Thursday, January 13, 2022


The Wall Street Journal has a lengthy article on how Brazil, once the most Catholic Country in the world with a huge, I mean, huge, Catholic majority, will very soon see Catholicism second to Evangelical Protestantism. 

One of my parishioners who alerted me to this article wrote me the following:

No mystery. No focus on salvation. NGO. 

You get this. 

I left Pentecostalism, but I get this. We must regain the simplicity of the saints. The liturgy must be a mystical encounter with God. Otherwise, this is on offer elsewhere. A sex working mother of 5 could care less about synodality. She needs salvation. 

You can read the Wall Street article by pressing the title:

Why the Catholic Church Is Losing Latin America

Conservative Pentecostals make huge inroads despite region’s first pope; Brazil is poised to become minority Catholic as soon as this year

Pentecostals make huge inroads despite region’s first pope; Brazil is poised to become minority Catholic as soon as this year!


Fr. Michael J. Kavanaugh said...


Said by a man who lives an extremely free (liberation) and materially comfortable (read: Not Poor) life. This is as "First World" a complaint as was ever written.

qwikness said...

Father Kavanaugh, I would be interested in your take on why the Catholic Church is falling second to the Pentecostals. I think a major reason is the ease in which Pentecostals create pastors compared to the difficulty in forming a Catholic Priest.

TJM said...

Father K,

Please transfer to South America. Put your money where your mouth is! You can live the lefty dream!

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

The article makes clear that there are a series of problems. Let's take secularism out of the equation. The Church's preferential option for the poor creating a Marist form of Liberation theology and a poor Church for poor people has been rejected by the very poor that were suppose to receive the benefits of this. These laity and some clergy have jumped on the Evangelical ship which is very well financed and rich and takes care of the poor not by becoming poor! They even have businesses that support ministries and can build $300 million temples!

It appears that the South American Church is the worst of both the pre-Vatican II clericalism of "priests not even having coffee with the laity" and post-Vatican II loss of Catholic identity, beauty in liturgy and proclaiming the need for salvation and that the Catholic Church is the true Church.

And Evangelicals do a great job in there Gospel of Prosperity and Pentecostalism whereas Catholic attempts at it built upon a loss of Catholic culture and sacred patrimony looks like play acting to so many true Pentecostals.

Fr. Michael J. Kavanaugh said...

qwik - It's a long, complicated story, as many are.

I think the seeds for the Church's decline were sown in the very cozy relationship that developed in many S American countries between the Church and the State, often times with an autocratic and oppressive leader. In many places the presidential palace is at one end of the main square and the cathedral/archbishop's palace was at the other. For generations the Church supported the rulers in order to maintain its own preferred status. When the campesinos sought their rights, too often the Church was late in acknowledging their plight and those who did suffered the wrath of the governments. Think of Saint Archbishop Oscar Romero who was assassinated for his defense and liberation of the poor.

Pentecostal sects began a very aggressive campaign for converts and recognized that, while Catholicism was "complex," the expression of faith they offered was simple, we might say simplistic. That's how what you say about pastors fits in. It is easy to be Pentecostal - no Holy Days, no ornate liturgical rituals, little or no hierarchy. A pastor in their thinking is the one who, with or, usually, without, and training or oversight, takes on a lead role in the community.

The decline in the number of missionaries the Catholic Church could send to Latin America left an open door for the Pentecostals. Catholics can't have a parish without a priest, and they were few and far between. We were VERY late in beginning to train lay catechists/leaders for those communities where the clergy could visit only a few times a year. Pentecostals can have a church wherever, it has been said, someone can set up a tent, throw some sawdust on the ground, and sing two verses of Amazing Grace.

The preferential option for the poor does not create a Marxist anything. Rather, it is a well-founded and very Traditional (note the capital "T") aspect of Catholic doctrine and praxis. "The Lord hears the cry of the poor." Too often, the Catholic Church, for a variety of reasons, did not. A Marxist milieu would NEVER have countenanced the notion or the practice of a "Prosperity Gospel." "Workers of the World, Unite" is, in many ways, a very Catholic notion. Think "solidarity." Think "Subsidiarity." Think "Universal Destination of Goods."

Poor people do not reject having the ability meet their basic human needs. Poor people do not reject having a say in the choices and decisions that impact their lives. Poor people want the same things we rich folks in the first world want - dignity, respect, and the proper distribution of resources.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

While FrMJK offers a good analysis, he doesn't always connect the proper dots. Liberation theology without Marxist ideology mixed into it is a good thing. Cardinal Mueller is an expert on the proper Liberation Theology which Pope Benedict touted as well. But when it became fueled by Marxism it created political animosity and with ruling class Catholics and the rich--that's happened in Eastern Europe and Russia and other places and we have seen the tragic results there where the Church is co-opted for political ideologies or suppressed. To say that Catholics, rich, poor and in between were aghast at priests and nuns promoting political Marxist ideologies is an understatement and drove many away from the True Church, rich, poor and in between into the hands of well financed Evangelical Protestants.

In addition, the horrible and ugly "spirit" of Vatican II dumbed down the Church's beautiful liturgy where churches there, like here, were wreckovated. That spirit also dumbed down the ordained priesthood as too clerical in favor of clericalizing some laity over others alienating not only priests who left in droves but no longer enticing young men to consider the sacrifice need to follow the call to the priesthood. Thus, there began to be these clericalized lay people running small group faith communities that paled in what Pentecostals could offer and on a grander and richer scale. Call it a complete loss of Catholic identity and beauty for a dumbed down non priesthood Church in the Catholic Church. Of course, the Protestants have done this for decades and know how to do it.

Then of course, this dumbed down Catholicism can't withstand the onslaught of zealous Protestants or zealous secularists as the pre-Vatican II Church was able to do with its beauty and clear identity, especially the identity of the hierarchy and missionaries who were in abundance.
It seems to me that Pope Francis prefers a church more like the Pentecostals which is non-clerical, although their lay leaders are quite clerical and he prefers the look of ugliness and poverty over the splendor of wealth that awaits us in the Kingdom!
Poor people want to be lifted out of their poverty not only materially but also spiritually and and they, like the rich, love beauty and a reminder of what heaven will be like.

Fr. Michael J. Kavanaugh said...

Fr. ALLAN McDonald - Too often you "connect the dots" based on your own assumptions and faulty reasoning, making connections where none exists.

For example, you cite "dumbed down Catholicism" as a cause of conversions to other faiths. Where was this, specifically? What forms did it take, specifically?

Also, you equate Pope Francis' preference for simplicity with ugliness. That's nothing but your own prejudice. A simple, minimally adorned chapel, such as Conyers, is, for many including myself, sublimely beautiful and uplifting. For many of us, simplicity inspires transcendence in a way that the baroque or rococo do not. That's simply a matter of preference.

The suggestion that heaven is like an ornate church is, again, simply your own prejudice and preference. "Eye has not seen."

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

Let me just add that when I was at St. Joseph, a quite beautiful church and ornate as well and built by poor Maconites of another era who sacrificed greatly to build a building that showed forth in a splendid way the Church Triumphant of Heaven at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and in bricks, mortar and art, I had a street woman come into the church which is open daily for prayer and anyone who desires to enter, come up to me and say in the most beautiful way possible, "whoever built this church really loved the Lord!" At least while she was there, she was lifted out of the misery of her poverty and enjoyed a vision of heaven!

Fr. Michael J. Kavanaugh said...

“When faith is completely replaced by creed, worship by discipline, love by habit; when the crisis of today is ignored because of the splendor of the past; when faith becomes an heirloom rather than a living fountain; when religion speaks only in the name of authority rather than with the voice of compassion — its message becomes meaningless.”
~ Abraham Joshua Heschel, Polish-American rabbi
b. 1907-1972

Jerome Merwick said...

"When faith is completely replaced by creed..."
A faith without a creed has little substance.
"...worship by discipline..."
I think we would all agree that worship cannot just be a free-form, free-for-all. After all the Mass WAS instituted by Jesus Christ Himself.
" by habit..."
Love isn't always an emotional outpouring. Sometimes it comes right down to just pure commitment and commitment isn't always warm and fuzzy. But it IS reliable.
"...crisis of today ignored because of the splendor of the past..."
Our past is only splendorous because it survived crises and is the result of surviving those crises.
"...when faith becomes heirloom rather than a living fountain..."
Faith HAS to be passed down from generation to generation or it disappears, but it must also be alive for those who pass it on and for those who receive and carry it.
"...When religion speaks in the name of authority rather than with the voice of compassion..."
Authority exists to protect us. The authority of God IS a reflection of his compassion. Compassionless authority only destroys because the authority only exists for its own sake. A certain recent Motu Proprio comes to mind, but I digress.

Mr. Heschel's sentiments are valid. But they are also a bit too idealistic to line up with reality. The Church exists in an eschatological tension and it thrives in a balance that respects that tension. That balance seems pretty absent from the Postconciliar Church. But I'm just a stupid layperson.

Fr. Michael J. Kavanaugh said...

Jerome - the word you seem to have overlooked is "completely" which, though not stated, is implied in Heschel's remarks.

1. "COMPLETELY replaced" - Heschel is not suggesting there be no beliefs (creed)

2. "worship by discipline" - Heschel is not suggesting a "free for all"

3. "love by habit" - Heschel is not suggesting that all love is emotional

Faith is not an heirloom to be put under glass and admired from a safe distance, and churches are not museums with ropes that keep us at a safe distance from that which cannot be touched. As Jaroslav Pelikan stated it, "Tradition is the living faith of the dead. Traditionalism is the dead faith of the living."

Jerome Merwick said...

Gotta hand it to you, Fr. Kavanaugh, you've got lots of snappy quotes to put us all in our place!

Fr. Michael J. Kavanaugh said...

Jerome, you betcha. You see, that's what a good education, which you disdain, will do for you. You ought to try it one day.