Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Latin American Catholicism

Omar Encarnación has an article in Foreign Affairs on the decline of Catholicism in Latin America. Some of it is a bit overdone, since I am not sure that Latin Americans view the new Pope warily just because he is Argentine.

Beyond Bergolgio’s personal baggage, there are other reasons to doubt whether he will be able to revive Catholicism in Latin America. Although Catholics in the United States and Western Europe Catholics are leaving the church atop a tide of secularism, in Latin America, Catholics are leaving because they find other religious options more appealing. The decline of Catholicism in Latin America has been met with an explosion in Protestantism. It is estimated that approximately 15 percent of all Latin Americans are Protestant -- a startling figure considering that, as recently as the mid-1990s, only about four percent were Protestant. The most “extreme” case is Guatemala, where approximately 30 percent of the population is Protestant and three presidents have identified as Evangelical. 
In Brazil, an estimated 500,000 people are thought to be leaving the Catholic Church per year, with the bulk of them converting to Protestantism. Those flocking to the Evangelical mega-churches of Rio de Janeiro cite the Catholic Church’s authoritarianism and strict hierarchy -- embodied, curiously enough, in the pope -- as the primary reason for leaving. By contrast, they point to the opportunities that Protestant churches afford for women and minorities to ascend the ranks. In addition, they appreciate the positive message of self-empowerment and teachings on how to accrue wealth and prosperity. It is hard to imagine that Bergoglio’s message and example of humility and frugality, however virtuous, will resonate with these folks. 

Interesting cultural question, though I think Catholics can still happily get rich while liking Pope Francis, just as they've passed liberal laws about a host of different issues. The overall point about not losing ground to other religions, however, is a good one, especially since it is clearly a reason for choosing him in the first place.

Frances Hapogian basically agreed in a New York Times piece. Latin America is increasingly more politically and religiously plural. Catholicism has to compete.


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