Roman Catholicism in the Netherlands

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year population Roman Catholics percentage
1970 5.320.000 40.5
1980 5.620.000 39.5
1990 5,560.000 37.0
1995 15.493.889 5.385.258 34.8
2000 15.987.075 5.060.413 31.6
2005 16.335.509 4.406.000 27.0
2006 16.357.992 4.352.000 26.6
2007 16.405.000 4.311.000 26.3
2008 - 4.267.000 25.9
2010 16.655.799 4.166.000 25,0%
2011 16.725.902[3] 4.065.323[4] 24,3%
2013 16.850.000 3.992.000 23.7%[5]

The Catholic Church in the Netherlands (Dutch: rooms-katholiek kerkgenootschap in Nederland (RKK)), is part of the worldwide Catholic Church, under the spiritual leadership of the Pope, Dutch Conference of Bishops, and curia in Rome. The Metropolitan Archbishop of Utrecht, currently Willem Jacobus Eijk, is Primate (bishop) of the Netherlands.

Although the number of Catholics in the Netherlands has decreased significantly in recent decades, the Dutch Catholic Church is today the largest religious group in the Netherlands. Once known as a Protestant country, in 2007 the Netherlands was only 16.8 percent Dutch Protestant (down from 60 percent in the early 20th century; defections primarily due to rising unaffiliation). This is considerably less than the 26 percent of the population represented by Dutch Catholics in 2007. There are an estimated 3.992 million Catholics (31 December 2013) in the Netherlands, 23.7 percent of the population down from more than 40 percent in 1970's. The number of Catholics in the Netherlands continues to decrease, roughly by half a percent annually, as do the number of Protestants. Muslims, however, continue to increase and are currently 6% of the population.

Sunday church attendance by Catholics has decreased in recent decades to less than 200,000 or 1.2 percent of the Dutch population in 2006 (source KASKI – the official Dutch Roman Catholic statistics source). More recent numbers for Sunday church attendance have not been published (with the exception of the diocese of Roermond), although press releases have mentioned a further decline since 2006.

Overview of Dutch dioceses

A planned visit of Pope Francis to the Netherlands was blocked by cardinal Wim Eijk in 2014, allegedly because of the feared lack of interest for the Pope among the Dutch public.[6]

Notable Dutch Catholics include Ruud Lubbers, Henry of Gorkum, Desiderius Erasmus, Cornelius Loos, Jakob Middendorp, Hieronymus Bosch, Piet de Jong, Jan Harmenszoon Krul, Dries van Agt, Edward Schillebeeckx, Jan Steen, Casimir Ubaghs, Maxime Verhagen, and Joan Albert Ban.


There are seven dioceses in the Netherlands. Two of the three southern dioceses, the Diocese of 's-Hertogenbosch and the Diocese of Roermond, are majority Roman Catholic.

For more demographic details by diocese, see the List of Roman Catholic dioceses of the Netherlands.

Church membership and Sunday church attendance by diocese (2006)[7]
Diocese Church members Church members as % of population Number of Sunday churchgoers Sunday churchgoers as % of population (minimum of once a month)
Groningen-Leeuwarden 109,000 6.1 7,385 0.4
Utrecht 766,000 19.4 34,155 0.9
Haarlem-Amsterdam 475,000 16.9 26,605 0.9
Rotterdam 531,222 15.0 26,205 0.7
Breda 454,000 40.9 13,960 1.3
's-Hertogenbosch 1,167,000 56.8 45,645 2.2
Roermond (2008)[8] 817,000 72.8 36,640 3.3

These figures are the latest available (as of Dec 31, 2010) from ecclesiastical statistics.[9]

Number of Catholics per diocese and church attendance (Dec 2010)
Diocese Roman Catholics of population Sunday churchgoers population (at least once a month)
(Church members) (percentage) (Church members) (percentage)
Groningen-Leeuwarden ± 107.000 5,9% 6.900 0,4%
Utrecht ± 754.000 18,8% 31.700 0,8%
Haarlem-Amsterdam ± 465.000 16,1% 24.300 0,8%
Rotterdam ± 513.000 14,2% 25.800 0,7%
Breda ± 437.000 39,1% 12.300 1,1%
's-Hertogenbosch ± 1.125.000 53,9% 38.900 1,9%
Roermond ± 765.000 68,1% 32.800 2,9%
Netherlands in total ± 4.166.000 25,0% 172.700 1,0%

According to the church administration in 2010 the population of two dioceses' s-Hertogenbosch and Roermond had still a majority Roman Catholic. It is notable that SILA (Stichting Interkerkelijke Ledenadministratie) published precisely for these two dioceses a significantly lower number of Catholics in 2005. Based on the SILA-numbers, in the diocese of 's-Hertogenbosch in 2010 the population has no longer a Catholic majority.

Churches and Parishes in the Netherlands [10]
Year Number of Churches Number of Parishes
2003 1782 1525
2004 1761 1463
2005 1740 1442
2006 1721 1425
2007 1693 1420
2008 1661 1402
2009 1647 1382
2010 1629 1139
2011 1609 1044
2012 1593 981
2013 1571 895
2014 1556 842

Many remaining churches have found purposes outside the religious domain, like stores, apartment buildings and museums.


From the Reformation to the 20th century, Dutch Catholics had largely been confined to certain southern areas in the Netherlands where they still tend to form a majority or large minority of the population. However, with modern population shifts and increasing secularization, these areas tend to be less and less predominantly Catholic. Catholics still form a majority in the two southern provinces of the Netherlands, Noord-Brabant and Limburg (refer the overview by diocese above).

Historically in the old days, Catholics were treated as second class citizens.

After the Dutch Republic banned the Catholic religion in the 1580s the Netherlands became a Mission territory under the canonical authority of the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith (the so-called Dutch Mission). The episcopal hierarchy was not restored until 1853.[11]

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth Catholics formed a separate social pillar, with their own schools, TV and radio broadcasting, hospitals, unions, and political party. They formed a coalition with orthodox Protestants, who also felt discriminated against. This pillarization and coalition government was important in emancipating the Catholics from their social exclusion. In the period between 1860-1960 Roman Catholic church life and institutions flourished. This period is called "the rich Roman life" (Dutch: "Het Rijke Roomse leven"), a reference to the great wealth of the roman institutions compared with the poverty of the common people. During this period, the number of Catholics in the Dutch population grew to approximate parity with Protestants, as in Northern Ireland, Scotland, Switzerland, and Germany.[citation needed] After 1960 the emphasize on catholic concepts like hell, the devil, sinning and catholic traditions like confession, kneeling, the teaching of catechism and having the hostia placed on the tongue by the priest rapidly disappeared and these concepts are nowadays seldom or not at all found within the modern Dutch Catholicism.

In the 1980s and 1990s the church became polarized between conservatives, whose main organization was the Contact Roman Catholics, and liberals, whose main organization was the Eighth of May Movement, (Dutch: "Acht Mei-beweging") which was founded in 1985. The founding of the 8 May Movement was inspired by the disputes about the papal visit in that year to the Netherlands. The organization had a difficult relationship with the bishops. It was disbanded in 2003. In spite of that, tensions between conservative elements in the Catholic Church and more liberal elements have, as of 2011, not completely disappeared.[12]

Currently, Roman Catholicism is still the single largest religion of the Netherlands with around four million registered adherents which is 24% of the Dutch population in 2011.[13] In 2006 slightly more than half of the Brabantian people identified with Catholism. For example, in the Diocese of 's-Hertogenbosch, the eastern part of North Brabant and part of the province of Gelderland, 1,167,000 people feld associated with the Roman Catholic believe system (56.8 percent of the population). Only 45,645 residents of this area attend the mass, which is only 2 percent of the total population of the area and consists mostly of people over 65 years old. In western North Brabant (Diocese of Breda) is the number of people associating themselves with Catholism also strongly decreased, only 52 percent of the West Brabantians identify as Roman Catholic. Church attendance is even lower in the west with only 1 percent of the West Brabantian population visiting churches.[14] North Brabant and Limburg are historically the most Roman Catholic part of the Netherlands. Their people still use the term and some traditions as a base for their cultural identity rather than as a religious identity, and the vast majority of the Catholic population (in line with the rest of the Dutch population) is now largely irreligious in practice. Research among Catholics in the Netherlands in 2007 shows that only 27% of the Dutch Catholics can be regarded as a theist, 55% as an ietsist / agnostic deist and 17% as agnostic or atheist.[15]

Child abuse scandal[edit]

In December 2011 a report was published by Wim Deetman, a former Dutch minister, detailing widespread child abuse within the Catholic Church in the Netherlands. 1,800 instances of abuse "by clergy or volunteers within Dutch Catholic dioceses" were reported to have occurred since 1945.[16] According to the report " The risk of experiencing unwanted sexual advances was twice as great for minors in institutions as the national average of 9.7%. This finding reveals no significant difference between Roman Catholic institutions and other institutions."[17] In March 2012, however, it was revealed that cases of 10 children being chemically castrated after reporting being sexually abused to the police had been left out.[16] It also emerged that in 1956 former prime minister Victor Marijnen, then chairman of a children's home in Gelderland, had covered up the sexual abuse of children. According to the Telegraph newspaper, he "intervened to have prison sentences dropped against several priests convicted of abusing children."[16] The factuality of these claims is unclear, though. The Commission rejected all the claims.[18]


Within the Netherlands the hierarchy consists of:

  • Archbishopric
    • Bishopric


  1. ^ Several annual statistical overviews prepared by KASKI refer
  2. ^ Catholics' number and percentage as of year's end
  3. ^ met bevolkingscijfers tabel : Bevolkingsontwikkeling; regio per maand
  4. ^
  5. ^ KASKI-Report 636 ), retrieved 9 Jan 2015
  6. ^
  7. ^ KASKI annual report nr. 561, 2006 statistical overview of the Roman Catholic church in the Netherlands, Jolanda Massaar-Remmerswaal and Ton Bernts, October 2007 report in PDF format in Dutch
  8. ^ KASKI 2008 statistical overview for the Roermond diocese as published on the webpage of the Roermond diocese (in Dutch)
  9. ^
  10. ^ in Dutch
  11. ^ Sunier, Thijl Houses of worship and politics of space in Amsterdam in Ethnic Amsterdam: Immigrants and Urban Change in the Twentieth Century, Solidarity and identity edited by Nell, Liza, Rath, Jan, 2009, Amsterdam university press, page 170
  12. ^ English translation "The conflict between the San Salvator parish and the diocese of Den Bosch may escalate. The faithful may leave the catholic church if the coadjutor bishop will be installed as a pastor at the parish. According to the parish management, the diocese wants to purge all obstinacy from the church by assigning Mutsaerts who has a conservative reputation."
    Dutch original: "Het conflict tussen de San Salvatorparochie en het bisdom Den Bosch dreigt te escaleren. De gelovigen overwegen uit de rooms-katholieke kerk te stappen als hulpbisschop Rob Mutsaerts er aantreedt als pastoor. Volgens het kerkbestuur wil het bisdom met de benoeming van Mutsaerts, die bekend staat als conservatief, alle eigenzinnigheid uit de kerk zuiveren."
  13. ^ "Kerkelijke gezindte en kerkbezoek; vanaf 1849; 18 jaar of ouder". 15 October 2010. 
  14. ^ Kerncijfers 2006 uit de kerkelijke statistiek van het Rooms-Katholiek Kerkgenootschap in Nederland, Rapport nr. 561 oktober 2007, Jolanda Massaar- Remmerswaal dr. Ton Bernts, KASKI, onderzoek en advies over religie en samenleving
  15. ^ God in Nederland' (1996-2006), by Ronald Meester, G. Dekker, ISBN 9789025957407
  16. ^ a b c "Dutch Roman Catholic Church 'castrated at least 10 boys'". Telegraph. Retrieved March 19, 2012. 
  17. ^
  18. ^