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A particular case: Alsace-Moselle

In Alsace-Moselle, religious affiliations differ noticeably from the rest of the country due to a particular history of this region (see the historical background). The IFOP study on the establishment of religions in France revealed that this region is presently the most religious in France. A majority of people are Catholic even though there are many Protestants and Jews. The Muslims community in this region originates, mostly, from Turkey.

The Catholic Church is predominant in Alsace-Moselle with about 1,900,000 members, which represents 75% of the regional population. The diocese of Alsace is the biggest in France, comprising 5 pastoral regions, 14 pastoral zones and 66 pastoral sectors. The number of parishes is estimated at 767 while vicar foranes are estimated at 67. On 1st October 1998, the number of priests in the diocese was estimated at 674. There were 137 religious brothers, 1,990 religious sisters and 47 permanent deacons.

Since 2006, the Union of Protestant Churches of Alsace-Lorraine (Union des Eglises Protestantes d’Alsace Lorraine, UEPAL) comprises the Protestant Church of Augsburg Confession in Alsace-Lorraine (EPCAAL, Lutheran) and the Reformed Protestant Church of Alsace-Lorraine. In order to know the approximate number of its members, the UEPAL depends on the numbers provided by the pastors. Their criteria for defining a parishioner may vary from the person who came once for a funeral service to a committed Presbyterian councillor. Furthermore, each church has its own special system of financial contributions. The EPCAAL defines a standard scale to be paid by each member of the church. The EPRAL shares its expenditure according to the financial means of its parishes. Some parishes are able to contribute large sums of money despite the relatively small number of its members and vice versa. It is, therefore, possible that during their evaluation, the reformed parishes magnify numbers with the aim of exalting their own parish. On the other hand, the Lutheran parishes may be less enthusiastic in this area as they would not want to see the scale rise.
The Parish electoral list is neither a reliable indication of membership as registration is voluntary. A dispute may cause enlargement of the electoral list. However, some regular members may be uninterested in voting as there are often as many posts as the candidates.
Practices and social fabric also vary greatly. For example, there is a difference between the less vibrant Protestantism in rural Moselle, and the dynamic urban community in Strasbourg. It is, therefore, hard to come up with the exact number of Protestants in Alsace as there is no precise membership indicator. The EPAL has an approximate number of 430 pastors, 210,000 Lutheran members and 30,000 reformed members. It prefers, therefore, to estimate the number of the members of the Lutheran and Reformed Churches to 300,000 people.

The Jewish religion in Alsace-Moselle, which is mostly practiced by the Ashkenazics, expanded due to the Sephardic community which joined it during the expatriation of the French who were then living in Algeria. Presently, there is no reliable reference that can give the exact Jewish members of the three consistories. The registry of the communities gives a few indications. However, there are orthodox or liberal groups living on the fringe of traditional communities. The population is, therefore, estimated at 20,000 members and it is on a falling trend.

The information has been provided by public relations office of the UEPAL, Protestant Churches of Alsace-Lorraine and the Jewish Consistory of the Bas-Rhin in August 2006 and the Diocese of Strasbourg in March 2007.

D 24 September 2012    AAnne-Laure Zwilling

CNRS Unistra Dres Gsrl

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