Catholic Church in the Netherlands

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Catholic Church in the Netherlands
Utrecht Rijksmonument 36264 Sint-Katharinakathedraal (2).JPG
Type National polity
Classification Catholic
Governance Episcopal
Pope Pope Francis
President Bishop Hans van den Hende
Primate Archbishop Wim Eijk
Apostolic Nuncio Aldo Cavalli
Region Netherlands
Language Dutch, Latin
Headquarters St Catherine's Cathedral, Utrecht
Members 5,095,885
Official website Episcopal Conference of the Netherlands
year population Catholics (based on registration by the church itself) Percentage (based on registration by the church itself)
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 16,334,210 4,406,000 27.0
2010 16,655,799 4,166,000 25.0
2011 16,730,348 4,091,000 24.5
2012 16,779,575 4,044,000 24.1
2013 16,829,289 3,992,000 23.7
2014 16,900,726 3,943,000 23.3
2015 16,979,120[3] 3,882,000[4] 22.9

The Catholic Church in the Netherlands (Dutch: Rooms-katholiek kerkgenootschap in Nederland), is part of the worldwide Catholic Church under the spiritual leadership of the Pope in Rome. Its primate is the Metropolitan Archbishop of Utrecht, currently Willem Jacobus Eijk since 2008. Currently, Catholicism is the single largest religion of the Netherlands,[6] forming some 11.7%[7] of the Dutch people in 2015, based on indepth interviewing, down from 40% in the 1960s.

Although the number of Catholics in the Netherlands has decreased significantly in recent decades, the Catholic Church remains today the largest religious group in the Netherlands. Once known as a Protestant country, Catholicism surpassed Protestantism after the first world war, and in 2012 the Netherlands was only 10% Dutch Protestant (down from 60% in the early 20th century; defections primarily due to rising unaffiliation that started to occur two decennia earlier than in Dutch Catholicism).[8] There are an estimated 3.882 million Catholics registered (2015) by the Catholic Church in the Netherlands, 22.9% of the population[9] down from more than 40% in 1970's. The Catholic Church in the Netherlands has suffered an official membership loss of 650,000 members between 2003 (4,532,000 pers. / 27.9% overall population) and 2015 (3,882,000 pers. / 22.9% overall population),[10] The number of people registered as Catholic in the Netherlands continues to decrease, roughly by half a percent annually.

Overview of Dutch dioceses

North Brabant and Limburg have been historically the most Catholic parts of the Netherlands, and Catholicism and some of its traditions now form a cultural identity rather than a religious identity for people there. The vast majority of the Catholic population is now largely irreligious in practice (in line with the rest of the Dutch population). Research among self-identified Catholics in the Netherlands in 2007 showed that only 27% could be regarded as theist; 55% as ietsist, deist, or agnostic; and 17% as atheist.[11] In 2015 only 13% of self-identified Dutch Catholics believe in the existence of heaven, 17% in a personal God and fewer than half believe that Jesus was the Son of God or sent by God.[12]

Sunday church attendance by Catholics has decreased in recent decades to less than 200,000 or 1.2% of the Dutch population in 2006.[13] 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.

In December 2011 a report was published by Wim Deetman, a former Dutch minister of education, 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.[14]

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.[15]


There are seven dioceses in the Netherlands. One of these seven dioceses, the Diocese of Roermond, has a majority of Catholics.

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

These figures are the latest available (as of Dec 31, 2010) from ecclesiastical statistics.[16]

Number of registered people per diocese and church attendance (Dec 2010)
Diocese Registered as Catholic in the population Sunday Catholic church attendance in the general population (at least once a month)
(registered by church as member) (percentage) (people attending church) (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 two dioceses -Hertogenbosch and Roermond - still had a majority of Catholics in the population. 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. KASKI (Katholiek Sociaal-Kerkelijk Insituut / Catholic Social-Ecclesiastical Institute[17]) found 23.3% of the population to be nominal Catholic in 2014,[18] based on registration by the Catholic church.[19] These numbers are significantly higher than the numbers of Catholic adherence found by Radboud University and Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (11.7% Catholic in 2015)[20]. This shows a big disconnect between membership and actual adherence. Especially the Catholic Church often claims that a quarter of the Dutch population is Catholic, pointing to the official statistics, but when questioned, fewer than half that number associate themselves with the Catholic faith. A lot of people still registered as members of a church are actually not religious (anymore), but for various reasons have not officially renounced their membership (yet) – a phenomenon known as ‘belonging without believing’. [21]

Estimated number of Catholic sacraments and ecclesiastical rituals in the Netherlands (2003-2015)[22]
Year Infant baptisms Communions Confirmations Conversions Weddings Funerals
2003 37,065 40,435 29,385 805 7,700 38,130
2004 34,580 38,535 27,600 825 6,800 35,570
2005 33,000 37,905 27,175 735 6,600 34,285
2006 30,705 37,665 26,105 690 6,455 33,435
2007 29,190 36,800 25,500 730 5,470 32,000
2008 27,880 35,400 24,230 740 4,990 30,910
2009 25,980 34,900 23,630 780 4,400 29,750
2010 23,840 32,410 21,220 760 3,865 28,630
2011 21,910 31,030 20,420 725 3,225 27,520
2012 19,680 27,460 18,900 530 2,915 26,260
2013 17,530 24,790 16,870 705 2,350 24,940
2014 15,840 21,700 14,810 475 2,105 22,570
2015 14,030 19,870 12,660 540 1,910 21,880

According to the Church's figures, Catholics became a minority in the Diocese of 's-Hertogenbosch in 2014. The number of parishes in the Netherlands has dropped between 2003 and 2014 from 1525 to 760.[23]

Churches and Parishes in the Netherlands[24]
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 760
2015 1513 726

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


Religion in the Netherlands in 1849. Catholic-majority areas in green.

From the 4th to the 6th century CE The Great Migration took place, in which the small Celtic-Germanic-Roman tribes in the Low Countries were gradually supplanted by three major Germanic tribes: the Franks, the Frisians and Saxons. Around 500 the Franks, initially residing between the Rhine and the Somme, adapt (forced by their king Chlodovech) to Christianity. A large part of the area south of the Meuse belonged from the early Middle Ages to 1559 to Archdeacon Kempenland, which was part of the Diocese of Tongeren-Maastricht-Liege. From the center of the diocese, successively the cities of Tongeren, Maastricht and Liege, this part of the Netherlands was probably Christianized. According to tradition, the first Bishop of Maastricht, Servatius was buried in this city in 384, though only from Bishop Domitianus (ca. 535) is established that he resided in Maastricht. The Northern parts of the Netherlands were converted by Willibrord, the Apostle of the Frisians, and Boniface, who was martyred in Friesland. Both were active in the eighth century, and both helped not only to convert the country but also to bring it under Frankish power. It would take at least until 1000 CE before all "pagan" people were actually Christianized by force and the Frisian and Saxon religions became extinct, although elements were incorporated into the Christian religion. The following centuries catholic Christianity is the only mainstream religion in the Netherlands.

Since the War of Independence the Catholics were systematically and official discriminated against by the Protestant government until the second half of the 20th century, which had a major influence on the economical and cultural development of the southern part of the Netherlands. 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. Registered Catholics still form a slight majority in the most southern province of the Netherlands, Limburg (refer the overview by diocese above).

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.[25]

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 and 1960, Catholic church life and institutions flourished. This period is called "The Rich Roman Life" (Dutch: Het Rijke Roomse leven). 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 1970, the emphasis on Catholic concepts and traditions such as hell, the Devil, sin, Confession, kneeling, catechesis, having the Host placed on the tongue by the priest, and the taboos on widows' remarrying, on divorce, and on premarital sex rapidly disappeared; these concepts and traditions are rarely, if ever, found in modern Dutch Catholicism. A cultural divide is still found between the "Catholic" south and the "Protestant" north, but with a total of 1.5 million people and 20% of the industrial production in the Netherlands the southern "Catholic" area BrabantStad has become one of the major economical important, metropolitan regions of the Netherlands.

In the 1980s and 1990s the church became polarized. The conservatives' main organization was Contact Roman Catholics. The liberals' main organization was the Eighth of May Movement (Dutch: "Acht Mei-beweging"), founded because of disputes about the papal visit in 1985; the Movement had a difficult relationship with the bishops, and disbanded in 2003.

  Catholic membership according to the Catholic Church registration [5]
  Catholic adherence according to indepth interviewing [26]

21st century[edit]

Currently, Catholicism is still the single largest religion of the Netherlands with around four million registered members, 22.9% of the Dutch population in 2015.[27][28] In 2006, in the Diocese of 's-Hertogenbosch (in the eastern part of North Brabant and in part of Gelderland), only 45,645 residents, mostly people over 65, attended Mass, only 2% of the total population in that area. In western North Brabant (the Diocese of Breda), the number of people associating themselves with Catholicism also strongly decreased. Church attendance is even lower in the west with only 1% of the West Brabantian population visiting churches in 2006.[29]

Most Catholics live in the southern provinces of North Brabant and Limburg, where they used to comprise a majority of the population until at least the late 1980's. According to the church administration in 2010, two dioceses, s-Hertogenbosch and Roermond, still had a Catholic majority; it is notable that in 2005, SILA (Stichting Interkerkelijke Ledenadministratie) listed a significantly lower number of Catholics in these two dioceses. This shows a big disconnect between membership and actual adherence.

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.[14] 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 Catholic institutions and other institutions."[30] In March 2012, however, it was revealed that cases of 10 children being surgically castrated after reporting being sexually abused to the police had been left out.[14] 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."[14] The factuality of these claims is unclear, though. The Commission rejected all the claims.[31]


Within the Netherlands the hierarchy consists of:

  • Archbishopric
    • Bishopric

Notable Dutch Catholics[edit]

Notable Dutch Catholics through the history include Pope Adrian VI, Ruud Lubbers, Henry of Gorkum, Hadewijch, Cornelius Loos, Jakob Middendorp, Hieronymus Bosch, Piet de Jong, Jan Harmenszoon Krul, Dries van Agt, Jan Steen, Casimir Ubaghs, Maxime Verhagen, and Joan Albert Ban.


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