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For Catholic Revival, A Hispanic Pope

The majority of Catholics now live in developing nations. More: Papal Picks: Conclave Open Thread

Patrick Reddy


March 12, 2013 - 12:00 am

When the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church gather for a conclave to choose a successor to Pope Benedict, we will not be privy to what is on their minds: the Holy See does not use exit polls. But they would be wise to keep in mind that the Church they lead is undergoing tremendous ethnic change.

Pope John Paul II was not only one of the greatest pontiffs ever; he will go down as one of the most influential figures of the 20th century. His selection in 1978 electrified his followers in Eastern Europe and sparked the Solidarity union movement that was the beginning of the end of communist totalitarianism there. The fall of the Soviet system and the spread of democracy and religious freedom throughout his native Eastern Europe make his historical legacy quite impressive. He was unquestionably the right man in the right place at the right time.

Pope Benedict was not a transformational figure like John Paul II. He was more like a caretaker who did his best to get the Church through a period of scandal and decline. It will probably take a miracle to find a man as well-suited to his times as Benedict’s immediate predecessor.

But in choosing the next pope, the College of Cardinals would do well to consider key demographic facts that will determine the direction of Catholicism for the next century. For the first time ever, a majority (roughly 60%) of Catholics now live in the developing nations. In fact, roughly half of all Catholics worldwide now are of Hispanic descent, a number sure to grow, as Hispanics currently have twice as many children as those of European descent. Indeed, within the next generation a majority of American Catholics will be Hispanic. This presents a potential problem for the Church, as it has traditionally been dominated by Europeans. But it also represents a tremendous opportunity to revitalize the Church.

In their 1992 study of American religion, The Churching of America, Roger Finke and Rodney Stark described the decline of the American Catholic Church since the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s. Noting that church attendance had dropped by 50% over the previous generation and that the lack of vocations was reaching the crisis stage, they wondered if the Church would survive in its present form. They raised the specter of the American Catholic Church “going the way of the Congregationalists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians and Methodists … just another mainline body specializing in comfortable pews while sliding slowly downhill.”

UCLA Professor Emeritus of Spanish History John Crow, in his comprehensive study The Epic of Latin America, goes further in decrying the Church’s problems. He writes that Hispanics “have turned away from their Church in droves, rightly or wrongly identifying it with political reaction, bigotry, and economic oppression.” Religious scholars have estimated that up to 20% of all Hispanics in both Latin America and the United States have defected from their traditional faith.

A Hispanic pope could possibly staunch or reverse these losses.

The Church’s last great expansion came under Pope Alexander VI, a native Spaniard. Alexander oversaw the doubling in the number of the faithful after the New World was discovered by Columbus and conquered by Cortes, Pizarro, and Balboa. (The Spanish adventurers’ slogan: “For God, Gold and Glory!”) Franciscan and Jesuit missionaries almost immediately followed the conquistadors, as an estimated 20 million Indians (admittedly often involuntarily) were converted to Catholicism.

Since they are now the majority of Catholics, a renewal of Hispanic devotion to the Church would also reinvigorate worldwide Catholicism. As Finke and Stark have noted, such a renewal is needed if the Church is to avoid severe shortages of priests and nuns in the next generation.

If John Paul II was instrumental in the peaceful overthrow of Communism in Eastern Europe, a Hispanic pope would undoubtedly help do the same with Cuba, and with the various strains in Venezuela and throughout the region. Beyond that, a Hispanic pope would also likely help Latin America make the transition from rural poverty to stable urbanized, working-class industrial societies. A newly powerful Catholic Church could be a strong proponent of workers’ rights and religious freedom, and could oppose the environmental degradation and oppression of indigenous peoples that usually accompany mass industrialization.

As Latin America is one of the most troubled places on the planet, it will take almost a miracle to heal these polarized societies. Perhaps only the Church could bring the proper moral pressure on society’s upper echelons to help ease the pains of Latin America’s coming stresses. A pope of Hispanic descent might also be able to calm down tensions in America over Hispanic immigration (Pat Buchanan, take note).

For the next century, as Latin Catholics go, so will go the Church they will increasingly dominate.

More: Papal Picks: Conclave Open Thread

Patrick Reddy is a political consultant and co-author of California After Arnold. He is now writing 21st Century America: How Suburbanites, Immigrants and High Tech Voters Will Choose Our Presidents.

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Latinos are tempted by the pleasures of the flesh.

Fundamentalist/Evangelical/Free-Range Christian churches do not lay the lumber on birth control like the catholics. They also do not require confessing all those embarrassing sexual sins. They do not sweat the small stuff. They mainly want you to show up and love God.

The Catholics are like the Marines. It is a hard standard to follow.

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I'd be wary of the idea of a Latin American Pope. Liberation theology is a very popular flavor of Christianity in all the pulpits, no matter the denomination, in Latin America. That's why the supposedly very conservative and traditional values illegal immigrants tend to fall in with Democrats and their big government, socialist policies.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
A Pope with Latin American roots! What could be furtherest from any Catholic's devotion than this quantum "leap to a colonial past" permeating all of this region's Catholic heritage?
Cronyism and subterfuge of all Latin American priests, Catholic hierachry and leaders of "The Church" is exactly 21st Century's problem in all of Latin America. Culling favors, preferred tax status, money laundering (The Curia), evasions of moral and economic nature are secular cancers Catholic ministries have turned away from addressing, correcting or even grappling with.
Result??? A 60% evasion of Catholic faithful in all of Latin America to evangelist and similiar faiths. Closure of a swath of churches across Latin America. What this "Conclave" of morally corrupt Latin American religious leaders of "The Church" have in common is having presided over massive destruction of one of the World's secular religions -Catholicism. And these conniving, Cardinal Richeliu's of Latin America should be Pope? Puleeze! Their hands drip with thier flocks blood. Pray a Saviour becomes Pope...or else form the New American Catholic Church!
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Im not sure promoting third worlders to head our institutions is a good idea, no matter where it is tried.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The Catholic Church is not simply one more political vehicle for social justice, and the decision of who will be pope should not be framed as to how he might help environmentalism, etc. In the real world, the cardinals will vote for a pope based on who can best carry out Christ’s mission in these times when the Church is in crisis. They will seek a good and holy man capable of working with others within the Church to right its course. John Paul II’s role in ending the Cold War was not the agenda of the conclave that elected him. That he did play such a pivotal role believers can attribute to the Holy Spirit. As for the Cardinals, they were unconcerned he was Polish just as they were unconcerned that Benedict was German.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Thank you for a positive article. Benedict is appreciated for the work he did internally with the church, attracting many back with his elegant interpretations of the catechism. The church has been steadily growing and he did a great deal in terms of healing the child abuse problem. Shortly before resigning he sounded an alarm about the increasingly aggressive secularism in the world and I imagine the Cardinals are mindful of this. It is the internal life and works of the church that ultimately attracts people to it. I am still putting a word in with the guy in charge for Luis T., from the Philippines, particularly since he is so able to engage the young. We just want a good shepherd and God doesn't discriminate. Again, thank you for a positive article.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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