Preaching to the choir

Is the role of the Catholic church diminishing in Latin America?

The majority of Latin Americans, around 90%, are Christians, of which approximately 69% are Catholic. However, the influence of the Catholic Church is waning in the region, as part of a larger global trend. The advance of liberal social policies and the erosion of the Church’s image due to financial and sexual scandals are the main reasons behind its delegitimisation.

Thus, Pope Francis has launched a two-year consultation with global Church figures to shape the future of the institution and, to define the Church’s views on social issues and the role of women in Catholicism. Pope Francis has recognised the demographic changes in the population with laity expanding among younger generations.

A journalist and expert on religion commented, “The Pope’s announcement was very important. The world is undergoing tremendous transformations at all levelsfamily relationships, society and culture. We are living in a 3rd millennium that is very different from the previous ones and changes are happening with increasing speed: the Church cannot attend as a fancy spectator, it has to get involved.

The Pope’s announcement was very important. The world is undergoing tremendous transformations at all levelsfamily relationships, society and culture.”

Journalist and religion expert, Argentina

At a Latin American level, as an Argentinean, Pope Francis began questioning the Euro-centric theological model of social justice when he served as the head of the Latin American Bishops Conference (“CELAM”), in 2007. The global nature of the recently launched consultation aims to improve the global image of people identifying themselves as Catholics. However, the announcement was received with mixed reception.

“Francis began a series of transformations that logically have not gone down well in some sectors of the Church,” explained the journalist, “but which are absolutely necessary to agitate it, to end the denunciations, abuses and prevailing corruption, so that the Church has an active role in this era of profound social changes. Pope Francis wants to turn the Church upside down, and that decision-making goes from the bottom up, and not hidden between 4 walls.”

“Pope Francis began a series of transformations that logically have not gone down well in some sectors of the Church.”

Journalist and religion expert, Argentina

In Latin America, the Church faces three principal challenges. Firstly, the rise in the number of evangelical Christians in the most populated countries in the region, Brazil and Mexico, where the number of Catholics fell from 95% to 61% and 99% to 81% respectively between 1970 and 2014. Secondly, less than 50% of the population in Central America consider themselves Catholic, mainly due to the role that the Church played during the military dictatorships in Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. Thirdly, the rise in non-believers is significantly advancing in countries with more progressive social policies like Uruguay and Chile.

How can the Church reposition itself, how can it become influential again? Well, there is no magic recipe. This process took many years, and it will take many years to move on from it. Surely part of the answer has to be sought in the guidelines that John Paul II gave during his papacy: re-evangelise the continent. 

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