CESNUR - center for studies on new religions

"Praise God and Pay the Tax": Italian Religious Economy - An Assessment

by Massimo Introvigne. A lecture at the Institute of World Religions, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Beijing (China), March 12, 2002


1. Secularization vs. Rational Choice: European Exceptionalism?

How religious pluralism and competition affect the health and status of religion is one of the most debated arguments in today’s sociology of religion. For several years, two theories coexisted, one dominant in Europe and the other in the United States. The former, the secularization theory, claimed that religious pluralism undermined the credibility of each competing religion, and of religion in general. Pluralism and competition should, thus, lead to secularization, in the shape of a general decline of both religious organizations and religiousness. Peter Berger was a main proponent of this theory in his 1967 book The Sacred Canopy, which became generally popular and particularly so among European sociologists. In the 1980s, Rodney Stark and his colleagues William Sims Bainbridge and Laurence R. Iannaccone, later joined by Roger Finke, introduced the concept of "religious economy" as "all the religious activity going on in any society: a ‘market’ of current and potential adherents, a set of one or more organizations seeking to attract or maintain adherents, and the religious culture offered by the organization(s)" (Stark and Finke 2000, 193). This theory, known as the "rational choice theory" (a label Stark and his colleagues do not particularly like), states that "to the degree that religious economies are unregulated and competitive, overall levels of religious commitment will be high. (Conversely, lacking competition, the dominant firm[s] will be too inefficient to sustain vigorous marketing efforts, and the result will be a low overall level of religious commitment, with the average person minimizing and delaying payment of religious costs)" (Stark and Finke 2000, 201). The theory predicts that, contrary to the secularization thesis, religiousness levels will be higher and religious organizations will be stronger where pluralism is greater.

Although some European sociologists were never persuaded by the so-called "rational choice" theory, and some (a minority) still maintain that secularization is the universal rule (see Bruce 1999), most accepted that in the United States a large degree of religious pluralism coexists with successful churches, and that there is a level of religiousness higher than that in Europe. It was thus concluded that the United States were in a situation of "exceptionalism" with respect to the general rule of secularization. During the 1990s, however, it became increasingly clear that several other countries were in a situation quite similar to that in the United States. Several European sociologists, and Berger himself (see Woodhead, Martin and Heelas 2001), gradually conceded that Western Europe, rather than the United States, was in fact the exception. Some of them started discussing a "European exceptionalism", while others re-interpreted the secularization theory claiming that secularization was a qualitative rather than a quantitative phenomenon and that it made religion less important (qualitatively) in societies in which it remained (quantitatively) strong (see Davie 2000).

But was, or is, Western Europe really exceptional? "Rational choice" theorists have never been persuaded. Proponents of the secularization theory (at least when confined to "European exceptionalism") countered that increasing pluralism in Europe has not generated a higher level of religiousness, and that in Europe there are fewer "cults" or new religious movements than in the United States. The "rational choice" theory predicted that, where pluralism is limited, mainline religious "firms" are weakest and marginal new religious movements are allowed to prosper because of this weakness. An early formulation of the theory maintained that: "cults will abound where conventional churches are weakest" (Stark and Bainbridge 1980, 96). In Western Europe, where there is (or was) less religious competition, new religious movements would thus have been more prevalent on the basis of the Stark-Bainbridge theory. This was not the case, objected the secularization theorists; hence - they concluded - rational choice theories do not work in Europe.

One of the problems was that data about religions, particularly small religious minorities, were not as readily available in Europe as they were in the United States. For most European countries, there is no comprehensive study of religious minorities. In 2001, on the other hand, after thirteen years of data collecting, an "Encyclopedia of Religions in Italy" (ERI) was published in Italy (with the undersigned as general editor) offering data on 616 religious bodies active in that country. The book went on to become the most reviewed non-fiction work of 2001 by the Italian media (Introvigne and others 2001). Based on its data, and on other sources, several propositions concerning Italian religious economy will be tested. Italy’s place within Western Europe will also be discussed briefly.


2. Regulation and Deregulation in Italy

That the European religious economy was regulated, and the European governments restricted religious pluralism in various ways, was obvious prior to the final decades of the 20th century. Advantages granted to "established" churches remained in force in several Western European countries, despite official claims of religious freedom and equality. Italy was no exception to this rule. Three relevant periods can be distinguished in this context.

Firstly, prior to 1947 religious liberty was not even affirmed in the Italian Constitution. Roman Catholicism was the State religion, whilst other religions were, at best, "tolerated". It is true that Italian unity was achieved during the Risorgimento, under the monarchy of the House of Savoy, despite the opposition of the Catholic Church, and that following the Unification of 1861, an official anti-clericalism climate prevailed for several decades. Anti-clerical governments occasionally supported Protestant churches, but they remained small and weak and did not achieve much success. Local authorities, on the other hand, often remained strongly pro-Catholic and hostile to all minorities. Benito Mussolini (1883-1945) seized power in 1922, and in 1929 signed a Concordat with the Holy See, granting a number of privileges to the Roman Catholic Church. Catholic parish priests from then on received their salaries from the State. Although Mussolini was originally a self-styled atheist and anti-clerical, his regime ultimately compromised with the Catholic Church; religious minorities were subjected to gradual discrimination and occasionally persecuted (see Rochat 1990). With the fall of the Fascist regime and the end of World War II, a new democratic Constitution was promulgated in 1947. It proclaimed all religions equal before the law (Section 8). It explicitly recognized the 1929 Concordat with the Catholic Church (Section 7), but also called for other Concordats (known as "Intese") to be concluded between the State and other religious bodies (Section 8.3). Politically, however, a party enjoying numerous ties with the Roman Catholic Church, the Christian Democratic Party, won the 1948 general elections and remained in power (alone, or as the leading party of a coalition) uninterrupted until 1994. Several restrictions applicable to religious minorities remained in force, although a number of these laws were gradually declared to be incompatible with the Constitution by the newly established Constitutional Court. Throughout the 1950s and early 1960s, Christian Democratic authorities remained openly hostile towards religious minorities, particularly in Southern Italy, and religious economy did not become truly deregulated (as the Constitution theoretically mandated). Starting in the late 1960s, however, the Catholic Church’s own attitude towards religious minorities changed as a result of Vatican II. Slowly but surely, almost all laws limiting the activities of the religious minorities were amended or cancelled.

A third period started in 1984. The then government was headed by Prime Minister Bettino Craxi (1924-2000), the leader of the Socialist Party (although the Christian Democrats remained the largest party in the coalition). Craxi negotiated a new agreement with the Catholic Church, changing several key provisions of the 1929 Concordat. Catholic parish priests no longer received a salary from the State. On the other hand, Italian taxpayers were required to pay a tax (called "otto per mille" in Italian, meaning "0.8 per cent"), corresponding to 0.8% of their total taxes, which was then channelled to "humanitarian or religious" activities. Unlike their German counterparts, Italian taxpayers cannot avoid the payment of this tax by declaring themselves agnostic. They are allowed, however, to "give" their tax payments to the State, which is then empowered to use them for humanitarian or cultural projects (more recently, for the restoration of historical buildings or museums). Alternatively, they may ask the State to give the corresponding sum to a specified religious body. The necessity of offering an option to taxpayers determined the need to establish Concordats ("Intese") with non-Catholic religious bodies. Although mentioned in Section 8.3 of the 1947 Constitution, no such additional Concordat had been concluded before 1984. In that same year, 1984, a Concordat was established with the Waldensian Church (the oldest Protestant body in Italy, which also represented the Methodists following an agreement concluded in 1975). Later, other religious bodies also entered into similar Concordats: Seventh-Day Adventists and Assemblies of God Pentecostals in 1988; the Union of Jewish Communities in 1989; and the Baptists and Lutherans in 1995. Further Concordats with the Italian Buddhist Union and the Jehovah’s Witnesses (the latter are the largest religious minority among Italian citizens, with some 400,000 members) were signed in the year 2000 by the then Prime Minister Massimo D’Alema, but need to be approved by the Parliament before official implementation. Under the "otto per mille" system, taxpayers are required to select either the State or one of the participating religious bodies (i.e. all Concordat partners, except the Baptists who have refused to participate in the religious tax system for theological reasons) by crossing the corresponding case in their tax return forms. Again, unlike in Germany and other countries, those who fail to specify an option are not exonerated from the payment of the tax. Nor does their tax go automatically to the State. It is, in fact, divided among participating religious bodies and the State, in proportion to the choices specified by those taxpayers who have duly indicated their chosen options. The system is less complicated than it may seem. If a taxpayer indicates a preference for the Catholic Church, for instance (or the Lutheran Church, or any one of the others), 0.8 per cent of his or her taxes will be transferred by the State accordingly, i.e. to the bank account of the preferred religious body. If the taxpayer fails to indicate any option, however, 0.8 per cent of his or her taxes will be divided between the State and the participating religious bodies, in proportion to the choices made by those who did indicate their preferred option. Since in 1997, for example, 83.3% of those who specified a clear option did so in favour of the Catholic Church, this meant that 83.3% of the 0.8 per cent tax of every "no-choice" taxpayer went to the Catholic Church. Since 13.42% of those who indicated an option opted for the State, the same 13.42% of the 0.8 per cent of the "no-choice" taxpayers also went to the State, and so on. In practice, however, both the system and the calculation are more complicated because two participating religious bodies (Assemblies of God Pentecostals and Seventh-Day Adventists) decided to accept only the money of the taxpayers who explicitly opted for them, rather than take a share of the taxes derived from the "no-choice" taxpayers. This will also be the position of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, once their Concordat has been duly ratified by Parliament. Thus, although in 1997 (the last year for which full data are available), 58.05% of Italian taxpayers (a) forgot to indicate an option, (b) did not understand how to proceed, or (c) decided that they did not want to specify an option for whatever reason, this carried no detrimental consequences for the participating religious bodies, which eventually, together with the State, also divided these tax payments amongst themselves.

A second crucial development occurred in the late 1980s and early 1990s. A series of corruption scandals allowed the Italian judiciary (the most politically independent judiciary in Europe) to prosecute a number of prominent politicians, ultimately bringing about the end of the Christian Democratic Party. What was once the largest political party in Italy collapsed under the corruption scandals, and divided itself into a number of small newly-formed parties, none of which has been able to count itself among the main political players in any Italian general election from 1994 on.

The third development concerned immigration. In 1970 there were less than 5,000 Moslems in Italy, but by the year 2000 the number of Moslems had reached 580,000. In the same year, foreign immigrants also included 140,000 Eastern Orthodox Christians (from the former Soviet block), 25,000 Buddhists, and 10,000 Hindus. Immigration became a key item on every electoral and political agenda, and the perception of the Moslem community as "difficult to integrate" and as "a problem" was further exacerbated by the events of September 11, 2001. It is true that in the year 2000, even taking these developments into account, members of non-Catholic religious minorities were only 1.92% of the total Italian population if foreign immigrants were not included, and 3.5% including foreign immigrants. Active Roman Catholics constituted approximately 38% (Introvigne and others 2001, 7; Gubert 2000, 422). While effective religious pluralism was more apparent than real, however, the perception of pluralism changed dramatically between 1984 (the year of the new Concordat with the Roman Catholic Church and the first Concordat with a non-Catholic minority) and 1994 (when for the first time the Christian Democratic Party was not an important factor in a general election). Legal developments, immigration, and the fall of the Christian Democratic Party persuaded many Italians that theirs was now a multi-religious society. Italian religious economy was becoming fully deregulated.


3. Effects of Deregulation

3.1. Overall Religiousness

A first effect of deregulation was an increase in overall religiousness. Happily, three comparatively uniform European Value Surveys (EVS) were carried out in 1981, 1990, and 1999 (as mentioned earlier, the Italian religious economy became deregulated between 1984 and 1994). Data shows an increase in both church attendance (in general), belief in an afterlife, and the declining number of those willing to regard God in their lives as "unimportant" or "irrelevant" (obviously, the Marxist atheism crisis also accounted for the latter figure). As for belief in God, the 1990 figure was similar to the one in 1981 (83% vs. 84%), with a sustained increase in 1999 (88%). Interestingly enough, however, the increase in religious belief was more marked among young people aged 18-29 years (even when such a non-fashionable belief as the existence of Hell was considered: Table 2), thus showing that in a deregulated religious market young adult religiousness is far from being in a state of decline.

Table 1

Overall Religiousness in Italy, 1981-1999

% Belief in God
% Belief in an Afterlife
% God "unimportant"
% Church Attendance

Source: EVS (Gubert 2000, 409-434).

Table 2

Religiousness for the Age Group 18-29, 1981-1999

% Belief in God
% Belief in an Afterlife
% Belief in Hell
% God "unimportant"

Source: EVS (Gubert 2000, 409-434).


3.2. New Religious Movements

The "rational choice" theory predicts that, as mentioned earlier, a regulated religious economy generates a comparatively lazy clergy and a lazy laity in the dominant church or churches. The consequence of the lack of any real mainline competition, the theory predicts, will be development at the fringe. In 1993 Stark claimed that, in fact, there were more new religious movements per million population in Europe than in the United States (Stark 1993). Stark calculated that the number of movements per million population was 3.4 in Europe (Western Europe plus Poland) against 1.7 in the United States. As far as Italy is concerned, Stark counted 66 movements in 1993. This number was based on the investigation carried out by Isotta Poggi, an associate of the American encyclopedist J. Gordon Melton who spent one month in Italy in 1992, part of which was spent at my office in Turin. At that time, however, our work on the encyclopedia subsequently published in 2001 was far from complete. The ERI does not distinguish between "new" and "old" religious movements. Based on the criteria used in Stark’s 1993 article, however, according to ERI there were 353 new religious movements in Italy in 2001. This figure does not include Protestant Evangelical and Pentecostal movements independent of the mainline churches (another 120: Introvigne and others 2001). Excluding these, therefore, the rate of movements per million population in Italy in the year 2001 was not 1.2 (the rate mentioned in Stark’s 1993 study) but 6.0, a substantially higher rate than the American 1.7.

It is also interesting to note when the new religious movements active in Italy in 2001 actually started their activities in the country (see Table 3).

Table 3

New Religious Movements in Italy - 2001

Active from before 1947
Active from 1947-1984
Active from 1984 on

Table 3 shows that some religious movements (certainly "new" when they were introduced into Italy) were active before 1947, legal restrictions notwithstanding. These included, among others, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Baha’is, the Theosophical Society, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (although its mission was closed after a short time in the 19th century, and re-opened only in 1966). Most movements, however, started their activities in Italy between 1947-1984. In this period of time there were certainly more than 212 movements in Italy. The figure in Table 3 refers to the movements which started their activities in Italy between 1947-1984 and were still active in 2001. Since not all movements are successful, many more which existed in that period have since either ceased to exist altogether, or have closed their unsuccessful missions in Italy. Between 1984-2001, 127 new religious movements were added to the list. This means that, as the religious economy became more deregulated, there were fewer new movements established or introduced into Italy. The decreasing number of new movements would be still more significant if we eliminated from the total figure of 127 those which are simply the result of schisms within pre-existing movements, and those which operate only within a specific community of non-Italian immigrants.

A specific and interesting example concerns Jehovah’s Witnesses. Their growth in Italy between the 1950s and the 1980s was among the most spectacular in the world, as shown in Table 4 ("publishers", in Jehovah’s Witnesses’ jargon, are those engaged in missionary activities on behalf of the movement; the Memorial is their only public yearly ritual event and also attracts family members and sympathizers who are not "publishers").

Table 4

Jehovah’s Witnesses in Italy, 1950-1980

Average Number of Publishers
Yearly Memorial Attendance

Source: Introvigne 2002

In the 1980s and (particularly) in the 1990s, Jehovah’s Witnesses expansion was influenced by several variables, and was less spectacular, until the yearly increase fell to less than 1% in the late 1990s. Clearly, the Jehovah’s Witnesses achieved their highest growth figures when the Italian economy was regulated; deregulation, if anything, had the effect of slowing down their progress.

As far as new religious movements are concerned, the Italian situation may be summarized as follows:

  1. Before 1947, legal limitations made the presence of new religious movements minimal (although some were present).
  2. Between 1947-1984 a regulated religious economy, with State salaries for Catholic parish priests and the privileges deriving from the 1929 Concordat still in force, literally hundreds of new religious movements were introduced; some of them flourished, with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, in particular, experiencing their most spectacular growth in any European country.
  3. After 1984, while the religious economy became more deregulated, the number of new religious movements introduced or established in the country did not increase but decreased; in terms of membership, there was also less room for spectacular increases of single movements, as evidenced by the case of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

3.3. Protestant Growth

In the 1990s, the fastest growing segment of Italian religion (not considering growth through immigration) was not Jehovah’s Witnesses, but rather Evangelical Protestantism. Deregulation caused the entry into Italy of a growing number of Protestant organizations, most of them Evangelical and Pentecostal. Table 5 shows the number of new Evangelical movements (i.e. Protestant churches not part of the traditional mainline Protestant denominations) active in Italy in 2001.

Table 5

New Evangelical Movements

Active from before 1947
Active from 1947-1984
Active from 1984 on

Source: Introvigne and others 2001

Note that both the total number of 120 and the figure of 57 for new introductions after 1984 does not take into account the parachurches, i.e. the independent missionary agencies which are not technically Protestant churches (such as Youth with a Mission, Campus Crusade for Christ, and such like). ERI lists 48 such organizations, most of them introduced into Italy after 1984, and an important component since then of Italian Evangelical Protestantism in general. In 2001 there were some 363,000 Protestants in Italy, 250,000 of them Pentecostal. Although the number is still small (0.63% of the total Italian population) compared to active Roman Catholics (38%), the growth rate is impressive, and in some areas of Southern Italy (such as the Naples area and Sicily) may be compared to Latin America. This seems to confirm that, when religious economy becomes deregulated, aggressive new religious "firms" may enjoy very significant growth rates.

3.4. Catholic Revival

But what about the Roman Catholic Church? Statistics covering active (as opposed to nominal) Roman Catholics are somewhat confused before the 1970s. Scholars of Catholicism in Italy seem to agree that there was, at a certain stage in the 20th century, a significant decline in the number of active Catholics, but they differ on when the decline actually started. Some argue that an all-time low was reached at the end of the 1970s. Be that as it may, data from subsequent European Value Surveys on church attendance (when corrected by allowing for non-Catholics) show a growth rate of active Catholics in Italy from the 1981 to the 1990 and 1999 surveys. The percentage of active Roman Catholics rose from 33% in 1981 to 35% in 1990, and 38% in 1999 (Gubert 2000, 397-455). This would seem to confirm that, within a regulated religious economy, the number of active Catholics declined, while in a more pluralistic and deregulated economy numbers started to rise again. We would not argue that legal deregulation and the new 1984 Concordat are the only relevant factors here, although they were important (see the following paragraph on the "otto per mille" tax and its effects). More generally, the perception of an increasing religious pluralism (more important, as a perception, than the percentages confirmed by the empirical data) galvanized previously dormant sectors of the Catholic Church into action. That there is a Catholic revival in Italy may well be confirmed when statistics for the period after September 11, 2001 become available. Even very secular journalists and intellectuals make increasing mentions of Italy’s "Catholic heritage" in the face of a perceived "non-Western" (i.e. Islamic) challenge, and Bishops have been happy to report that Catholic church attendance appeared to rise after September 11, 2001. A possible, and less welcome, additional consequence of September 11 is that Catholic hostility to newly-established minorities may increase. Unlike other European countries, Italy has no significant secular anti-cult movement, and Catholic counter-cult groups, although vocal, were not strongly supported by the Bishops, who did not want to be accused of being intolerant, of protecting a quasi-monopoly, or of "rocking the boat" that granted significant advantages to a number of different religions after the 1984 reform (see Introvigne 2001). Stark (2001) predicts that a real, or perceived, conflict between large religious bodies will increase general intolerance of smaller religions, and there are signs that this may happen in Italy in the wake of the events of September 11, 2001.

As far as Roman Catholicism is concerned, another possibility is that the decline was never really severe in Italy, thanks to intra-Catholic competition. In this case, lack of external competition was compensated for by a vibrant intra-Catholic "domestic" religious economy, with several Catholic "movements" competing for members (see Garelli 1991). Further studies will be needed, but there are indications that Italy may confirm what Stark and Finke (2000, 169-190) have observed in other countries, i.e. that conservative segments of Italian Catholicism (including the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, Opus Dei, Comunione e Liberazione, and others) have experienced some expansion, while the more liberal sectors have declined somewhat.


4. The Triumph of the Market: the "Otto per Mille" Tax

Although religious leaders are often disturbed by sociological references to "religious economy", Italy with its "otto per mille" tax offers a very graphic representation of religious competition as a market. Unbeknown to the American sociologists who started studying religious economy in the 1980s, Italy was embarking on a legal experiment which probably exceeded these sociologists’ wildest dreams. No "rational choice theorists" in the 1980s would have imagined that religions in Italy would soon be engaged in a yearly competition to persuade taxpayers to give their taxes to one religious "firm" rather than another. Every Spring, when taxpayers file their IRS returns, and are instructed to indicate their preference for one of the six participant religious "firms" (or the State, or nothing), the image of the religious market suddenly comes alive in Italy. Participant religious bodies (with the exception of the rather quiet, and poor, Assemblies of God Pentecostals) hire leading advertising agencies in an effort to attract new taxpayers. Campaigns are aimed both at reminding Church members that indicating their personal preference on the tax form is important, and at capturing non-members. According to the European Value Survey, in 1999 89% of the Italian population claimed to be "religious", while only 40% were actually involved in a religious body with any regularity (Gubert 2000, 422). Persuading those who "believe without belonging" (Davie 1994) to indicate their tax option for the benefit of a specific religious body is crucial in Italy. Slogans range from those which stress the humanitarian (rather than, strictly speaking, religious) activities of the Roman Catholic Church, to the well-known "I give my ‘otto per mille’ to the Waldensian Church because I am not a Waldensian". The "otto per mille" tax system reminds Italian religions, every year, that there is a religious economy, and creates, at the same time, both real competition and pluralism awareness.

How successful are these efforts? Their success seems to be quite significant. The Italian fiscal authorities are very slow in making results public, and the last complete calculations published in 2001 concerned 1997. In that year, taxpayers in Italy numbered 22,890,382. The population was around 57 millions, meaning that roughly 40% of Italian citizens filed a tax return. This is not surprising, considering that not only do minors not have to file tax returns, obviously, but that husbands and wives, under certain conditions, are also allowed to file joint declarations (one single declaration for both). Additionally, the income level under which no tax declarations have to be filed is higher in Italy than in the United States and elsewhere, bearing in mind that for employees taxes are withheld at source and paid by their employers.

Among Italy’s total number of taxpayers, 9,932,528 (or 41.95%) specified in 1997 one of the "otto per mille" options. For the others, the failure to indicate a specific option was not necessarily the result of a conscious decision. The Italian IRS form is a quite complicated document, and mistakes are common. This is confirmed by the fact that more than 300,000 taxpayers indicated more than one option (which is not allowed), or made other mistakes, thus invalidating their choices. Table 6 confronts the results of the "otto per mille" tax in 1997 and an estimate of the memberships of the corresponding religious bodies in the same year.

Table 6

"Otto per Mille" Tax: 1997

Valid Choices
% Choices
% Taxpayers
Active Members
% Population
Roman Catholic Church
Waldensian-Methodist Churches
Jewish Communities
Assemblies of God
Seventh-Day Adventist Church
Lutheran Church

Sources: CESNUR archives; Fresco 2001.

Table 6 shows that the Roman Catholic Church was specified by 83.3% of choosers, and by 34.7% of the total taxpayers. This is less, but not significantly less, than the (1997) percentage of active Roman Catholics among the Italian population in general (37.7%). On the other hand, there were several religious bodies (Waldensians-Methodists, Jews, Seventh-Day Adventists, and Lutherans) whose tax options very much exceeded their membership, an even more impressive result if we consider that not all members are taxpayers. The Waldensian-Methodist Churches received more that five times more tax options than they had members (127,585 against 25,000); the Lutheran Church more than four times (36,811 against 8,000), with the Seventh-Day Adventists more than doubling their figure (41,929 against 20,000) and the Jewish Communities going from 35,000 to more than 60,000. On the other hand, the Assemblies of God Pentecostals received tax options from a percentage of taxpayers (0.21%) identical to the percentage of their membership in terms of the Italian population in general.

Several factors account for these results. Waldensians, Jews, Adventists and Lutherans ran publicity campaigns, while the Assemblies of God Pentecostals did not (for theological, as well as economical, reasons). A significant number of Pentecostals are Southerners and poor, and presumably do not file tax returns. "Praise God and pay the tax" (i.e. indicate the right option), I heard a Southern Italian Assemblies of God pastor preaching years ago. His flock presumably did, but many in attendance were presumably below the income level requiring the completion of an IRS form. Waldensians-Methodists and Lutherans, no doubt, were able to persuade other Protestants (whose churches do not have Concordats and do not participate in the "otto per mille" tax system), for historical reasons, to indicate their respective options. Ethnic Jews generally exceed the actual membership total of the religious Jewish Communities, and a significant number of them probably decided to contribute to this particular body.

The conclusions are that (with the exception of the Assemblies of God, that simply replicated their general percentage among taxpayers), the other participating minorities fared much better than the Roman Catholic Church (in percentage terms, of course), and were able to persuade a significant number of non-members to indicate their options. But the result was not too bad for the Catholic Church either. With 83.33% of the choosers, and 34.7% of the taxpayers, it ended up receiving more money through the "otto per mille" system than it received before 1984 through the (meagre) salaries paid by the State to its parish priests. More generally, the need to advertise, communicate, and persuade Italians every Spring that it makes sense to specify the Catholic option in the yearly tax return form (rather than another option) is a healthy periodical reminder to both clergy and laity that competition does exist, and that a "preference" by the average Italian for the Catholic Church can no longer be taken for granted.

The "otto per mille" tax and its corresponding yearly campaigns launched by the participating religious bodies is a unique Italian experiment, which both represents and confirms how religious "firms" operate within an increasingly deregulated religious economy. Contrary to some dire predictions within the Catholic camp, the post-1984 deregulation system did not result in disaster for the Roman Catholic Church. Loss of certain privileges and the need to compete were important factors in generating a Catholic revival. More money was transferred to the Church’s bank accounts as a result of the "otto per mille" tax than in the previous pre-1984 system. The most active religious minorities benefit, proportionally, even more than the Catholic Church.

Somebody may conclude, as has in fact been suggested, that, after the "American exceptionalism" and the "European exceptionalism", there is now an "Italian exceptionalism" in matters religious. This is partially true: the number of those active in organized religion in Italy is higher than in the other European Union countries (with the exception of Ireland), and certain religious trends in Italy are more similar to the United States (and, from another point of view, certain areas of Latin America) than to most other Western European countries. On the other hand, it is also true that data available for Italy are now more comprehensive than those available for other European Union countries. It is not only true that, through the publication of the ERI and other sources, more data are available about religious minorities and religious movements, but the Italian government itself carries out a unique yearly collection of religious data through the "otto per mille" system (limited, it is true, to six religious bodies; however, many more are currently negotiating future Concordats). It may be that Italian "exceptionalism" resides more in the availability of a larger mass of data, with respect to other European countries, than in allegedly radical differences between Italy and its neighbours.



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