ITS DEATH was forecast ten years ago but the Italian Catholic press is flurishing as never before, The biggest success story of all is the illustrated weekly Famiglia Cristiana (Christian Family) which sells 1,200,000 copies and claims a readership of over 5 million or one out of every ten Famiglia Cristiana is not narrow Catholic. In fact its subject matter is so similar to that of other non-Catholic weeklies (ranging from major socio-political issues to sport and show business) that some Catholics criticise it as merely a commercial venture.
But its sales ensure its independence.
In addition to Famiglia Cristiana, the San Paolo Religious Order publishes the religious monthly Jesus (as a title choice of the English equivalent of the Italian "Gesu" was criticised) which sells 60,000 copies; the show business weekly Famiglia TV (200,000 copies) and the youth magazine II Giornalino (200,000 copies which makes it the second most popular in Italy). San Paolo claim to be the world's largest Catholic publishing concern. In addition they have a radio station, are film producers (San Paolo Film) and have television sations in 40 countries.
The diocesan press has been rejuvenated since the beginning of the 1970's.
The 124 diocesan weeklies have a total of 1,200,000 subscribers and sell other copies in church with a few additional sales when they managed to obtain a place in newspaper kiosks. They claim a total of 6 million readers weekly as against 4 million a decade ago.
An important factor in the renovation of the diocesan weeklies is that they no longer see themselves obliged to defend. the (Catholic) Christian Democrat Party at all costs. Instead they try to foster a critical awareness of sociopolitical issues. They examine the local administration's use of power and do not hesitate to deplore short comings whether or not the Christian Democrats are in power. They also turn the spotlight on drugs, the aged, unemployment and other spiney issues.
The national president of the Christian Democrats, Falmino Piccoli, criticised the diocesan weekly in its native failing to support his party. "We haven't been assisting the Christian Democrats for the past 15 years" the weekly's editor responded tartly.
The diocesan weeklies have formed an agency which supplies features to all of them and another agency to pool advertising on a national level. Their cultural and technical commission has organised national meetings which attract attention even outside the Catholic press.
The diocesan weeklies have improved coordination on a national scale but there is also a national daily L'Avvenire. In the past two years it has raised its circulation over the 70,000 mark which is still a long way behind that of the Milan Corriere della Sera which is over 500,000 and that of the Roman La Repubblica which sells about 475,000.
L'Avvenire's editor Guido Folloni is of the Milanese Catholic group Communione e Liberazione and some complain he has made it their organ. He says he wants it to be the voice of all Italian Catholics and points out that, in its board, the Episcopal Conference, Catholic Action, religious institutions, Catholic trade unionists, Catholic weeklies and secular institutes are represented.
No survey of the Italian Catholic press would be complete without mention of the old stalwart the Messagero di Sant' Antonio. Published in four others languages as well as Italian it has 1,150,000 worldwide subscribers. While John Paul II gives strong support to L'Avvenire, John Paul I was a popular contributor to Messagero di Sant' Antonio before his pontifical election. Like the rest of the Catholic press in Italy, the Messagero has been updated. What used to be mainly a devotional journal now tackles political, social and sexual issues.