Religions in Belgium’s Flanders region receive almost 500 million euros yearly in taxpayer money, a community politician has denounced.

Driving the news

In 2018, the total amount of public money that went to the Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican and Protestant Evangelical Churches – as well as to the Islamic and Jewish communities – rose to 474,621,366 euros, Open VLD (Flemish Liberals and Democrats) representative Maurits Vande Reyde decried.

That works out to 79 euros a year from every taxpayer to the different faith groups, the member for Vlaams-Brabant explained.

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The sum of public money that goes to the religion is made up of federal, regional and local funding, Vande Reyde said.

About 271 million euros – the largest portion of the budget – is spent on religion teachers, while salaries and pensions for priests make up 92 million.

Just in Flanders regional funding, the amount of taxpayer money that went to religious groups increased last year to 329 million euros, up from 287 million in 2015, denounced Vande Reyde, who called for government funding of religions to be phased out.

“This is madness”, the politician decried.

“The dioceses have enormous financial resources. Let them pay the wages of the priests and the maintenance of the churches themselves. And let us make religion classes a general subject, instead of giving each religion its own teacher”.

Why it matters

Just last week, the Belgian Bishops’ Conference released a report that revealed that, although the Church in the country still continues to receive a great deal of public money, Catholicism there is on a steep decline.

Since 2016, Mass attendance in Belgium is down by some 17%, baptisms have fallen 12%, confirmations have dropped 4% and church marriages have plunged 14%, according to the official figures, which on the plus side do reveal a greater presence in the Church of women and laypeople, if not in key leadership roles. 

“In a context of secularisation and multiculturalism, the number of faithful who gather for Sunday Mass has become modest”, president of the Belgian episcopate, Cardinal Jozef De Kesel, admitted in the face of the figures.

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