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Priests enter San Firenze Church holding a high cross, Florence, ItalyFrancesco Cantone/

ROME (LifeSiteNews) — Traditionally Catholic Italy is facing a catastrophic collapse of the faith as Mass attendance falls precipitously to 10 percent of the population and even less in some areas. 

The steady, even accelerating, decline in the practice of the Catholic faith among Italians is detailed in a new study published by Professor Luca Diotallevi of the University of Rome in a book entitled La messa è sbiadita: La partecipazione ai riti religiosi in Italia dal 1993 al 2019 (The Mass has faded: Participation in religious rites in Italy from 1993 to 2019).

In the book, Diotallevi examines the numbers, demographics, and possible causes of the sharp collapse of Sunday Mass attendance in Italy over the last 30 years. According to his findings, Italian Catholicism is on the cusp of disappearing. 

According to Diotallevi’s study, which is based on figures from ISTAT, the Italian National Statistics Institute, Mass attendance in Italy has been in freefall since 1993, with a more marked decline from 2005 on and another dive in 2020 and 2021, corresponding with the period of the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2017 for the first time, the number of Italian Catholics who “never” attend Mass exceeded the number who said they attended “at least once a week.” 

In 1993 the number of practicing Catholics in relation to the total population of Italy was already low at 37.3 percent. This fell to 23.7 percent in 2019. Diotallevi points out that declared regular Sunday Mass attendance is always higher than actual attendance, so the actual percentage of practicing Catholics is even lower than official stats show.

The Roman professor wrote:

In the Italian population (of age and above), individual declarations of participation with ‘at least weekly’ frequency in highly institutionalized religious rituals, and thus also characterized by some form of significantly centralized regulation, in the period from 1993 to 2019 (source ISTAT, AVQ) have experienced a drastic decrease: they have lost about a third of their initial value. The indicator (which structurally overestimates ‘real’ participation) in the indicated period has experienced not only a consistent decline but also an acceleration. Such acceleration experienced a significant moment roughly in the middle of the first decade of the 21st century.

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Diotallevi’s study also revealed demographic trends in Italy’s decline of Mass attendance. One notable trend was a marked increase in the abandonment of the faith by Italian women, once regarded in the Catholic nation as the “pillars of the parish.” 

Diotallevi wrote, “On a par with the decline and its acceleration, and perhaps as a cause of these, must be counted the progressive detachment between women and religious rites of the type under consideration. It alters and almost erases a constitutive feature of contemporary (and perhaps not only contemporary) Italian religion.”

He continued, “Women are deserting highly institutionalized religious rites at a faster rate than men. Often, in the same cohort, the step backward taken by women is much larger than that taken by male peers. The ‘at least weekly’ practice levels of the former have now almost caught up with them. For the youth and early adulthood ages, the run-up can be said to be essentially successfully completed.” 

Highlighting the consequences for the traditional manner of handing on the faith within the home, the Italian author argued that the abandonment of the practice of Catholicism by Italian women spell a drastic further decline that will be seen in the next generation, which will have been raised without faith. 

He wrote, “Since women in Italy have traditionally been the protagonists in the transmission of religious practices and beliefs to the younger generations, and women have also often been the strongest link between adults and religion – for example, in family communities – the flight of older women from religious rituals, which has been going on for several decades now, is fraught with consequences for the present and even more so for the future of religion in Italy, and thus also for the society and culture of this country.” 

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In fact, Diotallevi argued that it is due to the work of Italian women, especially younger women, that the practice of religion is being cast off in accelerated rates in Italian society. 

“The women, and especially the less senior of them, are really giving themselves to work hard to ‘unmask’ Italian society from this kind of ritual and the kind of religion that it implies. It is also their doing if religious ritual of the type considered here is ‘fading.’ Which in no way authorizes religious authorities to pass themselves off purely and simply as victims.” 

The Italian author also detailed the way in which there has been a decline in the return to the faith among Italy’s growing elderly population. An observable trend in the practice of Catholicism in Italy was that Mass attendance was higher among youth and young adults, prior to marriage, than among those in mid-life, with an observable return to religion among those in later life.  

However, the return to the practice of the faith and Mass attendance among the elderly in Italy is declining, corresponding to the increased decline in Mass attendance in early adolescence. 

“Each generation practices a little less than the previous one (cohort effect), anticipating the time of detachment from this type of ritual and witnessing a softening to the point of cancellation of recovery at older ages,” Diotallevi wrote. 

Exploring the possible causes of such a catastrophic abandonment of Catholicism in a land which lies at the heart of the Church, the Roman professor surmised that among the likely causes are the liturgical abuses and upheavals to which the Church in Italy has been subjected. He particularly pointed to the “progressive spectacularization of Vatican liturgies that has occurred over the past three pontificates” in Rome, as well as the liturgical innovations with which Italian clergy have scandalized faithful Catholics.  

“Many of the nominally still highly institutionalized and centralized (‘liturgy-centered’) rituals may now have been transformed, in part or entirely, into ‘performance-centered rituals.’” Diotallevi wrote. “For Catholic liturgies, a push in this direction may also have come from the progressive spectacularization of Vatican liturgies that has occurred over the past three pontificates, from the substantial deregulation of increasingly large sectors of ‘Catholic’ liturgical offerings, as well as from many of the solutions adopted by clergy during the lockdowns that have recently taken place to counter the spread of COVID-19 pandemic.” 

The public liturgical abuses that Italy has seen in recent include a Mass sacrilegiously offered on a surf board, in the water, at the beach, with the priest bare-chested, an outrage that prompted local civil authorities to consider charging the priest with the crime of a public offense against religion. Another priest offered Mass at a park in a rainbow “pride” stole and a skin-tight cycling outfit, and joked when hosts were blown by the wind onto the ground after the consecration. 

READ: Eucharist flies off table during outdoor Mass offered by priest in LGBT ‘pride’ stole

This is not even to mention the many moral, doctrinal, and financial scandals with which the Vatican has long been riddled, which have certainly disaffected Italian Catholics from trusting the Church and practicing the faith. 

Professor Diotallevi’s dire diagnosis is that very soon in Italy, the practice of the Catholic faith through attendance at Sunday Mass “will be reduced to a figure approaching 10% of the population, which in many parts of the country corresponds to an actual figure in the single digits.” 

The crisis of religion today, he concludes, is evidenced in the imminent near total collapse of Catholicism in a country that has produced more than 200 popes, and within which lies the heart of the Church. 

He writes, “The quarter-century-long decline of ‘regular’ participation in highly institutionalized and significantly centralized religious rituals in Italy well represents an important part of the crisis of ‘religion,’ a crisis that moreover is precisely observed with reference to the scientifically invaluable Italian case.” 

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