Why are Latin Americans leaving the Catholic Church?

Recently on The Cale Clarke Show, Cale took a look at an article in the Wall Street Journal that talked about the steadily decreasing Catholic population in Latin American countries. The article began by talking about a woman in Brazil who, born and baptized Catholic, fell into a life of prostitution and drugs. After living this life of profound emptiness and unhappiness, she ended up joining a small Pentecostal congregation. It turns out that she is one of a million Brazilians who have joined Pentecostal and Evangelical denominations since the pandemic started.

As Cale stated, for so many years, being Latin American was almost synonymous with being Catholic. The Latin American countries had the highest ratio of Catholics to non-Catholics in the world. But that is quickly becoming an obsolete piece of information. According to a 1995 study, over 80% of the population in Latin American countries identified as Catholic. Based on a 2018 study of the same countries, that number has plummeted to 59%. Brazil, the country with the highest Catholic population in the world, is expected to be a minority Catholic country by July 2022.

Why is this? Even though Pope Francis has, on several occasions, called for the Catholic Church to be a church that serves its people, many Latin Americans have stated that the Church no longer identifies with the problems of their everyday lives. They contest the Church is out of touch with the impoverished. Additionally, evangelical churches have outpaced Catholicism in terms of their effective use of social media to connect with people.

While some are leaving the Church for evangelical congregations, many are also leaving religion behind altogether to pursue a life of secularism. As you may know, Argentina legalized abortion last year. Chile is in the process of legalizing it right now. “Mexico is the only country in the group that is not only retaining their Catholicism, but they’re actually growing. They have more Catholics in 2018 when this survey was done than they had in 1995, the last time they checked the numbers.” Besides Mexico, every other country has declined.

Cale reached out to get his listeners’ thoughts on this phenomenon and the reasons behind this drastic change in national religious identity.

Caller Dede, who has a Mexican background, said that she believes that South America is struggling for a few different reasons. She said that the politics and economy have severely stunted religious growth in their countries, and their rough situations have made it harder to stay the course of truth. It’s significantly easier to be a Protestant because, “Once saved, always saved.” They teach that your faith in Jesus Christ will be the factor that carries you to salvation, not (all of) the sacraments. And of course, Mexico has such a great devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe and Dede believes that that has had an impact on helping the Mexican people stay true to their faith.

A listener named Peter called in to say that he believes people do not feel fulfilled by the Catholic faith because they’re seeking personal, transformative, supernatural experiences. Instead of adhering to the teachings of Jesus and finding fulfillment in their moral standards, they get caught up in their “feelings”. They want their faith to give them a feeling that resonates with their emotions. They want to physically feel like they’re being changed by God, and the Pentecostal and evangelical movements are giving them that. While they seek supernatural transformation, they get hooked on false, emotion-based spirituality. However, people don’t realize they’re missing real transformation in the Catholic Church. “I think a lot of Catholics are not even aware of the whole system of spiritual directors,” he said.

“They receive their sacraments, but they don’t know the deep spiritual riches. Maybe nobody’s ever taught them about this. They don’t know about spiritual direction. We have a whole program on Relevant Radio basically dedicated to this, The Inner Life with Josh Raymond. That’s why we have this program,” said Cale. To Peter’s point, people are seeking more out of their spiritual lives, and because they were never taught it within the context of Catholicism, they assume it doesn’t exist.

While people feel like they have an immediate connection to the people in their nearest Pentecostal or evangelical congregation, there is a misconception that the Church is disconnected. Our mission here at Relevant Radio is to bring Christ to the world through the media. Through radio shows, campaigns, podcasts, videos, and books, we are mainlining the word of God to all who are willing to hear it. Do not seek out dramatic transformation that is rooted in emotion and feel-good chemical reactions. Seek out a personal, real relationship with Christ so that your heart can be transformed.

Listen to all the callers and the whole segment below:

Why are Latin Americans leaving the Catholic Church?

Tune in to The Cale Clarke Show weekdays at 5pm CT

John Hanretty serves as a Digital Media Producer for Relevant Radio®. He is a graduate of the Gupta College of Business at the University of Dallas. Besides being passionate about writing, his hobbies include drawing and digital design. You can read more of his daily articles at relevantradio.com and on the Relevant Radio® app.