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 www.ecclesiadei.nl / documenten / Statistical evaluation of the Roman Catholic Church in the Netherlands / Evaluation

Statistical evaluation of the
Roman Catholic Church in the Netherlands

by ir. J.P. Oostveen



Generally it is sure that results of simulations reported like in 'Prospectives for Growth' are not hard predictions of the future, because they depend on a lot of things that are not physical. Otherwise if there is a physical phenomenon, as in this case the demographic flow, it shows a rather good prediction especially related to the nil option. Further the simulations gave a lot of information about the time dependent effects of certain policies on the from-birth-to-death as well as the priest-ordination-to-retired-priest demographic flow, which can take terms of generations.
While by these simulations policy effects can be studied quantitatively, it can be discussed a lot how to carry out the simulates policy effects in practice. Because these theoretical simulation effects can be actualized by several kinds of policies, no one can claim to know which actualization will be the best one. Especially, because there are also bad actualization's and all kinds in between good and bad. To know if the used policy has been chosen well, it has to be evaluated regularly by comparing the reality of the last 12,5 years to the results of the simulations. Therefore the last statistics have been worked out  graphically and evaluated in this study.

Comparing the reality with the simulation

Comparing the population of priests during the last 12,5 years ( graphic 16 ) with the simulations as reported in Prospectives for Growth ( figure 2 ) relative small, but negative, differences to the nil option simulation has been shown. By this simulation it had also been shown that the effects of the policies of the alternatives 1, 2 and 3 during the first 10 to 15 years in relation to the zero policy would be rather small, but positive. However all these differences are relatively very small, so an analyse of the statistical data has to be carried out to determine the real tendency.

Analysis of the reality

In a lot of graphics the reality is worked out and evaluated. By all these graphics a decreasing tendency of the Roman Catholic live in the Netherlands has been shown:

  1. In spite of a small increase in 1961, generally a very sharp decrease of ordinations starts in the second half of the fifties and is going on in the sixties ( graphic 12 and graphic 13 ). By taking into account an average seminarian period of about 6 years, the priests vocations has been decreased about 6 years earlier or they has already left the seminarians in stead of getting a priest during this period.
    After this decrease to an average of about 10 ordinations a year in the second half of the seventies the number of ordinations is rather constant round 20 and 30 a year during the 80's and 90's.
    Also related to this it is obvious that the observed lack of priest ordinations means in fact a lack of vocation about 6 years earlier.
  2. After 1960 a decrease of the Mass attendance has been shown. Generally this is given as a relative number of the total Roman Catholic population and should be rather constant at about 10% today ( graphic 3 ). However, an honest comparison has to take into account the decrease of the total Roman Catholic population so that this rather constant Mass attendance gives a false impression. In reality the Mass attendance is still decreasing ( graphic 1 and graphic 2 ). This has been shown by the CBS study ( graphic 3 ) while in 1971 this decrease was between 40% related to the younger people and 60% for the older one. In 1983 this tendency was more extreme like about 10 to 20% for the young people, 65 to 75 for the retired people and mid ages with 40 to 50%. Because the older people die and the younger gets children and feed the new generations the Mass attendance will decrease further.
  3. Parallel to the decrease of Mass attendance also from 1960 the relative number of baptisms has been decreased ( graphic 5 ). This decrease is still going on continuously today.
  4. From 1964 to 1977 with a maximum of almost 250 priests in 1969 a large number of priests has left their priestly vocation ( graphic 12 and graphic 13 ). Although the year of ordination of these priests has not been taken into account, there is an indication which is not worked out in this study that most of these priests were ordained between 1958 and 1969, a rather small part were ordained between 1950 and 1958.
  5. From 1970 also the relative number of R.C. marriages decreases continuously from 40% to about 15% of all marriages ( graphic 5 ). It is also shown that the average birth rate of the R.C. marriages decreases between 1963 and 1970 to the same magnitude as the non Catholics ( graphic 7 ). Although after 1982 the birth rate is increasing, which indicates an increase of the participation of the R.C. married faithful, the decrease of the R.C. marriages takes care of a continuos decrease of baptisms.
  6. Only after 1950 there was a reasonable number of data available to look at the birth and baptize cohorts ( graphic 8 and graphic 9 ). So it has been shown that after the first 8 years at the age of the first communion, when the parents still have a great influence on the children, the loss of the baptize cohorts is rather small and constant at about 8% to 10% after 1950.
    4 years later at the age of the confirmations, when the influence of the primary school increases the loss of the cohort is increasing too, from about 20% of the 1965 cohort to about 40% of the 1984 cohort. So it has been remarked that in spite of the decrease of the number of baptizes the loss of this cohort is still increasing even to 40% of the 1984 cohort in 1996 ( graphic 9 ).
    Again 15 years later, after passing through the secondary school and other kind of higher education at the average age of marriage, an increasing loss the cohort has been shown from 50 % of the 1954 baptize cohort in 1981 to about 70 % of the 1970 baptize cohort in 1997.
  7. So as far as the data shows the inclining tendency of all kind of participation is still going on. Only two points of view seems to be optimistic. Firstly the birth rate of the R.C. marriages is increasing after 1990 ( graphic 7 ) and secondly the number of ordinations related to the Mass attendance is increasing too ( graphic 15 ). However, although these points show a more serious participation especially of that part of the faithful who choose a R.C. marriage, this influence seems to be overruled by the loss of the baptize cohort at the age of the confirmation as well as the age of the marriage ( graphic 16 and ( graphic 17 ).

It is rather obvious by this summary, the first problems in the Dutch Church came through by a fast decrease of priest ordinations in the late fifties. Only after the first manifestation of the decrease of ordinations, the decrease of the Mass attendance, the baptizes, the R.C. marriages and the confirmations starts respectively about 1960, 1965, 1970 and between 1970 and 1975, while the loss of cohort at the age of first communion was rather constant at about 10% during the analysed period.
Although there is a delay of about 6 years between the vocation and ordination, this study did not take into account the relation between these in view of the out fall especially during the period of the 50's. Therefore related to the large number of out fall of the priests between 1964 and 1977 of which the most were ordained between 1958 and 1969 and so involved to the seminarian period after 1952, more research to the number of vocation and the out fall of the seminarists after the World War II might be of great importance.
Especially because the simulation shows the time dependent effects of these demographic flows, which can take terms of generations.
According the above mentioned generation dependent demographic flows in one hand in the UNA VOCE KORRESPONDENZ (prof. Dr. J.P.M. van der Ploeg, ....., 1996, German) as well as in THE LATIN MASS (prof. Dr. J.P.M. van der Ploeg, The Church in the Netherlands, Vol. 7, No 1, winter 1998, page 52, English) father Van der Ploeg OP referred, like father Bots did (Dr. J. Bots sj, Zestig jaar Katholicisme in Nederland, De Rots nr. 7/8. 1981, Dutch), to the effects of the World War II related to the concentration camp St. Michiels Gestel.
In this camp a number of prominent Dutchmen of various religious, political and social persuasions were detained as hostages facing execution in retaliation for killing of any member of the occupying forces by Dutch freedom fighters. During this period the hostages discussed among themselves the future of Dutch society, from religious, social and political points of view. Also in other various places meetings was hold with clergy participating, in which the Church after liberation was discussed and by which the voice of Rome didn't always receive much attention.
This results into a certain kind of rebellion spirit against the Church leadership by some clergy and intellectual laymen after World War II. In stead of working together inside the Church to build up the society after the war in cooperation with the other nominations, they cooperate with the other nominations only on individual base, outside the Church.
Both Father Van der Ploeg as well as father Bots gave a summary of facts to found this source of the Dutch disease before Vaticanum II:

Also after 1965 a lot of priests manifest their rebellion attitudes in public at several opportunities, for example:

On the other hand it might be wondered if the World War II should have left several kinds of mental wounds to the young people. Directly or indirectly most of them were confronted with suppression, a lot of violence, fear and all kind of stresses, even some rancour against the suppresser and betrayers. This kind of experiences should have left certain impressions in the still sensible minds of young people, which effects more or less the mentality generally. So from these generation of young man, the young priests and seminarists became chaplain directly after the war and later in the 50's respectively parish priests, teachers at schools and last but not least also professors at the seminaries to teach the young seminarists during the late 50's. They has also became at first the advisors and later even the bishops and diocese board members in the late 50's and 60's. The younger adolescents as well as the little boys who had gone through the war and might be influenced mentally too, were called during the late 50's. It has to be seen that the 'war'-generation, who has been born just before or during World War II, is the same generation who left the seminaries before the ordinations in the late 50's and leaving their priestly vocations after their ordination in the period between 1964 and 1979.
It is obvious that almost anyone of this generation, priests as well as laymen, has a traumatic aversion to the period before Vaticanum II, excluded some exceptions even a lot of the good willing priests too.

Father Bots also mentioned the economical growth in the Netherlands in the 60's to explain the behaviour why so many priests leave their priestly vocation and why such a low level of vocations occur.
However, it might be a combination of all points mentioned above. Infected by the rebellion spirit of the leading intellectuals and stimulated by the successful economical growth, the mental wounded 'war'-generation exploded in the sixties into a very strong aversion to the time before Vaticanum II and everything involved to it. Also an important point to this phenomenon is the wrong perception of Vaticanum II which has been caused by the rebellion spirit mentioned above and the misunderstandings of the documents of Vaticanum II loose from all the earlier councils. Also it has to be remarked that this generation has been involved to the rebellion '8-May-movement' strongly.

By the historical and statistical date, without miracles, it cannot be expected that the number of vocations will increase in the near future and even on long term.
Therefor taken into account that the average active priest life will be about 40 to 45 years (from the age of 26 to 66 respectively 71) and by taking the future number of priest ordinations constant at the level of 1993 to 1996, which is about 25 ordinations a year, the expected global development of the active priest population can be extrapolated from the numbers of ordinations as in the figure below.

It shows that the number of active priests will decrease to about 750 priests round 2010 and even within 4 to 5 years this number will be decreased below 1000, which is far below the number of parishes (about 1650) in The Netherlands.

The suggest constant number of 25 priest-ordinations a year has been well chosen for the first 6 years. In June 1998 at their Ad Limina Visit to the Vatican the Dutch Bishops reported the following table:

year 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997
Priest-students 184 190 174 - 149
Priest-ordinations24 22 -37 -
- Diocese 2019 -28-
- Regulious orders4 3-9-

Taken into account that the average time of a priest-study takes about 6 years, this table shows that the expected number of the priest ordinations should be about 25 a year the coming six years. This means that related to the first 6 years of the analysis above, the results are rather hard. Because of the declining tendencies in the number of seminarists in this table and the overall tendencies of still declining number of Roman Catholics in the Netherlands the suggest number of 25 priest-ordinations a year should be rather optimistic related to the future at longer term.