I. Disturbing Numbers — A religious and cultural revolution has been underway, for a half century now, in the central and southern parts of the Western Hemisphere. That revolution has just marked a major milestone.
Latin America is a region of 661 million people colonized and Christianized, beginning 500 years ago, by Spanish and Portuguese Catholics. Now, in 2021, for the first time in history, a nation of Latin America may have a Protestant plurality.
According to the website, Evangelical Focus, so-called Evangelical Christians outnumber Catholics in the Republic of Honduras by 43.2% to 38.2%. The website cites a survey by a research group called Paradigma.
Although not yet independently verified, this claim is, sadly, consistent with the findings of a November, 2014 study by the Pew Research Center, which documented massive attrition among Latin American Catholics, and surging numbers for Evangelical, Pentecostal and fundamentalist sects in the region.
According to Pew, Catholics in the region, over the last century, have fallen from 94% of the population to just 69%, while Protestants have increased from 1% to 19%, with a pronounced Catholic decline beginning in the 1970’s.
This unprecedented defection — the 19th century Irish called such apostasy a ‘perverting’ — has transformed nations such as Mexico, Colombia and Argentina, once overwhelmingly and homogeneously Catholic, into religiously pluralist societies. Brazil, the world’s largest Catholic country, is now just 61% Catholic.
Only half of El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua are Catholic, while Catholics are only a plurality in Uruguay. Pew found in 2014 that Catholics were, even then, only a 46% minority in Honduras.
In the same 2014 study, Pew also found that Latin American Protestants are more religiously observant, socially conservative and morally traditionalist than Catholics, with higher numbers of Protestants opposing abortion, homosexuality, and, remarkably, artificial contraception.
A 2020 study of religious affiliation by Statista is even more alarming. This survey posits that Latin American Catholics now constitute only 57% of the region’s population, while Protestants have grown to 23%.
Interestingly, the Latin American country with the lowest proportion of Protestants — just 4% — is Cuba. Whether this can be attributed to government repression or to the absence of American economic dominance and cultural penetration merits close examination.
II. Historic Parallels — There is no indication that a dysfunctional, scandal ridden, Novus-Ordo Catholicism is capable of arresting, much less reversing, these ominous trends. That would take a second Counter-Reformation, which is not even on the horizon.
One thing that we do know from the history of early 17th century Europe is that even those countries reclaimed by the Counter-Reformation — such as Austria, Hungary, Bohemia, and the Spanish Netherlands — never returned to being homogeneously Catholic societies. They continued to have permanent and substantial Protestant minorities, with a third of Hungarians, a quarter of Czechs, a sixth of Austrians and one in ten Belgians remaining outside the Church.
III. Many Ironies — This tragic circumstance of continental apostasy is replete with multiple ironies. The defection of Honduras from the Faith comes just eight years after the election of the first Latin American Pope. It comes just a half century after the traditional Latin liturgy of the Roman Rite was practically (if not legally) suppressed, and a new liturgy — intended to appeal to Protestant sensibilities — was fabricated and imposed upon Catholics.
Rather than attracting the followers of Luther and Calvin to the True Faith, a neo-Protestant vernacular liturgy has deprived Catholics of the sublime beauty and doctrinal riches of the Traditional Mass, while acclimating them to the religious culture of one of the most enduring of Christian heresies.
The abandonment of the Faith by Latin American Catholics comes just six decades after the first public proceedings of an Ecumenical Movement, intended to effect a reconciliation between Catholics and Protestants. For anti-Catholic fundamentalists however, gestures of good will were taken as signs of institutional debility by a moribund entity ripe for predation. Ecumenism eviscerated the traditional Catholic aversion for heresy and rendered Catholics susceptible to proselytism.
It has been just fifty-three years since the Latin American Church moved to embrace so-called Liberation Theology, with its preferential option for the poor, and its call for structural change, at the 1968 Medellin Conference in Colombia. Yet, it is the states of Central America — the poorest in Latin America — where Catholicism is weakest, and where Evangelicals have scored their most dramatic gains.
Of 33 Latin American and Caribbean countries, newly Protestant Honduras comes in at 29th in per capita gross domestic product, only exceeded in destitution by neighboring and two-fifths Protestant Nicaragua, impoverished Haiti, and the Marxist wreck of Venezuela.
The social justice warriors of the Catholic Left have abandoned the salvation of souls, forfeiting religious formation to the purveyors of heresy. In each of these innovations — ecumenism, liberation theology and liturgical revolution — traditional Catholic belief and praxis were sacrificed for a supposed pastoral benefit.
Instead, in each case, disaster ensued. Pragmatism, it would seem, has failed by its own criterion.
IV. The Future — Latin America is being progressively Protestantized. The traditional heartland of the Faith, western Europe, has been secularized and is now being Islamified. More than two-fifths of American Catholics are now ex-Catholics. For the first time since Constantine, another religion has more practicing adherents in France than Catholicism. Once resolutely Catholic Ireland has legalized child murder and sodomite unions parading as marriage.
What the enthusiasts of the Second Vatican Council called the “new springtime of the Church,” has proved to be the darkest winter since, in the words of Saint Jerome, “The whole world groaned and marveled at finding itself Arian.”
Catholics are not Leninists. They do not seek to “heighten the contradictions,” making events worse to make them better.
One wonders however, how many more self inflicted catastrophes the Church must endure before her shepherds turn away from decades of programmed failure and restore the traditional Faith, in both its doctrinal and liturgical integrity.
Our Lady of Guadalupe, Patroness of the Americas, pray for us!
Saint Anthony Mary Claret, pray for us!
C. Joseph Doyle is the Executive Director of the Catholic Action League of Massachusetts, and the Director of Communications for the Friends of Saint Benedict Center.