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Roman Catholicism in the Netherlands

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 Roman 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). There are an estimated 3.992 million Catholics (31 December 2013) in the Netherlands, 23.7 percent of the population[6] down from more than 40 percent in 1970's. The Roman Catholic Church in the Netherlands has suffered a membership loss of 540.500 members between 2003 (4,532,000 pers. / 27.9% overall population) and 2013 (3,992,000 pers. / 23,7% overall population),[7] 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.[8]

Several incidents in the Dutch Catholic church caused outrage among the Dutch Catholic population.

In 2010 Belgian Pastor Luc Buyens of Reusel denied Prince Carnival Gijs d'n Urste communion during a special Carnival mass after which a discrimination file was done and the pastor was transferred to a parish in Bergeijk.[9][10][11]

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.[12]

In 2015 cardinal Wim Eijk made negative headlines after ordering the sacking of a transgender treasurer of the board of the Norbertus Parish for whole eastern Flevoland and Northern Veluwe.[13]

Notable Dutch Catholics include Pope Adrian VI, Ruud Lubbers, Henry of Gorkum, 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.


  • Dioceses 1
  • History 2
  • Child abuse scandal 3
  • Structure 4
  • References 5


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

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)[14]
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)[15] 817,000 72.8 36,640 3.3

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

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 [17]
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 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. However, it would take at least until 1000 CE before all "pagan" people were actually Christianized by force and the Frisian and Saxon religions went 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. Catholics still form a slight majority in the most southern province of the Netherlands, 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.[18]

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"). 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. 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, the taboo on the remarrying of widows divorce and premarital sex rapidly disappeared and these concepts are nowadays seldom or not at all found within the 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 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.

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.s[19][20] In 2006 only 45,645 residents of the Diocese of 's-Hertogenbosch, the eastern part of North Brabant and part of the province of Gelderland, 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. Church attendance is even lower in the west with only 1 percent of the West Brabantian population visiting churches inn 2006.[21] Most Catholics live in the southern provinces of North Brabant and Limburg, where they comprise a majority of the population in the diocese of Roermond in the province of Limburg. 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. According to the church administration Catholics became a minority in the diocese of 's-Hertogenbosch since 2014. The number of parishes in the Netherlands has dropped between 2003 and 2014 from 1525 to 842.[22] 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.[23]

Child abuse scandal

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.[12] 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."[24] 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.[12] 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."[12] The factuality of these claims is unclear, though. The Commission rejected all the claims.[25]


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. ^ KASKI-Report 636 ), retrieved 9 Jan 2015
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^ a b c d "'"Dutch Roman Catholic Church 'castrated at least 10 boys. Telegraph. Retrieved March 19, 2012. 
  13. ^
  14. ^ 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
  15. ^ KASKI 2008 statistical overview for the Roermond diocese as published on the webpage of the Roermond diocese (in Dutch)
  16. ^
  17. ^ in Dutch
  18. ^ 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
  19. ^
  20. ^ "Kerkelijke gezindte en kerkbezoek; vanaf 1849; 18 jaar of ouder". 15 October 2010. 
  21. ^ 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
  22. ^
  23. ^ God in Nederland' (1996-2006), by Ronald Meester, G. Dekker, ISBN 9789025957407
  24. ^
  25. ^
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