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November 20, 2014

The Preferential Option for Protestantism

On November 10  I mentioned  Hilaire Belloc’s prophecy in 1937 that Islam would eventually recover its power, and that the former Christian nations of Europe lacked  the spiritual strength to defeat it. He was dead right.

But another prediction  of Belloc’s, that  Catholicism would grow while Protestantism would decline, has proved to be quite mistaken. (I mean real Catholicism and real Protestantism.)

In  this present  post  we  see  just how serious the falling away has been, using the extreme example of what’s been happening in Latin America. (With acknowledgments to the Rorate Caeli blog, from whom I quote extensively)  In the next post,  I hope to suggest  how this disastrous trend could  be reversed.

So first, have a careful look at this table. It’s really scarifying.

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?…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 secularisation and that the collapse would have happened anyway.
Well, that might conceivably help to 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:

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 politicised 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.

I think that comment from Rorate Caeli  is absolutely right.  Surely two  of the positive things about evangelical Protestantism  are a) its emphasis on the Bible as the inspired word of God, and b) its emphasis on salvation. People need both these things, and the Catholic Church, sorry to say, frequently fails to provide them.  Liberation theology, and the kind of secularised religion served up by progressive  Catholic prelates, just don’t provide the kind of spiritual sustenance we fallen humans require as a bare minimum.

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