From The Economist:

A LINE of Bibles snaking out of the door of the Friends of Israel Biblical Baptist Tabernacle means the afternoon service is about to start. The church has been extended three times in ten years to seat over 10,000 people, but it is still so busy that the faithful use Bibles to hold their spots in the queue. Weekly attendance is now 80,000, which its officials say is the most in El Salvador.

The evangelical Protestantism preached within its walls (and on screens outside) has taken off in Central America. Estimates vary, but according to the State Department of the United States, barely 50% of Salvadorans now identify as Catholic, and in Honduras and Belize the share has dropped below half. Nicaragua is close behind. In Mexico, by comparison, 90% have kept the Catholic faith.

Some Central Americans switched during the civil wars of the 1980s, when Catholic priests began criticising their governments. To the authorities, “if you were a Catholic you were suspicious,” says Gregorio Rosa Chávez, the assistant bishop of San Salvador. After Archbishop Óscar Romero was murdered in 1980, many turned to Protestant churches.

More recently, the Catholic church’s conservatism has shrunk its flock. Edgar López Bertrand, the founder of the Friends of Israel, says he could not become a Catholic priest because his parents were divorced. Now, the crowd outside his church includes teenage couples and not a few miniskirts. (Should relationship problems arise, the church offers a book called “Help! I’m married”.) The gospel of prosperity, recklessly preached by some evangelical outfits, goes down well in poor countries: Costa Rica and Panama, twice as rich as their neighbours, remain strongly Catholic.

Read the full article here.

Comments

Jeffrey Connors | 2/9/2011 - 10:31am
This is just the kind of libertarian drivel to be expected from the Economist:

Some Central Americans switched during the civil wars of the 1980s, when Catholic priests began criticising their governments. To the authorities, “if you were a Catholic you were suspicious,” says Gregorio Rosa Chávez, the assistant bishop of San Salvador. After Archbishop Óscar Romero was murdered in 1980, many turned to Protestant churches.

Who turned?  The oligarchs sitting on top of that society who got Romero killed by branding him as a communist?  The members of Roberto D'Aubuisson's 'White Hand' death squads?  It would stand to reason, because General Rios Montt, who was murdering thousands in Guatemala at the same time, was a convert to evangelicalism too.

If Gregorio Rosa Chávez, who I presume worked for Opus Dei Archbishop Saenz Lacalle, the antithesis of Oscar Romero, considers the Catholicism of that period to have been ''suspicious,'' it's as unsurprising as it is depressing.  Romero's time, as challenging as it was, was also a time of great and hopeful faith.  Lacalle, by contrast, blithely watched San Salvador descend into nihilistic gang violence during his tenure,

If it was the poor who left Catholicism after Romero's death, it could only have been because the man they considered a saint was ignored and marginalized as being ''too political'' by the Vatican.
JIM MCCREA | 2/8/2011 - 5:59pm
" - the homosexual advocates) are the ones who are driving the conversation, painting Catholicism as a religion of bigotry and hatred."

Sorry, Michael - history has done a MUCH BETTER job of painting the RC church of what it has been and continues to be capable of than any "homosexual activists" could ever do.

What you sow, so shall you reap, y'all.
Anonymous | 2/8/2011 - 2:21pm
@Jim McC says:  "The evangelicals’ success is forcing the Catholic church to adapt. “We must ask ourselves why our people left, what we are doing wrong,” admits Monsignor Rosa Chávez."

Not sure where this notion of "success" being a function of membership comes from, but to hear a priest suggest that the Church must adapt in response to another religion's increasing membership is probably the silliest thing I've ever heard.  But, hey, if it's membership you want, free drinks has worked well in other venues.

Seriously, though, if the Church wants to boost membership (as a matter of evangelism as opposed to competing against other religions), She needs to market Her product better, not change it.  Right now, the only people being heard about the Church are the ones who are trying to destroy Her; Her detractors (most notably the homosexual advocates) are the ones who are driving the conversation, painting Catholicism as a religion of bigotry and hatred.  Evangelicals are all over TV, preaching about how God wants them to be rich.  Where are the Catholics?  If the Evangelicals are hawking worldy success, what is Catholicism selling? 

Adapting is the very reason that the Church has lost membership (as I've posted elsewhere); adapting shows a lack of leadership and conviction, the very things that people seek from religion.  When the shepherd consults with the sheep instead of leading them, there's always going to be straying sheep with plenty of wolves seeking to pounce upon them.


JOHN CREAMER JR MR | 2/8/2011 - 12:51pm
There must be better reportage on this issue somewhere.  I don't deny the overall point that people are becoming evangelicals, but much here makes no sense.  For example, what is meant by this sentence? 

"After Archbishop Óscar Romero was murdered in 1980, many turned to Protestant churches."

Is this just a chronological marker?  Is this supposed to express causation?  I have no idea.
Craig McKee | 2/7/2011 - 11:26pm
I just hope they do less long-term damage than the evangelical missionaries of Exodus International are doing in Uganda.
R.I.P. +David Koto
JIM MCCREA | 2/7/2011 - 6:57pm
"The evangelicals’ success is forcing the Catholic church to adapt. “We must ask ourselves why our people left, what we are doing wrong,” admits Monsignor Rosa Chávez."

Duhh - yeah!!!
John Donaghy | 2/7/2011 - 5:47pm
I am not so sure about the Honduras statistic, even though it comes from the US State Department. There are still statistics going around that 90% of Hondurans are still Catholic.

It also depends on what part of Honduras one investigates as well as who are considered Catholics - those who are baptized or only those baptized who still regularly attend.

The presence of US Protestant - mostly evangelical - mission trips is something to be watched and investigated. It is so prevalent that sme people are surprised to learn that there are Catholics in the US. The efforts of the church I worked with in Ames, Iowa, to establish a realtionship with a parish here is a way of trying to break this down.

Where will this lead?

A lot depends on the practice of the Catholic Church here. In the diocese of Santa Rosa de Copán, where I assist, there are more than 6,000 base communities, the only recognized mode of pastoral work in the diocese. Thoguh there are 1.1 million people in the diocese this is rather significant beause it means not only membership, but in many cases quite active relationship in the church. It must be noted that the diocese is proably more than 75% rural, where there is more active participation than in the few larger cities or towns.


Barry Hudock | 2/7/2011 - 1:49pm
So they left in the 80's because the Church was so liberal, and they're leaving now because the Church is so conservative.  We can't win!
Gabriel Marcella | 2/7/2011 - 1:35pm
A rather superficial piece by the usually competent Economist. Evangelicals are winning hearts in Latin America for a variety of reasons, among them: they project a sense of community and of uplifting people from the bootstraps, they provide a simple religion that focuses on God being able to materially help the destitute, and they provide a more emotional form of worship than Catholicism.
Anonymous | 2/7/2011 - 9:59am
"More recently, the Catholic church’s conservatism has shrunk its flock."

I hope the author realizes that he is simply highlighting articles to fit his particular narrative or bias (i.e. his view that traditional practices and the Church's unwillingness to change with the times are costing them in the numbers department). 

Why no stories on the Aggie Catholics of Texas A&M (College station has 5,000 college kids in church every weekend) and a very orthodox program. 
http://www.firstthings.com/onthesquare/2011/02/aggie-catholic-renaissance

Or why not a story about the Nashville Domincan Sisters and their rapid expansions in DC?  Or the other recent Economist piece highlighting the decline of Catholics in Europe - except the traditions strands and orders that are going back to their roots...

Of course, such successes do not fit the storyline and political narrative that the blog author is trying to construct so why should they be mentioned. 
Anonymous | 2/7/2011 - 9:55am
Why post this article without comment, Michael?  Ooooh, the Evangelicals are winning the competition for membership!  An appropriate posting, I guess, on a day in which many are feeling post-Super Bowl competition withdrawal, but wondering whether there was some deeper meaning that you wanted to share with us.