MaltaToday Survey | Maltese identity still very much rooted in Catholicism

Two-thirds of respondents said they had been to mass in the last week but far fewer said they had confessed their sins in the previous month

The secularisation drive of recent years does not appear to have alienated people from their Catholic roots, a MaltaToday survey has found.

A whopping 93.9% of people still identify themselves as Catholic and any suggestion to remove Catholicism as the country’s official religion is bound to encounter resistance.

The survey found that 88.8% of people were against the removal from the Constitution of Catholicism as Malta’s official religion. An even stronger majority was against the removal of the crucifix from public buildings such as schools.

Opposition to the constitutional change – suggested recently by Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and unopposed by the bishops – and the removal of the crucifix from public buildings runs uniformly across all age groups, all regions and is irrespective of political inclination.

In a country that approved of divorce legislation with a strong majority in a 2011 referendum and introduced same-sex marriage last year, the survey results suggest that Catholicism could also be a cultural identity for many people, irrespective of how committed they are to the faith.

The survey conducted between 21 and 27 March found that 3.9% of people identified themselves as atheist, with the next largest bloc being adherents of other Christian denominations (1.3%).

While Gozo registered a 100% Catholic subscription, the Northern Harbour region had the ‘lowest’ adherence to the Catholic faith at 90.7%.

The largest proportion of atheists live in the Northern and Northern Harbour regions, each with 5.8% of people who do not believe in God’s existence.

The Northern region is also home to the largest proportion of non-Catholic Christians with 2.4% of people adhering to other denominations.

When asked whether they were practising members of their religion, 63.7% said Yes, while 22.3% considered themselves lukewarm. Only 12.9% said they were non-practising.

Sunday Mass still popular but not among the young

Maltese Catholics are still attached to Sunday Mass with an overwhelming 63.7% having admitted to attending the previous week’s celebration, the survey found.

But while Sunday Mass attendance was highest among those aged 65 and over, the young bucked the general trend.

In the 18-35 age group 53.8% said they did not attend the previous Sunday’s celebration.

Sunday Mass is obligatory for Catholics.

The survey found that Gozo had the highest attendance, with 81% saying they attended Mass the previous Sunday. Attendance was lowest in the Southern Harbour area, although an absolute majority was still recorded.

According to the last census of Sunday Mass attendance carried out by the Church in 2005, 53% attended Mass on the day.

While the census remains a more accurate tool to gauge attendance because it physically records people in church, the percentage was worked out on the whole Maltese population of the time, assuming everyone was Catholic.

The MaltaToday survey asked the question only to those respondents who identified themselves as Catholic, who still account for 93.9% of the population.

Furthermore, it has to be noted that the survey was conducted during Lent, a period in which some may be more inclined to attend religious services.

The survey also found a disparity in Sunday Mass attendance along political lines. While 55.5% of Labour Party voters in 2017 said, they had attended the previous Sunday’s Mass, Nationalist Party voters were more devout, with a whopping 82.9% of 2017 PN voters saying they had attended Mass thet previous week.

Unfashionable confession

Confession is unfashionable for a vast majority of Maltese Catholics with middle-aged people being the least likely to have confessed their sins to a priest.

The MaltaToday survey found that only 30 per cent of those who subscribe to the Catholic faith went to confession sometime in the previous month.

The lowest rate of attendance was among the 36-51 age group, where only 13.7% said they had participated in the sacrament of penance.

This was followed by the younger age group among which 19.4% said they had gone to confession sometime in the previous month.

The highest rate was registered among those aged 65 and up, where 53.8% said they had confessed their sins sometime in the previous 30 days.

In line with Mass attendance, Gozitans had the highest rate of confession attendance, which, however, only reached 39.7%.

People living in the South East were the least likely to have gone to confession with only 22.7% saying they did so sometime in the previous month.

This question was asked only to those who identified themselves as Catholic.

Women priests? Not quite there yet

Priesthood remains one of the last bastions of male dominance but 38% of Maltese believe the Catholic church should allow the ordination of women priests.

The level of agreement with women priests now is almost 10 points higher than it was in a MaltaToday survey held eight years ago.

People aged under 35 were more amenable to the idea with results showing an even split between those who favour women priests and those who do not.

The level of agreement reduces progressively among the older generations with those aged 65 and over giving the idea a strong thumb down.

The survey found that 50.9% of people overall opposed the idea of having women priests while another 9.6% were uncertain about the matter.

In the 2010 survey, disagreement with the ordination of women stood at a lofty 58%.

Support for the idea is stronger among Labour Party voters with 41.9% agreeing that women should be allowed to become priests and 46.3% against.

Nationalist Party voters overwhelmingly reject the idea, with 58.4% against and 35.1% in favour of women priests.

Gozo showed itself to be the more conservative region with 61.9% rejecting the idea. Hot on the heels is the South East where 56.1% said they disagreed with the ordination of women priests.

The Northern region is the only one where a relative majority (46.2%) of people believe the Catholic Church should allow women to become priests. People in the Southern Harbour region are split down the middle on the subject with 43% expressing an opinion either way.

Priests getting married? Not such a bad idea

While people generally rejected the notion of women priests, the survey found an almost equal split on whether the clergy should be allowed to get married.

Catholic priests cannot get married but 41.6% of Maltese believe the Church should allow them to do so.

Opposition to the idea ran at 44.7%, with 11.7% uncertain where they stood on the issue.

The strongest supporters of the idea were those aged under 35, where 51.5% believe the Catholic Church should allow priests to get married.

Support remained relatively high among the middle-aged where 48.7% felt the Church should drop its ban on marriage for priests. In this age group, opposition to the idea stood at 40.6%.

However, the tide starts to turn in the over-50s. People aged between 51 and 65 rejected the idea, with 45.3% against and 37.1% in favour.

As expected, opposition ran highest among the elderly, with 56.4% against and 23.4% in favour. The elderly were also the most undecided with 19% unsure where they stood on the matter.

Similar to the answers for women priests, the Northern region delivered the strongest result (49.7%) in favour of married priests, followed by the Southern Harbour region (46.1%).

The weakest support for the idea was in Gozo where 34.1% agreed that the Church should allow priests to marry.

A distinction was also evident along political lines. Labour Party voters agreed with married priests (53.2% in favour), while 53.8% of Nationalist Party voters disagreed with the idea.


A survey was conducted via telephone between Wednesday 21 March and Tuesday 27 March. 553 respondents participated in the survey. Stratified random sampling was carried out in accordance to gender, age and region using NSO data as basis. The margin of error is estimated at 4.2% for a confidence level of 95%.