A plan to reduce the number of Italian dioceses has been widely debated in the Italian bishops conference, and a first draft of the plan has reportedly already been given to the Congregation for Bishops and has undergone some adjustments.

There are currently 222 dioceses in Italy.

An internal commission to study a possible reduction of Italian dioceses, by consolidation, had been established under Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis referred to it during his May 23, 2013 meeting with the General Assembly of Italian Bishops.

“I know that there is a commission to reduce a little the number of the dioceses… it is not easy, but there is a commission for this,” Pope Francis said.

According to a source who works in the Italian bishops conference, the first draft for a possible reduction of Italian dioceses was given to the Congregation for Bishops earlier this month, suggesting the suppression of all dioceses with fewer than 100,000 inhabitants. The suppressed dioceses would be merged with larger existing dioceses.

This draft has undergone some adjustments. At the moment, the plan would suggest the suppression of dioceses with fewer than 90,000 inhabitants.

In Italy, there are 36 dioceses which would fail to meet the 90,000 mark. Perhaps the best known of these is the Diocese of Assisi-Nocera Umbra – Gualdo Tadino, which hosts the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi but has only 88,000 inhabitants.

The Assisi-Nocera Umbra-Gualdo Tadino diocese is in the vicinity of several other dioceses smaller than 90,000 persons, including the Citta di Castello, Foligno, and Gubbio dioceses.

The Diocese of Assisi-Nocera Umbra-Gualdo Tadino is itself the fruit of an earlier reduction in the number of Italian dioceses.

In 1986, St. John Paul II suppressed 101 dioceses in the country, setting the number to the current 222, plus five territorial abbeys.

That year, the Diocese of Assisi was united with the Diocese of Nocera Umbra-Gualdo Tadino. That diocese, in turn, was created through the 1915 union of the Diocese of Gualdo Tadino with the Diocese of Nocera Umbra.

Thus Italy's 222 dioceses serve the 49.3 million Catholics in the country which has an area of 116,000 square miles.

By way of comparison, in the US there are only 177 dioceses to serve the country's 76.5 million Catholics, spread over 3.8 million square miles.

The possible reduction of the Italian dioceses is still under discussion. However, the issue is not on the agenda of the Permanent Council of the Italian bishops conference, which is in the midst of its Jan. 26-28 meeting.