BUENOS AIRES (ChurchMilitant.com) - For the first time in 18 years, the Catholic Church has dropped out of Argentina's top 100 most influential institutions. In a well-known poll conducted every year in Argentina by Giacobbe and Associates, the Catholic Church didn't make the cut, although Pope Francis was rated the fourth most influential and Jesus Christ the 99th most influential.
Even with the ascension of Cdl. Jorge Bergoglio to the papacy, the Catholic Church's influence in Argentina has been dwindling in recent years. Between 1970 and 2014, the percentage of Argentinians who identify as Catholic fell from 91 percent to 71 percent of the population.
In 2010, only 33 percent of Catholics in Argentina described their faith as being important to their lives, with only 19 percent still regularly attending Mass.
The two main factors in the decline of Catholicism in Argentina have been a growing secularism and a rise in evangelical Protestantism. In particular, Pentecostalism has been rapidly growing in Argentina, drawing away large numbers of Catholics.
Cristofer Pereyra, head of the Hispanic Mission Office in Phoenix, Arizona, commented, "They appeal to the senses, to feelings, not so much to reason, because we all know if we were to reason this out, there is only one Church, and it's the Catholic Church."
When asked why Pentecostalism has grown so dramatically, Andrew Chesnut, professor of religious studies at Virginia Commonwealth University, remarked, "One reason is that Pentecostalism has very successfully absorbed Latin American culture. In fact, in only a century, Pentecostalism has become indigenous or 'Latin Americanized' and to a greater extent than Roman Catholicism has in its four centuries in Latin America."
Chesnut further remarked,
And the Pentecostal preachers tend to sound more like their congregants. They are often unlettered, and they speak to their flock in the same way that people in Latin American speak to each other. They also tend to look like their congregants. So in Guatemala, many preachers are Mayan, and in Brazil they are Afro-Brazilian. By contrast, in the Catholic Church, most priests are part of the elite. They are either white or mestizo, and many are actually from Europe.
On the other hand, secularism has also become a stronger influence in Argentina. According to Sam Kareff, a graduate of Georgetown University who also studied in Argentina, "Like the rest of the globalized world, Argentina is an increasingly secular society. Religion seems to be completely absent in post-secondary Argentine education despite its vibrant past."
The growing trend of secularism extends as far back as 2007, when the late Bp. Marcelo Palentini spoke out on the effect of secularism on vocations to the priesthood. The reason is, Palentini remarked, "The general pace of society, in which it seems that pleasure or having fun is what gives meaning to life and in which priestly or religious life is thought to be nothing more than giving things up, while that is simply not the case."
In 2009, the Collective Apostasy Campaign began as a drive to have baptized Catholics who disagree with Church teaching to officially inform their diocese that they have left the Church. Ariel Bellino, who was involved in the campaign, remarked, "The Church counts all those who've been baptized as Catholic and lobbies for legislation based on that number, so we're trying to convey the importance of people expressing that they no longer belong to the Church."
The Church in Argentina has also come into conflict with the Argentinian government over many issues. When he was archbishop of Buenos Aires, Pope Francis opposed a law allowing so-called gay marriage, remarking that it was "a maneuver by the devil." In response, President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner remarked, "Bergoglio's position is medieval."
In response to the same piece of legislation, Argentina's synod of bishops commented, "This is not a private matter or a matter of religious choice, this is a reality rooted in the very nature of humanity, which is male and female."