Statistical evaluation of the
Roman Catholic Church in the Netherlands
by ir. J.P. Oostveen
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 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
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
- 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:
- 1950, the encyclic Humanis Generis, in which pope Pius XII condemned the all-too-evident reappearance of Modernism in the Church was rather ignored in the Netherlands.
1954, the bishops
of the Netherlands addressed themselves in a long pastoral letter (called
'Mandement') against the rebellion spirit mentioned above to their faithful
, in which they insisted that Catholics should work together, not only
in the Church, but also in fields of political and social activity.
This 'Mandement' was already a dead letter, it was too late. It has been rejected in 1964.
- 1960 -1967, the control by the Church of the R.C. organisations has been abolished.
- 1963 - 1969, all the 30 seminaries has been abolished and concentrated into 5 institutes without convicts for taking care of the religious lives of the future priests. The priest students had to live external and all alone.
1966, the new
catechisms for Adults has been published. About 25 loyal Dutch Catholics,
priests and laymen, addressed a letter to the Holy Father in which they
listed no fewer than seven substantial doctrinal errors in the New Catechism,
requesting his intervention. A commission of cardinals found even more
grave errors in the text. The obligated corrections were published separately
only and have never be introduced into the text of the book itself. After
publishing the new catechism to adults only this one has been available
and used, without the obligated correction generally.
Also from the late 50's the traditional catechism-books were abolished from the schools and each year new loose leaves had to be used. By this each year small changes were introduced in these loose leaves.
Taken into account that a book like the New Catechism could not be written and edited in that short period between Vaticanum II and the 1st of March 1966, the date of the imprimatur by Cardinal Alfrink, the substantial doctrinal and other grave errors in the new catechism mentioned above has been originated and prepared before and during Vaticanum II.
Also after 1965 a lot of priests manifest their rebellion attitudes in public at several opportunities, for example:
- against the encyclic Humanea Vitea published by pope Paul VI in 1967;
- against the celibacy, especially at the Dutch Pastoral Council (1969 - 1970);
- against the acceptation to several bishops (for example Mgr. Simonis , Mgr. Gijsen  and Mgr Bomers);
- against the repeated embargo by the Roman Congregation of faith married priests were working in several pastoral and teaching positions;
against the visit of the Holy Father to the Netherlands in June 1985.
By this opportunity the rebellion opposition joined themselves into the '8-May-movement', so called after there first meeting date in 1985 against the Pope's visit.
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.
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:
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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.