Catholic Church in the Netherlands

year population Roman Catholics percentage (based on information 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 16,335,509 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[1] 4.065.323[2] 24.3
2013 16,850,000 3.992.000 23.7
2014 - 3,943,000 23.3

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. The Metropolitan Archbishop of Utrecht, currently Willem Jacobus Eijk, is the Primate of the Netherlands.

Although the number of Catholics in the Netherlands has decreased significantly in recent decades, the Catholic Church is today the largest religious group in the Netherlands. Once known as a Protestant country, in 2012 the Netherlands was only 10 percent Dutch Protestant (down from 60 percent in the early 20th century; defections primarily due to rising unaffiliation).[3] There are an estimated 3.943 million Catholics (31 December 2014) in the Netherlands, 23.3 percent of the population[4] down from more than 40 percent in 1970's. The Roman Catholic Church in the Netherlands has suffered a membership loss of 589,500 members between 2003 (4,532,000 pers. / 27.9% overall population) and 2013 (3,943,000 pers. / 23.3% overall population),[5] 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

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.[6]

Notable Dutch Catholics 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.


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.

These figures are the latest available (as of Dec 31, 2010) from ecclesiastical statistics.[7]

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± 107.0005,9%6.9000.4%
Utrecht± 754.00018,8%31.7000.8%
Haarlem-Amsterdam± 465.00016,1%24.3000.8%
Rotterdam ± 513.00014,2%25.8000.7%
Breda± 437.00039,1%12.3001.1%
's-Hertogenbosch ± 1.125.00053,9%38.9001.9%
Roermond± 765.00068,1%32.8002.9%
Netherlands in total± 4.166.00025,0%172.7001.0%

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.

Estimated number of Catholic sacraments and ecclesiastical rituals in the Netherlands (2003-2014)[8]
YearInfant baptismsCommunions ConfirmationsConversionsWeddings Funerals
Churches and Parishes in the Netherlands [9]
YearNumber of ChurchesNumber of Parishes

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 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. 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.[10]

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, 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 Roman Catholics in the Dutch population grew to approximate parity with Protestants, as in Northern Ireland, Scotland, Switzerland, and Germany. After 1970, the emphasis on Roman 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 Roman 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.

Currently, Roman Catholicism is still the single largest religion of the Netherlands with around four million registered adherents, 23.3% of the Dutch population in 2011.s[11][12] 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 percent of the total population in that area. In western North Brabant (the Diocese of Breda), the number of people associating themselves with Roman Catholicism also strongly decreased. Church attendance is even lower in the west with only 1 percent of the West Brabantian population visiting churches in 2006.[13] Most Roman Catholics live in the southern provinces of North Brabant and Limburg, where they comprised a majority of the population. According to the church administration in 2010, two dioceses, s-Hertogenbosch and Roermond, still had a Roman Catholic majority; it is notable that in 2005, SILA (Stichting Interkerkelijke Ledenadministratie) listed a significantly lower number of Roman Catholics in these two dioceses. Based on SILA's numbers, the diocese of 's-Hertogenbosch no longer had a Roman Catholic majority in 2010. According to the Church's figures, Roman 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.[14] North Brabant and Limburg have been historically the most Roman Catholic parts of the Netherlands, but Roman Catholicism and some of its traditions now form a cultural rather than a religious identity for people there, and the vast majority of the Roman Catholic population (like the rest of the Dutch population) is now largely irreligious in practice. Research among Roman 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.[15]

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.[6] 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."[16] 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.[6] 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."[6] The factuality of these claims is unclear, though. The Commission rejected all the claims.[17]


Within the Netherlands the hierarchy consists of:

  • Archbishopric
    • Bishopric


  1. met bevolkingscijfers tabel : Bevolkingsontwikkeling; regio per maand
  5. 1 2 3 4 "Dutch Roman Catholic Church 'castrated at least 10 boys'". Telegraph. Retrieved March 19, 2012.
  8. in Dutch
  9. 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
  11. "Kerkelijke gezindte en kerkbezoek; vanaf 1849; 18 jaar of ouder". 15 October 2010.
  12. 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
  14. God in Nederland' (1996-2006), by Ronald Meester, G. Dekker, ISBN 9789025957407
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