The De-Christianization of Latin Americans: Some Causes and Solutions

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By Rafael Martinez

There are a wide variety of factors which contribute to individuals and, by extension, to a population losing its Catholic Faith. Common motives for disassociating from the Catholic Faith are commonly related to the explicit rejection of some aspect of Church teaching and, more commonly, simply drifting away from the faith. Hispanic Catholics, particularly the younger ones, have been leaving the Church in droves in the United States for similar reasons, but it is not difficult to see how the cultural situation in Latin America itself has facilitated the apostasy of Hispanics once they reach the shores of the United States. I do not state this to shift blame but merely to analyze some of the contributing factors contributing to the wholesale abandonment of the faith by Hispanic Catholics both in the United States and Latin America. Even though the causes of Latin American apostates is similar to those of Catholics everywhere, there are some factors present both here and Latin America which merit some particular attention. Some possible solutions I posit are by no means limited to Latin Americans, but could apply to all Catholics surrounded by our increasingly pagan culture.

Among Latin American Catholics, inadequate catechesis and formation often proves to be a major contributing factor, especially with the accelerating shift of global culture away from Catholic faith and morals. As with Catholics both in Europe and the rest of the developed world, some major cultural issues have not and are not taught about sufficiently. When issues such as contraception, abortion, same sex “marriage”, and the advance of Protestantism are not addressed at the appropriate time, it is very easy for adolescents to become both ignorant and indifferent about why the Church teaches what it does about these topics. The internationalization of culture via the internet has in a certain sense caught many shepherds of the Lord’s flock by surprise in many parts of the developing world. In the past, promoters of secularist ideologies might have needed to be in the same classroom to reach students. Now, anyone who has a smartphone can have an endless stream of secular content streamed to them at any time, and often parents in Latin America do not know about the increasingly secularist bent present in the content their children access. Entertainment, which before might have been totally innocuous, now often promotes anti-Catholic ideologies. Many parents have either themselves accepted the premises taught in these programs or are unaware of how the faith of their children is being damaged by viewing such entertainment. Especially given the rapid change happening within the culture of Latin America, many parents do not recognize the degree to which the culture is turning against Catholic faith and morals. 

The damage caused to the Catholic faith of many families is also amplified by the lack of resources for Catholics to inform themselves. There is a lack of resources geared towards Latin Americans compared to what is available in the Anglosphere. There are no Spanish speaking apostolates which can adequately compare with institutions like Catholic Answers, Formed, and the St. Paul Center. This is not to deny that there are apostolates which do excellent work with the people they manage to reach, but they have no where near the level of funding or manpower needed to reach the millions who are beginning to imbibe the variety of errors, both ancient and modern, which are being propagated through entertainment and the media. While many Latin American dioceses are starting to realize the massive impact the internet is having on their flocks, there is a lack of resources being directed towards online evangelization. 

The proliferation of error combined with a catechetical vacuum many Catholics do not even realize exists already prepares the ground in Latin America for a lukewarm populace which can more easily lose its faith once it arrives and assimilates into the increasingly pagan culture. There are many readily available resources in the United States, but are those resources possibly a step too late for many Catholics who uproot themselves seeking greater economic opportunity? 

Besides the widespread lack of catechesis, there is also the institutional issue of Catholic schools for Catholics who immigrate to the United States. A typical Catholic school often proves to be too expensive for immigrants coming to the United States, and even when costs can be significantly defrayed using scholarships, Catholic schools are just not on the radar for many sincerely Catholic immigrants because of the mere appearance of being expensive. If we look back at the history of Catholics in the United States, we see the crucial role played by Catholic schools in maintaining the faith of families while being surrounded by a majority non-Catholic population. Public schools often taught some version of Protestantism, necessitating Catholics construct and maintain their own schools to protect the faith of their children. The Third Plenary Council of Baltimore even stated in 1884: “Parents must send their children to such schools unless the bishop should judge the reason for sending them elsewhere to be sufficient. Ways and means are also considered for making the parochial schools more efficient. It is desirable that these schools be free. Every effort must be made to have suitable schools of higher education for Catholic youth.” Evidently, the requirement that Catholics only send their children to Catholic schools was relaxed once public schools ceased having the ability to teach any sort of religious doctrine. However, now it seems that in many public schools secularism and anti-Christianism are the new doctrines. They are taught in a way many claim is neutral education, and I would in fact claim there is no such thing as neutral education. An education which has integrally purged God from having any involvement in history and essentially excludes God from having any role in the lives of students is essentially teaching a type of deism or agnosticism. In any school, students are formed not only by the academic requirements, but by the cultural atmosphere embodied by teachers and other students. It is seldom easy for parents to compete with hours of daily education in the surrounding pagan culture merely by bringing students to a weekly catechism class. This is not to say it is impossible to raise Catholic children in public schools, but it requires a tact and level of dedication unfortunately not present in many Catholic families who are unaware or unprepared to deal with the ongoing cultural war. Even if a family is aware, parents must constantly compete with the ideologies inculcated into their children by classmates and probably by teachers. Catholic schools should not replace the role of parents in passing on the faith, but should at least supply a very good supplement to nurture what is provided by parents. When a young student realizes God is not even important enough to be spoken of openly in school (at least in a non-derisive way) it does not take too much of a leap in logic for many students to conclude God is not even important enough to be in their own lives either. Even if teachers avoid promoting anti-Christian ideologies, peer pressure can strongly encourage students to act against their faith and to accept what is culturally in vogue. The situation of Catholic students now may be analogous to the situation for which the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore bound Catholics to only send their children to Catholic schools. Sending children to Catholic schools is entirely incumbent upon having quality Catholic schools in the first place. The quality of Catholic schools is an entirely different question and is beyond the scope of this essay. The establishment and maintenance of good Catholic schools can, and I believe will play a crucial part in providing Catholic immigrants, and by extension, Catholics in general, a good environment in which their families can settle and keep the faith in the midst of a pagan culture.

To some, a greater focus on Catholic schools can seem like a waste of time or resources. Why not prioritize the popularization of homeschooling among Catholics? How about augmenting the outreach of different apostolates or ministries? Homeschooling is an admirable way for families to educate their children, but the fact remains it requires considerable effort and sacrifice. No sacrifice is too much to give our children the best formation possible, but the fact remains many families simply cannot afford to homeschool because of their particular circumstances. Especially in a future in which Catholic families open to life will have many children, plans ought to be made on an institutional level for how these families will continue to pass on the faith if their circumstances make homeschooling exceedingly difficult. The number of Catholic families who might not be able to homeschool in the future may not be negligible. These families are and will be obligated to send their children to public schools: environments devoid of Catholic faith and morals. Will sending our children to environments where the faith is not only lacking, but is often ridiculed, be conducive to their formation in the faith?    

Having cheap and easily accessible Catholic schools of quality will require a large amount of contributions by the laity toward establishment and maintenance. Many Catholics are notorious for giving little to the collection. While some protestant congregations gather handsome sums of money for their own ministries, many Catholic parishes feel obligated to ask for a stipend of possibly more than $100 for baptisms and confirmations to make ends meet in the parish. In some parishes the Mass collection is simply not enough to make ends meet. When the parish itself can barely survive, what thought can there be of a free Catholic school? An expansion of access to Catholics schools will require an increase in tithing and in financial organization. The mismanagement of money by some of the hierarchy notwithstanding, Catholics need to financially band together if Catholic schools are to become the default mode of education for Catholic families throughout the United States. To avoid the pitfalls of Catholic education in the last century, the intense involvement of families would also be needed to make sure the  faith is taught in all its fullness, and to assure a school culture permeated with the faith is maintained. This sort of cooperation among Catholics will not only help those born here in the United States, but will provide a ready environment in which immigrants can integrate the Catholic faith they bring with the already present faithful, instead of assimilating into the pagan culture. 

A lack of awareness among Catholic families, a lack of resources, and a lack of good Catholic schools are only parts of the larger problem contributing to the dechristianization of millions of both within and outside of the Latin American context. May the Holy Spirit enlighten us in our continuing battle “against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness.” 

2 Responses

  1. On my blog, you will find translations of homilies and interviews with Bishop Silvio José Báez, O.C.D., who is the Auxiliary Bishop of Managua. I have been closely following the Church in Nicaragua and assisting the bishop for three years. Perhaps you might want to define “Latin America” before accusing all of la gente of abandoning the Catholic faith wholesale. In Nicaragua, with the exception of those minority Sandinista Youth who have been brainwashed from the cradle into embracing the FSLN party line with its anti-Church rhetoric and violence, Catholic youth and young adults have been the heartbeat of the Church in Nicaragua and have paid a high price for their faith and commitment to justice and liberty since at least 2013, and most certainly since the civic unrest and dictatorial repression of 2018 to present. Search for images of monaguillo Dolmus Sandor and you’ll see what I mean. I also see evidence on the local level of outreach and resources for youth and young adults through the numerous youth movements sponsored not only by religious orders but also – at least in Nicaragua – the well-organized Pastoral Juvenil outreach. And for the few Nicaraguans who I have assisted with asylum cases, the Church has been their refuge and strength upon release from ICE detention. So in my experience, not all of “Latin America” is lacking in catechesis nor are the people abandoning their faith.

    1. Thank you for your input. Not negating there are good efforts being made in different countries. I know people in Mexico and Colombia who are part of excellent apostolates. Since we’re talking about a continent and then some, there can be significant variation in the ecclesiastical situation. The situation in Nicaragua is different than the situation in Mexico,
      than the situation in Brazil (which I would think still counts as Latam, since the country proceeds from an Iberian Latin Country). I think I should have been more specific in my emphasis since I was concentrating on the aspect of emigrants to the U.S and their assimilation. Talking in detail about the current situation just in Latam would need to be another article so as to avoid some generalisations. It is complex, and there is a trend towards greater secularization, which I personally think will more rapidly speed up as the secular culture really settles in, similar to the rapid popular secularization and indifferentism which occurred in Europe in the 20th century. As seen in PewResearch studies among others, many if not a majority of Hispanics are not exactly coming equipped catechetically from their home countries so that theyre prepared to retain their Catholic faith once their surroundings are no longer culturally Catholic. This is obviously not the only factor, but it certainly is notable.

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