Catholic Church decline in Latin America: The Catholic Church has been a major part of Latin America culture for centuries, with a significant percentage of the global Catholic population residing in the region. However, the Church’s influence has been waning in recent decades due to a series of sex abuse scandals and subsequent cover-ups. The scandals have rocked the Church’s reputation, leading to a decline in the number of people identifying as Catholic in the region.
Let’s explore the decline of Catholicism and Catholic Church in Latin America.
The Catholic Church has been an important part of Latin American culture for centuries, with more than 40 percent of the global Catholic population residing in the region. However, the hold of the Vatican over the continent has been slowly and inexorably sliding over the past few decades. Until the 1960s, 90 percent of Latin Americans identified as Catholics. But by 2017, only 59 percent identified as such, and the trend is downwards.
In countries like Chile, trust in the Catholic Church has dropped dramatically, from 72 percent in 1995 to just 31 percent in 2020. According to Latinobarometro, Chile is one of the most agnostic countries in the world, with 35 percent of the population identifying as agnostic.
Moreover, now around 45 percent of the Chilean population identifies as Catholic, compared to 70 percent 15 years ago. Similar trends can be observed in Peru, Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, El Salvador, and Honduras, among other countries in the region.
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The dramatic decline has been driven, in part, by a series of sex abuse scandals that rocked the Catholic Church in Latin America and the subsequent cover-ups. These scandals and cover-ups have left the church battling for its reputation and increasingly facing a flock distrustful of its shepherds.
The first reported cases of sexual abuse by Catholic Church priests in Latin America date back to the 1960s, but it was only in the 1990s that the issue gained widespread attention in the media. The most notorious case was that of Father Marcial Maciel Degollado, the founder of the Legionaries of Christ, a powerful religious order that operated in more than 20 countries. Maciel was accused of sexually abusing children and young adults for decades, and although the Vatican knew about the allegations, he was not disciplined until 2006.
Another case that drew widespread attention was that of Father Fernando Karadima in Chile, who was found guilty by the Vatican in 2011 of sexually abusing minors. The case led to a wider investigation into the Catholic Church in Chile, which uncovered a systemic cover-up of sexual abuse by bishops and other church officials.
In Brazil, the most high-profile case involved Bishop Dom José Ronaldo Ribeiro of Janaúba, who was arrested in 2010 on charges of raping a 17-year-old boy. Ribeiro was subsequently defrocked by the Vatican, but the case damaged the reputation of the Catholic Church in Brazil. In the same year, a video allegedly showing a priest sexually abusing an altar boy was broadcast on television, leading to an investigation into three priests.
Furthermore, in 2018, a report was released documenting widespread sexual abuse within the Catholic Church in Chile, which resulted in the resignation of all 34 Chilean bishops.
El Salvador has also been affected by sex abuse scandals within the Catholic Church, with the Archdiocese of San Salvador dismissing the third-highest-ranking priest, Jesus Delgado, after an investigation revealed that he had molested a girl between the ages of 9 and 17. In 2016, a canonical court convicted Delgado and two other El Salvador priests of committing acts of sexual abuse between the years 1980 and 2000, resulting in their laicization from the priesthood.
The Catholic Church’s response to these sex abuse scandals has been criticized as inadequate and even complicit in covering up the abuses. Many survivors of sexual abuse have accused the Church of protecting abusers and prioritizing its reputation over the well-being of its followers.
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These scandals have eroded trust in the Catholic Church across Latin America, leading to a decline in the number of people identifying as Catholic and an increase in the number of people identifying as agnostic or part of other Christian denominations. The Catholic Church’s once-powerful influence over politics and society in Latin America has also been weakened as a result of these scandals.
Many survivors of sexual abuse remain skeptical of the Church’s ability to address the issue, and some have criticized the Church’s response as inadequate.
Therefore, these scandals have highlighted the Catholic Church’s failure to address sexual abuse within its ranks and its prioritization of its reputation over the well-being of its followers. While the Church has taken some steps to address the issue, it still has a long way to go in rebuilding trust with its followers and addressing the issue of sexual abuse.
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