Holy Surplus

Recycling Dutch Church Art

Catholicism is quickly fading from the crowded cities and flat countryside of the Netherlands. While still the country’s largest faith, it’s in retreat as secularization, the sexual-abuse crisis, and lay discontent with the hierarchy take their toll on once-solid parishes. No matter what the indicator—totals of priests, nuns, baptized Catholics, regular churchgoers, religious weddings or funerals—almost all trends point downward.

The latest sign of the faith’s steep decline came in early December when Dutch bishops made their every-five-years ad limina visit to the Vatican. Outlining this “long-term shrinking process,” as their official report called it, bishops conference chairman Cardinal Willem Eijk told Pope Francis the overall number of churches was also falling fast. “We foresee that a third of the Catholic churches in our country will be closed by 2020 and two-thirds by 2025,” he told the pope.

Catholic and Protestant churches have been shutting down at the combined rate of about two per week for several years. The Catholic Church is now stepping up the pace with a plan to regroup the fifteen hundred parishes that existed in 2003 into two hundred large units by 2017. Deconsecrated churches have been sold and turned into...

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About the Author

Tom Heneghan is the Paris-based religion editor for Reuters. He is the author of Unchained Eagle: Germany after the Wall (Pearson Education).