By Julian Rodriguez Marin
MEXICO CITY – More than 1,000 Mexicans left the Catholic Church every day over the last decade, adding up to some 4 million fallen-away Catholics between 2000 and 2010, sociologist and historian Roberto Blancarte told Efe.
Blancarte, one of the nation’s outstanding specialists on religious subjects, said that one of the main conclusions to be drawn from the 2010 census is that Mexico is no longer a predominantly Catholic country and has become a nation of religious pluralism.
According to figures from the census taken last year, out of a total 112 million Mexicans, 92.9 million are Catholics, 14.1 million belong to Protestant Christian denominations, and a lower number are devotees of Islam, Judaism and various oriental doctrines.
One of the principal novelties is that 5.2 million say they profess no religion – to the question about their religious beliefs, they answered “no religion.”
“It would be a mistake to think that these 5 million are atheists – all it means is that they profess no particular belief but they might well believe in some form of divinity,” Blancarte told Efe.
The specialist from Colegio de Mexico and the National Autonomous University of Mexico, or UNAM, said that the decline has been uninterrupted over the past 60 years.
In 1950, 98.21 percent of Mexicans said they were Catholic, in 1960 the percentage dropped to 96.47 percent, in 1970 to 96.17 percent, in 1980 to 92.62 percent, in 1990 the percentage dropped to 89.69 percent, in 2000 the country was only 88 percent Catholic, and now that percentage is lower still at 83.9 percent.
This signifies that the last decade has seen a drop of more than 4 percentage points, equivalent to almost 4 million people or an average of 1,300 people a day leaving the Catholic Church.
In contrast, the number of Protestants and Evangelicals went from 1.28 percent in 1950 to almost 8 percent of the total population in 2010, without counting Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormons.
Blancarte said that this change is not exclusive to Mexico but extends across the region. In Brazil, for example, surveys have found that Catholics make up less than 70 percent of the population.
In Central America, according to figures provided by the expert, Catholics represent between 55 percent and 73 percent of inhabitants, in both Chile and Venezuela they constitute about 70 percent, while in Cuba and Uruguay the percentage plummets to around 50 percent.
In the coming years, according to Blancarte’s projections, Mexico’s Catholics will tumble to below 80 percent.
Blancarte admits the difficulty of understanding why this massive exodus from Catholicism is taking place, since without serious studies into the real causes, “we’ll only be speculating,” and added that not all leave for the same reasons – some could be “fed up with religion in general, or offended by the priestly scandals. Everyone has his own reason.”
He recalled that the church itself has expressed concern about these prodigal sons, these members of the congregation who leave and never return.
Felipe Arizmendi, bishop of the Mexican municipality of San Cristobal de las Casas in the southern state of Chiapas, recalled several days ago a Church document that warned that among the causes of these losses is an “ecumenicalism” practiced in a mistaken manner, the adoption of fundamentalist creeds and priests’ failure to get their message across.
In other words, Blancarte said, “as long as the church continues with its boring liturgies, as long as its representatives remain unconnected to people’s needs and keep slamming the use of contraceptives and condoms and saying that sex education is bad, more and more people will leave.”
He added that the Catholic hierarchy is aware of all these problems but “does nothing to change them, they’re stagnant and bureaucratic.”
He said that the crisis in the church is obvious, and what is interesting is that not even the visits of Pope John Paul II to Latin America could halt the loss of believers, “so that Catholicism is destined to be abandoned.”