Just over half of all Belgians – 52% – say they are Catholics, according to a survey carried out by the Church for its first-ever annual report. However fewer than one in ten attends Mass a minimum of once a month. Since it is the first report of its kind in Belgium, the report makes no comparison between the figures from the survey, carried out on behalf of the bishops’ conference in 2016, and previous years.
“However we mustn’t pretend otherwise: many figures are on the decrease, and we’re not trying to hide that fact,” said Jeroen Moens of the conference.
Identifying as Catholic is, said Moens, a subjective matter. For the sake of the survey, the category includes anyone who goes to Mass from time to time. The figure of 52% drops precipitously to under 10%, however, when it comes to those who attend Mass once a month.
In 2016, there were 50,867 church christenings, and 41,060 confirmations, which suggests a sizeable number of parents lose interest in the church while their children are still young. In the same year, 7,858 church weddings took place.
The church counts 4,979 priests including parish priests, chaplains and priests in schools. There are more than twice as many – 10,262 – men and women in holy orders, but their numbers are dwindling fast as the population of abbeys and convents ages and the replacement rate approaches zero. More than 70% are women, while over 60% live in Flanders.
The popularity of holy places continues, on the other hand. The four shrines to the Virgin in Belgium – at Scherpenheuvel, Banneux, Beauraing and Oostakker – received 1,557,600 visitors in total in 2016, and they lit 1,718,000 candles.