Latin America

There are millions of Catholics in Latin America leaving the Catholic Church for some form of Protestant church. Further, many millions of “Catholics” are merely nominal Catholics, as indicated by their failure to attend Sunday Mass regularly. In Brazil, for example, more Protestants attend church services on Sunday than Catholics, allthough Catholics theoretically outnumber Protestants by about 3 to 1.

So what are we to make of this? In particular, when these evidences are pointed out by Bible Christians as indicative of the failure of the Catholic Church, and its essential irrelevance, how does one respond to such a charge?

Its a combination of modernism where media and schools present the idea that “religion is outdated” this is CLOSELY combined with protestants presenting them with a more appealing yet very watered down gospel.

This is one of my big problems too.

Here in Canada the United Church, a liberal protestant denom., is very popular. My sister has been sending me information from them, and I think they have some good answers- some are better than Catholics can give.

The trend throughout Christiandom seems to be Catholic->Protestant->unchurched. I really don’t see the value in changing the gospel to suit the people when it should be the other way around. I have been to Protestant services that were more like a game show than anything even close to a religious service with a generous dose of “health and wealth.”

Is it a watered-down gospel, do you think? Or is it more a matter of poor catechesis of born Catholics, such that, when they first really encounter the gospel presented with force and conviction, it’s from the hands of Protestant missionaries?

And how exactly is the gospel “more appealing” coming from Protestant missionaries?

Do Protestant missionaries focus on a “health and wealth” type gospel?

Because in the US, I don’t think that’s a particularly big factor with respect to Catholics leaving the Church, but there may be a different dynamic in place in Latin America.

I’m very curious – what is really going on down there?

Ok, I’m going to try and address this briefly since this is one of my actual areas of expertise. I’m a Latin American historian by profession. The issue is complex and it’s happening for a variety of reasons, but one that’s been overlooked is POVERTY. Now, this may seem strange, since the Catholic Church is generally good at addressing this issue through charity, but here’s what happens. A missionary church will come into a region as a charitable organization. "Hey! We’re here to bring electricity to your village! How about clean water? These missionary churches will focus on a particular area and greatly improve the quality of life in that region. These are areas usually that for one reason or another have failed to receive much in the way of Catholic charity assistance. Sometimes it’s due to war, sometimes politics, and sometimes, it’s just off the beaten path. But, they move in and actually do some legitimate good. They see the group actually helping their community, and many “convert”. Others in the region will then approach them, saying they’d like to convert too, if it means that they’ll get some of those great improvements for their communities too. Some of these conversions will be genuine, but in many cases, people who are nominal Catholics already will convert simply to win improvements. A few even revert back when they leave.

It is for this reason that the Maryknoll Catholic Missionaries have become a major presence in Latin America. They typically work in areas where there are few Catholics, esp. Asia, but in Latin America, their goal is RE-conversion. Often, they use the same techniques. They’ll go back into the same town that was improved, improve it more, and demonstrate the doctrinal errors in various public and private forums. Some people realize they were foolish to convert and revert back, sometimes more dedicated to the faith. In some very sad cases, however, there becomes a “charity” war, and the two groups keep battling it out over the same community.

In Guatemala, politics plays a very specific role in why people were converting. The elites (often corrupt) tend to go overseas to be educated and are often Protestant. The poor are Catholic. The split in Guatemala right now is something like 50/50 Catholic/Protestant, and it’s pretty politically charged with lots of violence.

In Mexico, the issue was land reform in the early 1900s. Due to the policy of mortmain (literally, “dead hand”), the Catholic Church was allowed to keep any land willed to it in perpetuity. In the 100 years since Mexico had earned its independence, that resulted in huge tracts of (often unutilized) land being possessed by the Church. Importantly, many rich Mexicans, in league with American foreign investors, owned huge tracts of land too. For example, the Terrazas-Creel family in northern Mexico once owned a ranch larger than the state of Connecticut! When they Mexican Revolution occurred, any large landholder was severly persecuted, and this included the Church, which was seen to have too much power. The resulting government was highly anticlerical, even going to the extent of arresting a priest for wearing clerical garb outside of a church.

I could go on, and on, and on. Suffice it to say that the issue is amazingly complex, and different for almost every country.

Only the Catholic Church preaches the pure and undefiled Gospel, anything comming from protestants is watered down by definition, often very watered down. What you take as “a gospel presented with force and conviction” is what I consider as an effective sales pitch independent of the quality of the gospel. In otherwords big smiles, nice clothes, tear jerk testimonies, thundering voice quoting Scripture, etc can produce much “force and conviction” but that says nothing of the orthodoxy of their gospel.

And how exactly is the gospel “more appealing” coming from Protestant missionaries?

Its more appealing because Catholcism demands so much while teachings like “faith alone” and “just me and my Bible” sound easy and harmless. There are plenty of zingers protestants can say that can leave the uneducated Catholic to doubt the Church. Over time it wears them down and they settle for less.

Do Protestant missionaries focus on a “health and wealth” type gospel?

Some do some dont.

Because in the US, I don’t think that’s a particularly big factor with respect to Catholics leaving the Church, but there may be a different dynamic in place in Latin America.

There are protestants who do go down there with “financial aid” which is part of their bait.

I’m very curious – what is really going on down there?

They are being flooded by every type of protetant and cult that we have here. The scary fact is jw and lds “churches” are springing up all around down there and it was all facilitated by protestant forerunners starting confusion and setting up shop.

  1. Got a verifiable source for these asserted stats?

How do I think we should respond?

  1. Get off our backsides and be apologetics missionaries to these countries.

  2. Get off our backsides and be evangelistic missionaries everywhere.

  3. Watch as the numbers swing back and the “Christianity Lite” that is being propagated comes apart at its seams.

Pax Domini sit semper vobiscum,

Isn’t this problem also what is happening to the Latin community in the United States? Some dioceses have excellent Hispanic Ministries and Outreach programs, many do not and are trying to catch up. I know that in the Chicago Archdiocese, for example, there are only 4 Spanish speaking DREs. Definitely not enough for the percentage of Hispanics in the parishes. So, Spanish speaking laity who are not trained and degreed in the study of Theology end up being DREs for the parishes.

I have been to Guatemala many times over the last 15 years. I do not see the formula rich =protestant, poor = Catholic, at all. The violence, also does not appear to be a Catholic vs. Protestant issue, rather it is an issue of the civil war being “officially” over, and many people who made a living on the civil war (esp. military) creating new industries- like kidnapping and robbery. It is a very very sad situation.

What about the role of masonry (esp. in Mexico)?

Mark Wyatt

True enough, but the seeds for Protestantism were planted in the early 80s, in the early days of that civil war. Now, there is great distrust on both sides. Perhaps a better word would be elites in power = Protestant. They then used that influence, along with tons of money from US Evangelicals and the US government to address poverty issues, which in turn converted many poor people. (Many of these evangelical elites were staunchly anti-communist as well.) You are absolutely correct, however, that kidnapping and robbery are a horrific problem right now in Guatemala (as it is in Mexico City)

Here’s a link to an article that, although mildly biased from the Protestant perspective, does well illustrate many of the complex issues in Guatemala.

I’d put masonry far, far down the list of problems for Catholicism in 20th century Mexico. Sure, it was a problem, but not anything like more major issues, such as the call for land reform, philosophies of the revolution that emphasized modernism and secularization of government (Mexico had no separation of Church and State until the 1920s), certain priests and bishops that seemed too cozy with the dictatorial regime of Porfirio Diaz, socialism, extreme rural poverty that had not been addressed by the church, especially among native Americans, a burgeoning indigenista movement that favored a return to native traditions, and the fears of a mainly Protestant US that was rapidly losing its influence in Mexico after the highly pro-American Diaz was deposed.

Thanks for all the replies, Rolltide in particular.

A further question.

How much truth is there to the claim - often advanced by Bible Christians - that in Latin America Catholic Marian veneration often crosses the line into “Mariolatry,” i.e., quasi-pagan practices?

I have heard this from Bible Christians who have travelled, for example, in Bolivia.

And what of the Protestant side? I have heard anecdotal reports that they, too, engage in somewhat superstitious practices.

Poor catechisis, lack of resources, consequence of “liberation theology” of the 70’s and very agressive anti-Catholic prostelization which injects an atmosphere of doubt and “do-it-yourself” Christianity thus undermining the base of moral and theological norms of Jesus Christ established by His Church.

Unfortunatly, many so called Catholic “missionaries” promoting their socialist political agenda over the faitha nd moral teachings of the Church have done much harm to the Faith. When people are not getting fed spititually from the Church, they go to where they can be fed, which is the protestant evangelicals sometimes. They see the evangelicals actually trying to live moral lives and follow Jesus.

The Catholics often times are a bit more “festive” (i.e. partiers) and hipocritical in their behavior. I personally know more than 1 American missionary priest who when in S. America “discovered” that they suffered from alcoholism, not the best evangelization method, to put it lightly. IMHO.

I lived in Bolivia for 4 months while doing outreach and learning Spanish. It is a VERY indigenous country in which much of the Christianity is mixed with pagan rituals from their indian religions. Add this to their poverty and lack of education and it makes sense why they may get confused and in some sense “worship” Mary by mistake.

Thanks for the feedback, Esclavo.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit