Every year the Italian state allocates 8% of its tax revenue to the religious confessions that have entered an agreement to benefit from it.
Among these the Catholic Church gets the lion’s share. The state allocates around a billion euro to it each year. That is a lot, but it must be kept in mind that the Catholic Church in Germany, which is half the size of the Italian Church, receives five times as much from the state every year by virtue of the “Kirchensteuer,” the tax on religious affiliation in effect in that country.
In Italy, on the other hand, the allocation of the combined total of the 8% among the various religious denominations is decided every year by the taxpayers, who are free to indicate or not, with a signature, to whom they want the contribution to be given. And from 1985 until now, or in other words ever since this mechanism has been introduced, the signatures in favor of the Catholic Church have been in an overwhelming majority, reaching in the record year of 2005 nearly 90 percent of the signatories, or 89.82 percent to be exact.
2005 was the last year in which John Paul II was pope. And various commentators associated with his popularity the peak that was reached by the 8%.
Just as in 2013, the final year of Benedict XVI, it was easy to associate with the unpopularity of this other pope the drop to 80.91 percent of the signatures in favor of the Catholic Church.
But today, after five years of the pontificate of Jorge Mario Bergoglio, once again extremely popular, how do things stand?
After a timid upturn to 81.23 percent of signatures in 2014, the follow-up has been entirely on the decline:
– 81.09 percent in 2015;
– 79.94 percent in 2016;
– 79.36 percent in 2017, the last known figure and a negative record in the history of the 8%.
But take care. If instead of the percent of votes one looks at the absolute figures, meaning the number of signatures in favor of the Catholic Church, the tune changes.
One discovers, for example, that the all-time record in the number of signatures was reached during the pontificate not of John Paul II but of Benedict XVI: in 2011, with 15,604,034 signatures.
Not only that. In all the last six years of Benedict XVI, the signatures in favor of the Catholic Church were above 15 million, which had never happened in the pontificate of John Paul II.
And the same happened in the first two years of Pope Francis. Followed, however, by a clear and continuous drop:
– 14,437,694 in 2015;
– 13,944,967 in 2016;
– 13,762,498 in 2017.
It is dicey to use these figures to measure the success or failure of a pontificate. Nor is it straightforward to connect these data to the general advance of secularization in a country labeled “Catholic,” like Italy.
Instead, what is unusual in Italy is the favor garnered by the Methodist and Waldensian Churches, in second place among the various religious denominations in the allocation of the 8 per thousand, with a number of signatures a dozen times higher than their actual presence in the country:
– 469,071 in 2015;
– 523,504 in 2016;
– 515,829 in 2017.
Also steadily on the rise in recent years is the number of signatures in favor of the Italian Buddhist Union:
– 125,786 in 2015;
– 173,023 in 2016;
– 164,934 in 2017, to which must be added the 52,777 signatures for the Soka Gakkai Buddhists, which also entered the allocation.
Taxpayers can also sign to have a portion of the 8% remain with the Italian state. And for a few years these signatures have also been slightly on the rise:
– 2,493,431 in 2015, 14.03 percent of signatures;
– 2,535,404 in 2016, 14.54 percent;
– 2,576,882 in 2017, 14.86 percent.
The statistical breakdown of the mechanism of the 8% in Italy can be found on this webpage of the ministry of the economy, finance department:
> Analisi statistiche 8 per mille, serie storiche
While on the proceeds of the 8% for the Catholic Church and how they are used, there is the “ad hoc” website of the Italian episcopal conference, full of constantly updated details and account statements:
> 8 per mille. Chiesa cattolica
(English translation by Matthew Sherry, Ballwin, Missouri, U.S.A.)