Italians tailor their religion to fit their lifestyles

Nearly 90 percent of Italians call themselves Catholics, but more than two-thirds favor legal recognition for unmarried couples despite opposition from the Church, according to a study sociologists say is evidence that Italians tailor their religion to fit their lifestyles. The survey released this week by the Rome-based research institute Eurispes also found that 78 percent of Italian Catholics believe people who are divorced and remarry should not be forbidden to receive Communion. The poll also revealed that a mere one-third attend Mass at least once a week. Catholics are expected to go to Mass every Sunday.

"It's tailor-made religion," Domenico De Masi, a sociologist at Rome's La Sapienza university, said Thursday. "We take from the pope whatever suits us. The parts that are outrageous get taken out." De Masi cited, as an example, the Church's ban on sex before marriage, which he said is widely and openly disregarded among his students, even the ones who profess themselves to be Catholic.

"Catholicism is very prohibitionist, and therefore a person has to create her own beliefs; otherwise it's impossible," said Virginia Liberini, 22, a student in Rome who said she is a Catholic. She cited the Church's ban on condoms. "It's counterproductive, even on a sanitary level," added Liberini, who is not a student of De Masi's. The study polled 1,070 Italians between Dec. 22 and Jan. 5 and did not include a margin of error. As for abortion, which has been legal in Italy since 1978, 83 percent of Italians who described themselves as Catholics (and 84 percent of all those polled) are in favor of it when the mother's life is in danger.

About 73 percent of Catholics favor abortion when the fetus appears to be malformed, and 62 percent approve of it in the case of rape, according to the survey. "At no time in history has there been such a strong split between what people want and what the Church wants," De Masi said.

However, the approval rate for abortion decreases sharply when women have abortions for economic reasons (26 percent), or when women just don't want to have children (22 percent.) Statistics show that Italy's abortion rates have dropped steadily over the years. In 2004, 136,715 women in Italy had an abortion, compared with 234,801 in 1982. There are about 58 million people in Italy.

The Catholic Church suffered a blow when Italians upheld the abortion law in a referendum in 1981. But in recent years, the Church has started speaking out against abortion again, turning it into an election issue for the first time in at least 20 years.

While no mainstream parties advocate making it illegal again, both left- and right-wing parties have supported giving cash benefits to women during pregnancy or after birth widely seen as a way of encouraging women not to have abortions.

The Church also has been a severe critic of proposals to give legal status to unmarried couples, and the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano has denounced efforts to pursue the proposals as "provocations." However, the study found that 71 percent of Italians are in favor of it, reports the AP. N.U.