Rorate Caeli

Aparecida Notes: a Church in decline

Some optimistic reports notwithstanding, the reality of the Catholic Church in Latin America, and particularly in its largest nation, Brazil, is gloomy. One of our readers in that great country sent us the following graph recently published in one of the largest Brazilian dailies:

From a near stability (the decline between 1950 and 1960 is statistically negligible, around 0.6%), a slight decline is noticed between 1960 and 1970, and between 1970 and 1980.

1980 marked the first Papal visit to Brazil -- and the beginning of a demographic slump: in the 20 Wojtylian years registered above, the percentage of Brazilian Catholics fell from 89.2% to 73.8% of the total population . And the latest poll numbers, published this Sunday (read special article on the mess of religious statistics in Brazil in the Spanish e-daily Hispanidad), according to which Brazilian Catholics now encompass merely 64% of the population.

So, this is the demographic trend of Brazilian Catholics in the past 70 years, approximately:

  • Pius XII Pontificate (1940-1960): 95.2% to 93.1% of the population;
  • John XIII and Paul VI Pontificates (immediate post-Conciliar aftermath: 1960-1980): 93.1% to 89.2% of the population;
  • John Paul II Pontificate(post-Conciliar aftermath, 1980-2007): 89.2% to 64% of the population.

Only the steep increase of population in the past century has prevented a decrease in the absolute number of Brazilian Catholics. The Church which evangelized Brazil has lost a grip over that nation after decades of a politically-motivated "preferential option for the poor" (it would be unfair to blame solely John Paul II, since the "Liberationist" bishops named by Paul VI thrived for nearly twenty years after his death).

What now? Words and conferences have not stopped the demographic hemorrhage of the Church in Brazil. Could Benedict change this grim reality?