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?


  1. Anonymous10:59 PM

    Sad, but not surprising. After all, evangelicals and Pentecostals actually believe their religion is true and actively propagate it. Catholics, however, have forgotten about mission and evangelism, and especially in Latin America we find the Church focusing on temporal political activism (Liberaton Theology) instead of Christian witness. When the Church in Latin America recovers the sense of urgency of Christ's commandment to preach the Gospel in all the world, then the decline of the Church there will end. Not until.

  2. Anonymous1:43 AM

    Pardon me for sounding like a broken record, but for all the very great good that clear teaching such as that from our Holy Father provieds, what is needed for a massive popular change of heart is for hearts to be touched, and if history is any guide, that means a providential man must come, to win people's hearts by the transparent goodness of his life and unblemished fidelity to the Gospel. Saint Francis is of course the great model (after Our Lord Himself). Why Pope John Paul did not fill this role I do not know; I personally was and am quite taken by his life and teaching, but it seems that the evidence shows it did not work out that way.

  3. Anonymous2:46 AM

    The numbers of Catholics in Latin America are largely overestimated. Of those claiming a Catholic faith large numbers dabble in the old native superstitions, or believe in divorce or are communists (aka liberationists). The true percentage of faithful conservative or traditional Catholics has to be much much smaller than even the 64% would indicate.
    In JMJ

  4. Anonymous3:23 AM

    I think it's obvious what the Church needs: more documents, this time with at least 100 more pages!

    That'll fix everything!

    John Paul 2, we love you!!!

  5. Un interesante artículo aquí:

  6. So much for the "Charismatic Surge" that I've read about.

    In truth, this is the result of emotionalist Catholosism. When your faith is based on emotions, as soon as the emotions die down, so does the faith.

  7. Anonymous5:51 PM

    At least 90% of the brazilian priests are progressive.

  8. Anonymous11:32 PM

    The decline under Pius XII is not to be attributed to Roman Catholic apostasy, but rather to two factors:

    1. The agitation of Bishop Carlos Duarte Costa against the Holy See in 1945, which created a schismatic "church" (Catholic Apostolic Brazilian Church)
    2. Immigration from 1945-1950 of a particular class of secular and Lutheran German immigrants with a defined political background, if you understand what I mean.

    It was due to immigration of non-Catholics, not due to apostasy in general at all. This is no longer the case from 1960-1970 however.


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