Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Catholic Church in Guatemala reeling from Evangelical conversions
Guatemala City, Guatemala, Jun 23, 2009 / 12:35 am (CNA).-

A recent report from a Catholic charity indicates that the Catholic Church in Guatemala is being seriously threatened by the growth of Evangelical sects that try to win converts with offers of money and other goods.

Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), a Catholic Charity that works with oppressed and suffering Christians throughout the world, found that half of the people of Guatemala are now Evangelical, and new churches are appearing rapidly.

ACN issued the report after a 17-day trip that included 10 of the country’s 14 dioceses. The report describes how the new Evangelical churches far outnumber Catholic churches.

One example reported by a recent fact-finding trip was a 30-mile-drive through the northern part of the country, which yielded 10 Evangelical chapels or churches and only four Catholic ones.

According to the report, some radical leaders in the country have been bribing the poor to attend their church services, offering food, medicine and jobs. In addition, some Evangelical leaders are targeting the Catholic Church to recruit new members, attacking important Catholic teachings and exaggerating clergy scandals.

The report suggests that this type of recruiting occurs especially in poor areas after natural disasters or during other times in which the people are most affected by poverty and economic need. “It seems that what attracts people to sects is not so much a matter of faith but a matter of economics. It is the promise of getting rich quick,” says the document.

Now, concerns are growing that the Catholic Church in Guatemala may disappear into obscurity, unless efforts are made to prevent the massive numbers of converts to other Christian denominations.

ACN Latin America projects coordinator Xavier Legorreta said that although Guatemala has had strong Evangelical communities for years, the rate of their growth is surprising. “We were shocked by the sheer number of new Evangelical churches that we saw during the trip – they seemed to have mushroomed all over the place,” he said.

The ACN report goes on to talk about the major publicity campaigns being run by the Evangelicals, noting that the sects often receive strong financial backing from wealthy organizations in the United States. With posters and signs across the region, Legorreta believes the Evangelical leaders are getting their message through to the people.

“Everywhere, Evangelical Christianity is being promoted – on television, radio, billboards – even on the front of pharmacies in the main streets,” he said.

In response to the discoveries outlined by the report, ACN is working with the Guatemalan bishops on a plan to print and distribute more Catholic Bibles throughout the country. Legorreta reports that the local bishops are aware of the problem in their country and say they are “ready and waiting to help.”

Recognizing the importance of teaching the Catholic faith clearly, he added, “Bible formation is absolutely key to this – not only in Guatemala but all over the continent.”


Of a number of things that surprise me about this exodus of Guatemalan Catholics to Evangelical sects, the first is the similarity in recruiting strategy used by Catholic missionaries. They too used medicine, food, and occupational education to entice their original indigenous converts. This may be a case of Evangelicals taking up where the Catholic Church dropped the ball. I fail to see how providing Catholic bibles is going to change this trend.

I realize this is a Catholic News Agency article, but I would have liked a lot more information concerning the Church's failures which are fueling this exodus. It can't be just a matter of Evangelical media advertising, and wealthy American backers. That's too facile. I suspect it has a whole lot more to do with Evangelicals practicing a form of home grown ministry with a great deal of community support in a smaller church setting. These are very similar to Catholic base communities, but with one glaring difference. Evangelicals promise heaven on the basis of being saved in Jesus, and Catholicism makes that 'saving' a whole lot more complicated. When one adds the Pentecostals and their spirit driven faith to the Evangelical notions of one shot salvation, Catholicism faces a formidable challenge. This is especially true amongst indigenous poor, whose physical and emotional survival is rooted in their communities. The priest shortage is making it virtually impossible for Catholicism to match this kind of community involvement.

Other authors who are familiar with this situation think the fact the Church has turned in a very conservative direction is adding fuel to the fire. The Church is viewed as having turned it's back on social justice issues, concentrating on quashing liberation theology as more important. This is not to say that liberation theology held the answers. It primarily focused on attacking social structures, rather than transforming them from with in. Pentecostals especially, are all about transforming selves and communities from with in. Whether they have any success is yet to be seen, but there is no question their message is being heard, and in some quarters is perceived to be a threat. It's hard to sell things to people who don't care if they have them. Evangelicals on the other hand do seem to be stressing a Western form of consumerism as indicative of God's favor. Subsequently they seem to be making more inroads into the middle and upper classes.

While we in the North continue to quibble over abortion and gay marriage because we have that luxury, the Church faces it's biggest challenge in Central and South America. It may be that seriously addressing these Southern issues will precipitate the change that the North has been unable to achieve. Maintaining the status quo will also maintain the exodus to Evangelical and Pentecostal sects. So far the Vatican has done little to address the problem. That may change as more and more Latin American bishops watch their flocks dwindle to half of what they once were. I seriously doubt they really think Catholic bibles are the answer. I suspect they are 'ready and willing to help' but they haven't been given the green light they need. They may find out they need to get going anyway or there won't be much left to get going for.

In a side note, I see where Fr. Jenkins has announced that Notre Dame's 1.5 billion dollar capital campaign has reached it's goal two years early. So much for the Cardinal Newman Society's campaign to seriously impact their funding. Needless to say CNA has not reported on this Catholic story.


  1. I'm not surprised. You can see some of the same in Latino communities in the U.S.

    The Catholic Church has to re-think priesthood and ministry. It's no longer the Middle Ages where a priest was a central authority figure in a community. These days, he's not even the most highly educated person in a community.

    The decision to quash liberation theology destroyed a real opportunity. While the first developments of liberation theology depended heavily on Marxism as a source, later aspects began to be much more dependent on tradition, especially that of the patristic era. But its unrelenting criticism of the extreme inequality prevalent in Latin America was too disturbing to the hiearchy that originates from the privileged and wealthy class.

    Unless the Vatican wakes up from its dream of restoring things to the "good old days", it will find itself a museum piece.

  2. The Catholic church has always labored under the misconception that baptism makes one, ipso facto, a Catholic. Wrong! Most of the people who are leaving the church in Latin America in droves were, at best, semi-pious, semi-superstitious religious illiterates who had been abandoned by the church by virtue of too few priests, identification by the priesthood with upper classes, etc. Well, guess what? Evangelicals knew how to deal with that: smaller churches, many of them, limited requirements for a woman or man to become a minister/pastor, heavy involvement of women in the leadership of these churches, extreme pressure on men to give up their drinking and spousal abuse, and on and on.

    The Catholic church didn’t and still doesn’t have a clue on how to compete against this. They periodically meet as a group of bishops, wring their hands about the “sects” and “cults”, appoint yet another steady committee, and then go back to their sheltered, upper middle class lifestyles, totally oblivious to how inept they have been and continue to be.

    Catholics aren’t leaving. The unconverted have become Christians and have moved from ignorance and superstition into a new life of experiencing Christ ---- whether Catholics like the Evangelical theology and polity or not. If this keeps up, Catholic churches throughout Latin American will become dusty relics of a time that never really was.

    Jim McCrea

  3. That should have been "study" committee, not "steady" committee.


  4. I like your last sentence Jim--I was going to call you bubbles--because there is real truth in it. That's always been the problem with the missionary presence in any Indignenous community. They got the baptism part down by hook or crook and then in all too many cases couldn't maintain the follow through and generational continuity.

    There's no question the Evangelicals have learned from what was and are now producing what could be. They still have to get through the generational continuity thing, but their definition for what constitutes leadership would seem to make this much more probable. As does their insistence on a different and less abusive form of machismo.

    Anonymous, I fully agree liberation theology evolved and that even in it's evolved state it was still too much of a threat to the priveleged and wealthy class. In a real sense it was as anti Colonial European as it was pro marxist.

    This is probably another subtle reason American style Evangelicals appeal to the poor. They aren't about European colonialism. While the movers and shakers may be about American religious colonialism, on the ground they must be doing a good job of bringing a valid experience of Christ. Catholicism is not going to be able to compete when an ordained priest is promulgated as a valid experience of Christ and priests are few and far between and too many of them are known to be valid experiences of anything but Christ.

  5. This phenomena is not new & is growing. What I have to say will seem bizarre & 'may not compute:, but....

    You need to see the hand of Opus Dei in this. They have murdered, oppressed & assassinated their way to control over most of Central & South America. Overtly & covertly, with lots of help from their good friend in El Norte.

    Specifically in the School of the Americas....hint, hint.....wink, wink.....

    Yes, the regular Catholic Church IS perceived by even the most pious peasant as being related to the oppressive Colonialism. True.

    But if you have paid attention to the Eternal Word Brainwashing Network, you will know it is under Opus control. None too subtly, I might add.

    At the same time, you will observe that a strange brew of Right wing & what could seem to be Left/Centrist is presented on EWTN.

    Clue: they are working together. These are ppl long practiced in the art of infiltration. Of playing one group against the other. Or of controlling elements of both sides, in an ongoing Dialectic.

    ...or Strategy of Tension.

    My suggestion is this: Do not assume that all is as it seems. What is Evangelical in appearance may not be for real. Front organizations. Some are real, some may not be. The principles of the double-agent + the useful idiot are at work here.

    If you cannot see this, then look at the true origins of the Pro-Life movement....and the Evangelical/Charismatic movements. There are cogent links here to persons who are flipping sides back & forth - from Catholic to Protestant & back. Great connectivity & cooperation.

    Randall Terry, Fr. Benedict Groeschel, Ralph Martin...and many others.

    Opus Dei is about control - not about God. Escriva had the characteristics of the possessed - not of the true saints.

    When you create cults for a living, you also know how to make generic ones. Ones which are not what they may appear to be.....

  6. Anonymous, I've been kind of beating around the bush regarding these connections the entire time I've been blogging.

    Two groups that really point to your theory are the Institute for Religion and Democracy and Operation Rescue. The connections between Evangelicals and conservative Roman Catholics is endless and tangled with loops and loops of the same interests showing up in different guises.

    The other trend is the sudden appearance of Catholic lay apostalates with connections to the original one--Opus Dei. All of these apostolates have their origins in Spain or Brazil. While the Vatican has sanctioned Miles Jesu and the Legionaires, it just approved two offshoots of the Heralds of the Gospel. All of these are cults of personality whose chrarisms do not appreciabely differ.

    And then of course there is the Vatican Bank whose business entanglelments are known only to Benedict, Opus Dei, and heavily invested in by Tom Monaghan's Legatus group of wealthy Catholic businessmen. Oh yea, and the mafia and most likely Latin American drug cartels. It is for sure an ugly stew.

  7. Thank you for your agreement & basic affirmation of what I was pointing to.

    In re Legatus, Have you read this?...


    The assertion does not surprise me, nor do the Opusan connectivity. But the precise dates are frightening. Similar big $$ back the LC/Regnum Christi & other like groups.

    Sorry for the change of topic, but I felt I had to mention this.

  8. Annonymous, I had already read the reinhardt material. I somehow found myself googling around one day and low and behold ran into the original Yahoo conversation.

    Amazing how he got the date of this past September's crash. Surely does make one wonder.