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Italy moving "laywards?" PDF Print E-mail
Dec 22, 2012 at 06:42 PM

Now THIS is news. According to Wednesday's Corriere della Sera (by the way, my paper of choice here now that I only read one newspaper a day), in 2011, in both the center and north of Italy, the number of civil marriages has outpaced those celebrated in church.

Although the overall figure is still 60-40 in favor of religious marriages, in the center and the north of the country over 50% of couples now are choosing to be married in city hall rather than in church.  Although in the south tradition prevails, with three out of four couples marrying still prefer the religious rite, the new statistics published by ISTAT, the Italian national statistics institute, give an indication of how the average Italian's relationship to Catholic teachings is evolving. 

And perhaps even more interesting is the fact that 26% of the children born in 2010 (ISTAT's annual report is generally has a two-year lag), were born to couples who were not married at the time of the child's birth. And I can tell you from personal experience, that this trend does not just involve young adults with a university education but is an across-the-board phenomenon that 20 years ago would have been unthinkable. 

The Italian public has defied the church before, most notably in 1974 when despite a massive campaign by the Church, a majority of Italians went to the polls in a referendum and made divorce legal and then repeated the gesture four years later by legalizing abortion. 

So it will be interesting to see what happens should the center-left win the national elections that will be held in the first quarter of 2013: the leftwing coalition - now favored in the polls -  supports changing Italian laws to permit same-sex marriage or some other kind of union for homosexual couples, a living will that will allow individuals to issue do-not-resuscitate orders, and hopefully adoption by single parents, all strenuously opposed by the Church. (At the moment, Italy is one of only three European countries to have failed to move forward on these issues, the other two being Ireland and Portugal).

From the point of view of a North American, Italy is not a truly secular society in many ways. Crucfixes adorn the walls of schools, police stations and many government offices even though Roman Catholicism has not been the state religion since 1929. But while most Italians still have their children baptized and confirmed and most families have funeral masses said for their loved ones, the recent statistics show that  increasingly they see life in the 21st century in a different fashion that the Church hierarchy does.

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