Rapid Catholic Decline in Spain

The proportion of Spaniards who say they are Roman Catholic has fallen to 73 percent from around 80 percent just eight years ago. The findings reflected not just the rapid pace of secularisation the country has undergone this century but also the Roman Catholic Church’s “loss of credibility,” said Spanish theologian Juan Jose Tamayo.


  1. BBC Radio ran a piece a couple of days ago about a significant percentage of German Catholics leaving the Church in recent times (and the civil authorities know rather accurately because of de-registration from the Kirchensteuer) . I think it was considerably greater than the Spanish 8%, and in a much shorter space of time (can’t remember the exact figure quoted, but think it might have been as high as 20%).

    They interviewed some of them. All of them spoke of clergy sex abuse and in particular the bad handling of it by the Church (read episcopal “cover-up”, “denial”, etc). One man said that, although he had left, his wife was staying on, at least for now. Very sad.

  2. Having spent time in Spain in the last year, I have the strong impression that the upheaval from 40 years ago, more profoundly felt in these countries with very deep Catholic roots, is the core of the issue. One only needs to tour the Churches and observe the devastation from having the altars replaced, for example. Deny it if you want but when you change the ritual of a culture, tear apart their treasures or turn them into museum pieces, change the language of a core act of liturgy, you do not renew; you merely destabilize and destroy. This is the result.

    1. Is there anybody out there who can find ONE Spaniard who has ceased going to Mass, or calling themselves Roman Catholic, because of a replaced altar?

    2. I guess that Jeffrey would have folks listen to mass in Latin from centuries old altars. How we have deviated from Christ’s teachings, who spoke in a language easily understood by all who listened to him. And he had a message that conveyed the need to keep on seeking knowledge of his Kingdom. What knowledge could possibly be imparted if I don’t even understand what is being said, regardless of what language is being spoken? Could the real reason for the decline of the Catholic Church be that people are looking for spiritual enlightenment when they go to church, and are not getting it in the Catholic Church? Most churches today are great as a social club, but fail miserably when it comes to conveying Christ’s message.

  3. Spain and Catholicism – very complex and complicated history. Would suggest that history is catching up to the church in Spain – if you closely read and understand the divisions in the church in the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, 1960s when the Franco dictatorship was supported by the hierarchy – meanwhile, hundreds of priests, nuns, catholics were murdered or executed by the Franco regime as they stood up for their faith, the common people, the rights to free government, etc. But, it becomes more complicated – you had catholics on multiple sides – it was almost more tribal, ethnic groups, etc. The church was, in some ways, caught in the middle and the position it took officially is hard to align with gospel messages; charity, support of the poor, etc. Those divisions have still not healed – again, would suggest that the newer generation identifies some of the societal issues with the church and its participation in corruption, power, authoritarianism that so devastated Spain over a 50+ year period.

  4. We need to look to post 1980 for explanations of the decline of religion in Spain.

    Let me focus on % of atheists since that is a better indicator of the secularization of national culture than are church membership and attendance. In Spain in 1980, there were only 8% atheists, by 1990 (14%), 2000 (17%), and of course in 2010 (25%).

    By comparison the 1980, 1990, and 2000 atheism data for two countries that were not in the process of secularization: the USA (2%, 4%, 4%) and Ireland (3%, 2%, 4%).

    The same data for countries already well secularized; France (32%, 38%, 38%), Germany (18%, 22%, 23%); Netherlands (28%, 35%, 40%).

    Belgium became even more rapidly secularized (13%, 31%, 29%), but Italy went the opposite direction with a decline of atheists (10%, 9%, 6%) in the same 20 year period.

    Now as a sociologist who sees national cultures (not churches) as the key variable in the secularization of society, I think JPII might have had a positive effect on Italy because he was there in Rome.

    I could see why a liberal might want to blame JPII for the rise of atheism in Spain as well as its increase in Belgium and the Netherlands during his watch.

    But that is as unlikely as that Vatican II was responsible for the rise in atheism in Spain some twenty years later in the 1980s, while atheism remained low during the same period in both the USA and Ireland.

    Now maybe the Church in Spain had some effect as this theologian seems to think. National cultures are very important.

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