Rorate Caeli

The Latin American Exodus: Catholics become Protestants in Droves

This is perhaps the key quote to understand the report released by the Pew Research Center yesterday on Religion in Latin America (versión en español aquí), which confirms another one released earlier this year by Latinobarómetro:

Historical data suggest that for most of the 20th century, from 1900 through the 1960s, at least 90% of Latin America’s population was Catholic.

What happened exactly in the 1960s?...

The reference is extremely appropriate, so let us try to remember: it is always affirmed by those who say that the collapse in almost all Catholic indicators that followed the Second Vatican Council was a coincidence that the 1960s and 1970s were an era of strong secularization and that the collapse would have happened anyway.

Well, that would explain the collapse in Western Europe, North America, and Australia. But in Latin America (where the current pope studied to be a priest during the 1960s, being ordained in December 1969), what happened instead during the same period was an intense religious revival. But instead of it being channeled through the traditional structures of Catholic life, these same traditional structures were being dismantled by the Latin American hierarchy inebriated with the spirit of aggiornamento, and Latin Americans, who just wanted pure religious life, converted in droves to Protestantism, the only "space" in which they could find signs of the Christian message.

In Honduras, the country of the most powerful man in the Roman Curia today after the Pope, Cardinal Rodríguez Maradiaga (who has been a bishop in the capital since 1978, first as auxiliary then as Archbishop), the hierarchy led by him managed the amazing feat of transforming that country in the first Catholic-minority nation in Central America, a vertiginous fall from 94% to 46% in the same period - and the same happened in Uruguay, across the Rio de la Plata from Buenos Aires:

As we concluded in that previous post:

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.

The Maradiaga principle has been tried and tested, its effect is abysmal, as proved by the clear numbers. The liberal-and-liberation-theology experiment in Latin America did not work. It will not work when applied to the world stage, either, and may even hinder the growth of Catholicism in those few strongly conservative nations, such as those in Africa, where a muscular, morally strong, and orthodox Catholic faith is still spreading out confidently.