humanism , which the Popes promoted, was associated a general boom in literature, art, and science. At the same time, there was a strong trend towards secularization in the leadership circles of the church, not least among the popes themselves . Protestant approaches were initially curbed in the 16th century by the newly formed Roman Inquisition and then marginalized by the reforms of the Council of Trent . The reforms of the council were taken up intensively in the Italian dioceses. A large number of religious orders emerged from Italy during this time, such as the Capuchins , Barnabites , Oratorians and Ursulines . The Jesuits participated in the spiritual renewal with popular missions . The upswing of the church continued into the baroque period , while the economic and political development of Italy was negative.

Analogous to Austrian Josephinism , which gained influence particularly in the north, a liberal state church was active in many small Italian states in the 18th century , which promoted the subordination of the religious to the interests of the state administration. In the 19th century, the national unification efforts of the Risorgimento led to serious conflicts between Church and States , as well as within the Church between the papacy and the movement of the Neoguelfen , who wanted an unification of Italy under the political and spiritual leadership of the Pope and the military power of Piedmont . Since Pius IX. opposed all democratic aspirations and wishes for the national unity of Italy, the Piedmontese line finally prevailed with the support of Giuseppe Garibaldi .

Since the unification of Italy

After the fall of the papal state in 1870, the Italian state, which was shaped by the anti-clerical liberalism of the Piedmontese, passed a number of laws directed against the church , which took away large parts of the church's property, made the clergymen compulsory and provided religious instruction exiled from schools. The 19th century in Italy was also a time of numerous spiritual and social initiatives, which were reflected in the founding of orders such as those of the Pallottines or the Salesians of Don Bosco . Relations with the state remained extremely bad until 1929. In 1874 Pope Pius IX. In protest against the occupation of the Papal States, Catholics were banned from voting in the Italian nation-state. After this regulation was relaxed in 1909, the Partito Popolare Italiano was founded as a Catholic party under the pontificate of Benedict XV after the First World War . In the founding year 1919, the party already won 100 parliamentary seats, but disintegrated in the conflict with Italian fascism and was banned in 1926. Despite further restrictions on church life through the abolition of Catholic associations and institutions, the successor to the papal state and the compensation of the church could be regulated with the Lateran Treaty in 1929 . Since then, the Concordat agreements of the Lateran Treaties apply to the relationship between the Italian state and the Catholic Church.

In the Italian post-war politics after 1945, related to the Catholic Church party had Christian Democrats of paramount importance: it was until its dissolution in the wake of the corruption scandal Mani pulite in 1994, the most votes, party and presented with two exceptions, all the heads of government. In this way, the Catholic social and moral doctrine had a strong influence on Italian politics, and this is still the case to a lesser extent. Since the Concordat was changed in 1984, the Catholic Church is no longer a state church in Italy. Since then, other organizations such as the Church of the Protestant Waldensians have also received financial support ; Private individuals are free to pay their church tax ( otto per mille ) to the Catholic Church, other religious communities, the state or social causes. Catholic Action is of particular importance for the life of the Church in Italy . Emerging from the lay movement of the late 19th century, it received the official status of a church movement in 1922. Aligned with the principles of Catholic social teaching , it achieved mass character in Italy and is important into the 21st century. The number of people who declare to believe in God and the teachings of the Catholic Church and to attend Sunday mass is higher in Italy than in any other country in Western Europe. According to their own statements, 30% visit the fair at least every Sunday, 20% several times a month and a further 30% on public holidays such as Easter or Christmas. The number of actual visitors to the fair is, however, almost half less according to random samples. Geographical differences play a major role, with the more secularized regions of Tuscany , Emilia-Romagna and Liguria contrasting with the particularly Catholic south ( Sicily , Apulia , Campania , Basilicata ). Among those born after 1970, the number of practicing Catholics, as well as religiosity in general, is significantly lower. Sociological studies therefore expect the Catholic influence in Italy to wane over the next few decades.

Church funding

In addition to income from the compensation through the Lateran Treaties, donations from the faithful as well as fees and entrance fees, the system of church financing since 1984 has primarily been based on the mandate tax to be paid by all Italians . Due to the high proportion of Catholics in Italy's population, large parts of this tax benefit the Catholic Church.


The historically determined large number of dioceses and church provinces led to the organizational consolidation in a total of 16 church regions . In these regions, the ecclesiastical province of Rome with the apostolic chair as the metropolitan seat , the ecclesiastical province of Venice with the Patriarchate of Venice as the metropolitan seat and 40 other ecclesiastical provinces each with an archdiocese as the metropolitan seat . In addition to the metropolitan seats, the church regions include 20 other archdioceses without a metropolitan seat, 155 dioceses, including 2 immediate Italian-Albanian bishoprics , 6 territorial abbeys , 2 territorial prelatures , the Italian military ordinariate and the personal prelature Opus Dei .

The representation of the Holy See to the Italian state has been assumed by an apostolic nuncio since the Lateran Treaties . From 1929 to 2017, clergymen exclusively from Italy were entrusted with this office, most recently Archbishop Adriano Bernardini from November 2011 to September 2017. Swiss-born Emil Paul Tscherrig has been Apostolic Nuncio in Italy since September 12, 2017 .

The number of Italian dioceses was 297 in 1960 and was reduced to 226 by mergers in 2016. There are still many dioceses with well below 100,000 believers. Even a number of metropolitan seats have Catholics well under 200,000. The Vatican is therefore planning a reduction to 119 dioceses. The Italian dioceses should submit corresponding plans by August 2016.

Church structures in Italy

Church region of Abruzzo-Molise

Church region of Apulia

Church region of Basilicata

Church region Emilia-Romagna

Church region of Calabria

Church region of Campania

Church region of Latium

Church region of Liguria

Church region Lombardy

Marche church region

Church region Piedmont

Church region of Sardinia

Church region of Sicily

Church region Tuscany

Triveneto church region

Church region of Umbria

See also


  • Francesco Traniello: Catholicism and Political Culture in Italy . Aschendorff Verlag, Münster 2016, ISBN 978-3-402-13149-7 .

Web links

Commons : Roman Catholic Church in Italy  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. a b c d e f g h A. Martini: Italy . In: Josef Höfer , Karl Rahner (Ed.): Lexicon for Theology and Church . 2nd Edition. tape 5 . Herder, Freiburg im Breisgau 1960, Sp. 812-821 .
  3. entry to Nunciature to Italy on ; accessed on December 5, 2018.
  4. Vatican wants to delete half of the Italian dioceses , accessed on January 31, 2016