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Survey examines dwindling Catholic population of France

Paris, France

Alex Grace | Shutterstock

J-P Mauro - published on 06/17/23

The report found that only 25% of French people call themselves Catholic, while "nones" have risen to account for 53% of the French population.

A new report examining the religious landscape of France, the Insee Trajectories and Origins survey (Téo 2), has found Catholicism to have spiraled downward in popularity since the 1960s. The survey was aimed at those in the age group of 18-59, many of whom have not received very much religious formation or have immigrated to France in the last 60 years. 

The study noted that from 1872 until 1960, the Catholic population of France held firm at around 97%. In modern times, however, this portion of the French population has fallen to just 25%, with the downward trend expected to continue.

In explanation of the shrinking Catholic faith in France, the report points to several trends, which were first noticed in the previous survey, Téo 1, and have since been exacerbated in the Téo 2. The first of these is the rise of the non-religious, often referred to as “nones,” a group which now makes up the majority of the French population, at 53%. 

Meanwhile, over the last 12 years, Catholics have dwindled from 43% to 25% of the French population. The report does not cite one reason for such a fast decrease of nearly half the Catholic ranks. It notes that the sexual abuse crisis within the Church has been a factor, but that crisis did not start the exodus of Catholics from the Church in France. 

The dwindling of the French Catholic faith is juxtaposed with a rise in other Christian denominations, as well as a consistently rising portion of French people who identify as Muslim. Muslims in particular have increased their presence in France from 8% to 11% in the same timeframe. The report did note, however, that this is more due to reproduction rates amongst Muslims than to conversions. Overall the rate of children being born to Muslim families in France is 24% higher than that of Catholics, and 22% higher than that of evangelical Protestants.

Immigration was also found to be a somewhat influential aspect of the French religious landscape, as the portion of French citizens born in other countries has surpassed 10%. The report notes that even though incoming immigrants tend to identify as Catholic, they tend to become largely secularized once they live in France. 

The report concluded that the visible decline of Catholicism in France began in the 1960s, in the years immediately after the Second Vatican Council. It also noted that “Jewish and Muslim families transmit their religion better than Catholic families,” suggesting that the solution to the dwindling Catholic faith in France may be to place a greater focus on religious education and formation. 

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