DETROIT (ChurchMilitant.com) - A new survey of public opinion in Latin America shows that Catholics in the region are abandoning the Faith in droves.
Chilean polling company Latinobarómetro has published data from 2017. The statistics are showing that "Nones" or those with no religious affiliation are rapidly growing in Latin American society.
In Latin America as a whole, Nones now make up an estimated 17 percent of the population, according to the new data. In a Pew Research Center survey from 2014, Nones polled at about 8 percent. If accurate, this means the number of people in Latin America with no religious affiliation has more than doubled in just three years.
This is according to the analysis of Andrew Chestnut, an author and scholar who specializes in the Catholic identity of Latin America — an identity which is quickly waning. Chestnut's keen analysis of the recent Latinobarómetro data was shared in the Catholic Herald last week. He has special insight into the matter, as he was involved in the 2014 Pew Research survey.
Some countries have been hit harder than others. In Chile, for instance, the percentage of professed Catholics has gone down the drain. In 1995, Chile was an estimated 75 percent Catholic. According to the new Latinobarómetro survey, the country is now only 45 percent Catholic.
Thirty-eight percent of Chileans, according to Latinobarómetro, now have no religious affiliation.
Chestnut predicts that the rest of Central and South America is heading the same way as Chile. He writes, "Latin America, home to 39 percent of the world's 1.3 billion faithful, will no longer be majority Catholic by 2030."
A handful of shocking priest-sex abuse scandals are high among the reasons for Chileans leaving the Faith.
During his recent visit to Chile and Peru, Pope Francis had an impromptu meeting with priest-sex abuse victims and showed empathy for their sufferings. But on the last day in Chile, a reporter asked him about Bp. Juan Barros, a Francis appointee who was accused of covering up serial-sex abuser Fr. Fernando Karadima. The Pope responded, "The day they bring me proof against Bp. Barros, I'll speak. There is not one shred of proof against him. It's all calumny. Is that clear?"
His answer caused outrage, as some felt the Holy Father's remarks deepened the wounds in Chile created by the priest-sex abuse. He issued an apology during his flight back to Rome on January 22, characterizing his language as overly harsh.
Historically, the vast part of the world known as Latin America has had a large Catholic population for centuries. As recently as the 1990s, roughly 90 percent of Latin America identified as Catholic — though a fair number were non-practicing.
The 2014 Pew Research survey of Latin America showed that many people raised Catholic were leaving the Church in favor of Protestant Pentecostalism or sometimes abandoning organized religion completely.
The Pew report stated, "While the Catholic Church has lost adherents through religious switching, both Protestant churches and the religiously unaffiliated population in the region have gained members."
In 2014, many former Catholics cited the Protestants' apparent fervor, prayerfulness and emphasis on moral issues as their reasons for leaving the Catholic Church.