Historically, most Italians have been Roman Catholics, and immigrants have continued in that religious faith in the United States. However, early Italian immigrants were not entirely comfortable in American Catholic churches, which were dominated by Irish American clergy. In cities in which Italians were concentrated, the immigrants gravitated toward predominantly Italian parishes, which tried to keep alive the Italian language and culture.
Although a majority of Italian Americans have remained Catholics, they have not occupied a place in the leadership of the American church that reflects their numbers. Some Italian American men and women entered the Catholic clergy and religious orders but not in the same numbers as Irish Catholics have done. Consequently, the American church has continued to have a predominantly Irish imprint. Despite the large numbers of Italians in New York City, there has never been an Italian American cardinal in the city’s archdiocese.
Source: Department of Homeland Security, Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, 2008. Figures include only immigrants who obtained legal permanent resident status.
Not all Italians were or are Catholic. Some have joined Protestant churches in small communities lacking Catholic churches. Others have left the Roman Catholic Church after getting divorced and remarrying—practices on which Catholics frown. By the early twenty-first century, Italian Americans were prominent in a variety of Protestant denominations.