Rorate Caeli

New Poll, Statistics, Tables and Graphs - Extensive Analysis

When confronted with the undeniable evidence of the decline of Catholicism on so many levels, especially in Europe and North America, one favorite tactic of many "conservatives" and some "liberals" is to point to the state of Catholicism in Latin America, Africa and Asia, where the faith is assumed to be vibrant, unaffected by secularism and modernist compromises, and increasing in followers by leaps and bounds. 

If one counts the number of those baptized in the Catholic faith, then undoubtedly the numbers continue to be excellent; never before have there been so many baptized Catholics including in North America and Europe. The problem is that the number of baptized Catholics has little relation to the actual state of Catholicism anywhere: otherwise secularism would be an unknown phenomenon in countries where most citizens have been, at one point in their life (usually at infancy) baptized in the Catholic Church. The question of how many of those who have been baptized in the Church retain their self-identification as "Catholics" is a more important indicator when measuring the true vigor of the Church in any given country. 

It is the ultimate hypocrisy to lament and criticize, as do so many Catholic pundits and "apologists", the lack of catechesis and poor formation of the vast majority of nominal Catholics, and then turn around and point to the sheer numbers of the same nominal Catholics as proof that all is well and the Church remains in excellent shape. 

When it comes to Latin America, Catholicism has been under serious and sustained siege from Evangelical Protestantism and the secular unbelief since the 1980s. Just how serious the losses have become are revealed in Corporación Latinobarómetro's latest survey of religion in Latin America, released on April 16, 2014: "Las religiones en tiempos del Papa Francisco". Understandably for a document released to honor the first year of the pontificate of the first Latin American pope, the study has an upbeat tone in the introductory remarks about the strength of religion and of Catholicism in Latin America. Nevertheless the graphs and statistics present a wholly different story, at least as far as Catholicism is concerned. 

(Note: Latinobarómetro is a non-profit corporation which is the Latin-American version of the well-established Eurobarometer -- it is the only full regional database of opinion surveys, providing accurate information on the attitudes of Latin-Americans for several different international organizations, including the United Nations and the Inter-American Development Bank. Its surveys are highly regarded for their accuracy and transparency, and the database provides a look at the historical evolution of national opinions regarding all kinds of different issues.)


The first chart (from p. 5 in the study) shows the change in the percentage of Catholics in 18 Latin American countries between 1995 and 2013. (Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Haiti are not included in this study, while the countries in the same geographical space that do not have a Romance language as their main language are generally not considered as part of "Latin America" for statistical purposes.)

The percentage of self-identified Catholics slightly increased in Mexico (the notable exception) and the Dominican Republic but dropped everywhere else, with the most precipitous declines recorded in Nicaragua (a drop from 77 to 47%) and Honduras (from 76% to 47%). These countries went from being overwhelmingly Catholic to being majority non-Catholic in less than a single generation, along with countries such as Guatemala (which saw a drop from 54% to 47%) and Uruguay (from 60% to 41%) where the hold of the Catholic faith was already in peril as of 1995.

As noted at the bottom of this table, South America and Mexico went from 82% Catholic to 72% Catholic in 18 years, while Central America (Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama and, for the purposes of this study, the Dominican Republic) fell from 73% Catholic to 56% Catholic in the same time frame.

The following chart (from p. 7) arranges the countries of Latin America in terms of the percentage of Catholics, from the largest to smallest. As seen from the first chart, all of these countries had been majority Catholic in 1995. Today, four are majority non-Catholic while another two (Chile and El Salvador) are on the edge.

It is telling that Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala are the countries where Liberation Theology and the alliance of Catholic religious and clerics with the Far Left were most pronounced in the 1980's and 1990's. The collapse of Catholicism in Honduras also occurred entirely during the tenure as Archbishop of Tegucigalpa (1993 to the present), of its leading prelate: Óscar Andrés Cardinal Rodríguez Maradiaga SDB, currently the coordinator of the "Council of Cardinals" and one of the most influential architects of the current Pontificate's policies.

The situation of Uruguay is of special interest in that it has always been at the vanguard of "social progress" and secularization in Latin America, and doubtless gives us a glimpse of what the future will be like for Latin America if the process of secularization is not stopped. Uruguay is also culturally very similar to Buenos Aires, with which it shares the same different Spanish accent and the same secularized society.

Taken together, according to another table in the same study (p. 4) the percentage of Catholics in the Latin American countries covered in this study fell from 80% in 1995 to 67% in 2013. The decline was steady except for a short lull from 2005 to 2009 and again from 2011 to 2013.  

While Catholicism has declined in most Latin American countries, Evangelicalism has grown by leaps and bounds (see the next graph, located in p. 6 of the study). The study claims that as of 2013 Evangelicals accounted for 40% of Guatemalans (as opposed to 47% Catholics), 41% of Hondurans (47% Catholic), 37% of Nicaraguans (47% Catholic), 31% of El Salvadorians (54% Catholic), 21% of Brazilians (63% Catholic) and 21% of Costa Ricans (62% Catholic). 

In contrast, in 1996, Evangelicals comprised only 25% of Guatemalans (54% Catholic), 12% of Hondurans (76% Catholic), 11% of Nicaraguans (77% Catholic), 5% of El Salvadorians (67% Catholic), 18% of Brazilians (78% Catholic) and 9% of Costa Ricans (81% Catholic).

The survey unfortunately bears out what many Evangelicals from North and South America have been boasting about since the 1990's: the mass conversion of tens of millions of Catholics in Latin America to Evangelicalism. This is mirrored in the United States where Hispanics are also defecting in considerable numbers to Protestantism. This is a reality that could no longer be ignored for the sake of presenting Catholicism as the victor in the "numbers game" of conversions to or from Protestantism. 

It also raises the all-important question of just how successful the adoption of 'charismatic' and Evangelical-inspired songs and styles of worship has been for the Catholic Church in Latin America. Do such practices really stem the tide of conversions to Evangelicalism, or do they in fact facilitate apostasy from the Catholic faith? 

In Uruguay and Chile it is not Evangelicals but those who claim to have "no religion" who form the largest group of self-identified non-Catholics. (38% in Uruguay as opposed to 41% who identify as Catholics, and 25% in Chile as opposed to 57% who identify as Catholics.)

If 67% of Latin Americans overall are Catholic, the figure is only 61% for the 16-25 age group, and 65% for the 26-40 age group. Evangelicals and those of no religion together account for 33 % of the 16-25 age group and 30% of the 26-40 age group. Among Catholics, 55% belong to the 16-40 age group, compared to 62% among Evangelicals and 69% among those with no religion. (See the graph below, from p. 27 of the same study.)

Barring a miracle or a powerful reversal of the tide this means that the share of self-identified Catholics in Latin America will only continue to decrease, as those of Evangelicals and nonbelievers increase.

In the aftermath of the Second Vatican Council, whose influence in Latin America was widely and deeply felt by all the faithful in the region since the beginning, in particular by way of radical and immediate liturgical upheaval and of the various "Latin American conference documents" (Medellín, Puebla, Santo Domingo, Aparecida), it can only be said that, as the Latin American Church insisted on a poorly-understood and anti-traditional version of Christian poverty, making what the hierarchy thought would be a "preferential option for the poor," the poor made a preferential option for Protestantism. As the Church abandoned traditional spirituality and worship for mundane politicized concerns and liturgy, many faithful looked for authentic spirituality wherever they could find it. They found it elsewhere.

[Original posting time: June 29, 2014, 3:22 PM GMT]