Religion in Belgium

Religion in Belgium (Eurobarometer 2012)[1]

  Other Christian (7%)
  Islam (5%)
  Other religion (2%)
  Agnostic/Non-religious (20%)
  Atheist (7%)
  Not stated (1%)

Christianity, in particular Roman Catholicism, is the largest religion in Belgium. As of 2012 about 65% of the population is Christian, with 58% being members of the Roman Catholic Church. Members of Protestant, Eastern Orthodox churches and other Christian denominations make up 7% of the population.[1]

The second-largest religion in Belgium is Islam, which accounts for 5% of the population as of 2009.[2] In 2012, the proportion of all immigrants with Islamic backgrounds (both practising and not practising) on the total population was estimated to be 8.1%.[3] As of 2016 the proportion of Muslims in the French-speaking regions (Wallonia and Brussels) is 7%, 23% in Brussels and 3% in Wallonia.[2]

The proportion of Musims in the Flanders is estimated to represent 3.9% of the region's population as of 2015.[4] A 2006 inquiry in the Flemish region found that 55% of its inhabitants identified as religious.[5]

Belgium's policy asserts the separation of church and state, and freedom of religion of the citizens is guaranteed by the country's constitution.

Beliefs and practices

According to a 2010 Eurobarometer poll:[6]

Some religious people dispute the precise figures, as it is unclear how many Belgians who say they believe in God are actually Christians and how many who call themselves Christians, but refuse the label "Catholic," have severed all links to the Roman Catholic Church. Also in dispute are how many Catholic Belgians have become deists or have joined small Protestant churches.

Statistical breakdown

% 1981[2]
% 2009[2]
Christianity 74.5% 52.5%
Catholicism 72% 50%
Protestantism and other Christians 2.5% 2.5%
Islam 3% 5%
Judaism 0.4% 0.4%
Buddhism - 0.3%
Atheists 2.5% 9.2%
Not religious, agnostics,
and other religions
21.5% 32.6%

Government and religion

The Belgian constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the government generally respects this right in practice. However, government officials have the authority to research and monitor religious groups that are not officially recognized. There are a few reports of societal abuses or discrimination based on religious belief or practice, and some reports of discrimination against minority religious groups.

Belgian law officially recognizes many religions, including Catholicism, Protestantism, Anglicanism, Islam, Judaism, and Eastern Orthodoxy, as well as non-religious philosophical organizations (Dutch: vrijzinnige levensbeschouwelijke organisaties; French: organisations laïques).[7] Buddhism is in the process of being recognized under the secular organization standard. Official recognition means that priests (called "counsellors" within the secular organizations) receive a state stipend. Also, parents can choose any recognized denomination to provide religious education to their children if they attend a state school.[8] Adherents to religions that are not officially recognized are not denied the right to practice their religion, but do not receive state stipends.

After attaining autonomy from the federal government in religious matters, the Flemish Parliament passed a regional decree installing democratically elected church councils for all recognized religious denominations and making them subject to the same administrative rules as local government bodies, with important repercussions for financial accounting and open government. In 2006, however, Catholic bishops still appointed candidates to the Catholic Church councils because they had not decided on the criteria for eligibility; they were afraid that candidates might be merely baptized Catholics. By 2008, however, the bishops decided that candidates for the church councils had only to prove that they were over 18, a member of the parish church serving the town or village in which they lived, and baptized Catholic.[9]


Roman Catholicism

A typical Catholic church of Flemish villages.
Church of Saint Martin and Adele in Orp-Jauche, Wallonia.

Roman Catholicism has traditionally been Belgium's majority religion, with particular strength in Flanders. However, by 2009, Sunday church attendance was 5.4% in Flanders, down from 12.7% in 1998.[10] Nationwide, Sunday church attendance was 5% in 2009, down from 11.2% in 1998.[11] Nevertheless, Catholicism remains an important force in Belgian society. The Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels and Primate of Belgium, Jozef De Kesel, is well-liked, with the Brussels daily Le Soir calling him a "spiritual son" of the popular Cardinal Godfried Danneels.[12]

Until 1998, the Roman Catholic Church annually published key figures such as Sunday Mass attendance and the number of baptized children. In 2006, it announced that Mass attendance for the Christmas period was 11.5%, and weekly Mass attendance (not only on Sundays) 7%,[13] for the Flanders region. Since 2000, Sunday church attendance in Flanders has dropped by 0.5% each year, on average. The rate of decrease was previously 1%.[14]


Belgium had 13 Anglican churches as of 2012,[15] including the Pro-Cathedral of the Holy Trinity in Brussels. They are part of the Church of England's Diocese in Europe.[16]


The Administrative Council of Protestant and Evangelical Religion in Belgium is a coordinating group that mediates between many Protestant groups and the government. The largest Protestant denomination is the United Protestant Church in Belgium, with some 138 affiliated churches.[15]

A 2015 study estimates some 1,300 Christian believers from a Muslim background in the country, most of them belonging to some form of Protestantism.[17]

Other religions

The second-largest religion practiced in Belgium is Islam. There are also small minorities of Protestants, Eastern Orthodox Christians, and Jews.


Southern part of the Low Countries with bishopry towns and abbeys, ca. 7th century.
Jain temple in Antwerp.

After the Roman period, Christianity was brought back to the southern Low Countries by missionary saints like Willibrord and Amandus. In the 7th century, abbeys were founded in remote places, and it was mainly from these abbeys that the Christianization process was started. This process was expanded under the auspices of the Merovingian dynasty, and later by Charlemagne, who even waged war to impose the new religion.

The Reformation Era was particularly influential in the confluence of currents that formed modern Belgium. In 1523, Belgium became the site of the first martyrdom of Lutherans by the Roman Catholic Church, as two Augustinian monks, Johann Esch and Heinrich Voes, were burned at the stake in Brussels for their conversion to Lutheran doctrine. Before the end of the century, however, Belgium was part of the Spanish empire, which showed as little tolerance for complacent or liberal Catholics as for Protestants. One of the effects was that Catholics—fearing the Inquisition and preferring to live with Protestants who would, at least, tolerate them—migrated in large numbers to the Dutch Republic. From the Spanish military conquest of 1592 until the re-establishment of religious freedom in 1781 by the Patent of Toleration under Joseph II of Austria, Roman Catholicism was the only religion allowed, on penalty of death, in the territories now forming Belgium. However, a small number of Protestant groups managed to survive at Maria-Horebeke, Dour, Tournai, Eupen, and Hodimont.[18]

Religion was one of the differences between the almost solidly Roman Catholic south and the predominantly Protestant north of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands, formed in 1815. The union broke up in 1830 when the south seceded to form the Kingdom of Belgium. In Belgium's first century, Roman Catholicism was such a binding factor socially that it prevailed over the language divide (Dutch versus French). The decline in religion's importance as a social marker across late-20th-century Western Europe explains to a large extent the current centrifugal forces in Belgium, with language differences (increasingly reinforced by a positive feedback effect in the media) no longer being kept in check by a religious binding factor. If anything, the Catholic Church has acquiesced to these changes by having a Dutch-speaking university (Katholieke Universiteit Leuven) and a French-speaking university (Universite Catholique de Louvain).

Until the late 20th century, Roman Catholicism played an important role in Belgian politics. One significant example was the so-called Schools' Wars (Dutch: schoolstrijd; French: guerres scolaires) between the country's philosophically left-wing parties (Liberals at first, joined by Socialists later) and the Catholic party (later the Christian Democrats), which took place from 1879–1884 and from 1954–1958. Another important controversy happened in 1990, when the Catholic monarch, King Baudouin I, refused to ratify an abortion bill that had been approved by Parliament. The king asked Prime Minister Wilfried Martens and his government to find a solution, which proved novel. The government declared King Baudouin unfit to fulfill his constitutional duties as monarch for one day. Government ministers signed the bill in his place[19] and then proceeded to reinstate the king after the abortion law had come into effect.

In 2002, the officially recognized Protestant denomination at the time, the United Protestant Church of Belgium[20] (consisting of around 100 member churches, usually with a Calvinist or Methodist past) and the unsubsidized Federal Synod of Protestant and Evangelical Churches (which had 600 member churches in 2008 but did not include all evangelical and charismatic groups outside the Catholic tradition) together formed the Administrative Council of the Protestant and Evangelical Religion (ARPEE in Dutch, CACPE in French). The council is now the accepted mouthpiece of Protestantism in all three linguistic communities of Belgium: Dutch, French, and German. Based on a 2001 survey conducted by evangelical sources, charismatic and evangelical associations claim a membership of 4% of the Belgian population.[21]

See also


  1. 1 2 Eurobarometer 393: Discrimination in the EU in 2012 (pdf). European Commission. pp. 233–234. Retrieved 29 December 2015.
  2. 1 2 3 4 Eurel-Données sociologiques et juridiques sur la religion en Europe. Also: L. Voyé, K. Dobbelaere, K. Abts, Autres temps, autres mœurs, Bruxelles, Ed. Racine-Campus, 2012.
  3. "Vreemde afkomst 01/01/2012". Retrieved 2012-06-08.
  4. "Moslims in België per gewest, provincie en gemeente". 18 September 2015. Retrieved 3 March 2016.
  5. Inquiry by Vepec, Vereniging voor Promotie en Communicatie (Organisation for Promotion and Communication), published in Knack magazine 22 November 2006 p.14 (The Dutch language term "gelovig" was translated in the text as "religious", more precisely it is a very common word for believing in particular in any kind of god in a monotheistic sense, and/or in some afterlife.
  6. Eurobarometer 341: Biotechnology Report (pdf). European Commission. p. 381. Retrieved 29 December 2015.
  7. "Religious Freedom in Belgium". Berkeley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs. Georgetown University. Retrieved 21 June 2015.
  8. "Pedagogical Centre of the Orthodox Church in Belgium, which trains religious education teachers for state and local council schools". Retrieved 2008-04-10.
  9. Kerkfabriek van Geel-het Punt. "History of the Catholic Geel Church Council since 2005 (in Dutch)". Retrieved 2008-04-10.
  10. "Kerken lopen zeer geleidelijk helemaal leeg - De Standaard". 2010-11-25. Retrieved 2014-03-18.
  11. "Met uitsterven bedreigd: de Brusselse kerkganger | Brusselnieuws" (in Dutch). 2010-11-30. Retrieved 2014-03-18.
  12. Tom Henegan, "New primate wants a more open Church," THE TABLET, 14 November 2015, 29.
  13. Auteur: Veerle Beel. "7 procent nog wekelijks naar de mis - Het Nieuwsblad". Retrieved 2014-03-18.
  14. "Kerkpraktijk In Vlaanderen Figure 1 page 121" (PDF) (in Dutch).
  15. 1 2 Godwin, Colin (2013). "The Recent Growth of Pentecostalism in Belgium". International Bulletin of Missionary Research. 37 (2): 90–94. Retrieved 21 June 2015.
  16. "About Us". Pro-Cathedral of Holy Trinity, Brussels. Retrieved 21 June 2015.
  17. Johnstone, Patrick; Miller, Duane (2015). "Believers in Christ from a Muslim Background: A Global Census". IJRR. 11: 14. Retrieved 20 November 2015.
  18. Frank Rooze (inspector of protestant religious education). ""De Reformatie in vogelvlucht" or how Flemish Protestantism retreated to the North (in Dutch)". Retrieved 2008-04-10.
  19. Montgomery, Paul L. (April 5, 1990). "Belgian King, Unable to Sign Abortion Law, Takes Day Off". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-04-10.
  20. UPCB. "Website of the United Protestant Church of Belgium (in Dutch)". Retrieved 2008-04-10.
  21. WEC. "An evangelical view of the religious situation in Belgium (in Dutch)". Archived from the original on 2007-11-13. Retrieved 2008-04-10.

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