Francis Effect: Catholic membership drops sharply in Argentina

Pope Francis, who was widely reported to have been chosen for the highest office in the Catholic Church as a means of reinvigorating participation among Latinos, isn't quite working out the way they thought he would. He was supposed to be the people's pope, with "the smell of the sheep" on him as he put it. But all he's managed to do is become an advocate for the phony claims of socialism. That may be the problem.

Here's the item from the Buenos Aires Herald, citing a TIME/AFP piece:

Catholicism is on the decline in Pope Francis' Argentina, a new study from the CONICET (National Scientific and Technical Research Council) has revealed.

The results also showed that close to three-quarters of the population believes the State should not finance religious institutions, while 46.2 percent believe that religious education should not be taught in public schools.

The government agency published a study on Wednesday revealing that while Catholics remain the biggest religious force in Argentina by a long way, the number of faithful has fallen by more than 13 percentage points over the past decade.

According to CONICET, 76.5 percent of the population said they were Catholics in 2008, compared to the 62.9 percent who say so today. 

Which is a pretty miserable record for a supposed people's pope. Instead of raising enthusiasm or participation in the Church, Pope Francis seems to have achieved the opposite effect.

A decline in membership seems to have actually accelerated.

Now, it's possible to argue that this isn't his fault. The Church was in decline before he was elected pope, and older lines of faith everywhere are seeing declines in membership, it's a function of broken families, urbanization, secularization, rising incomes, tech, the appeal of the Evangelicals, they all have some roles to play.

But to imagine that none of this is Pope Francis's fault is kind of unsatisfactory, too. He is, after all, a favorite son, and we've seen thr effect of that from Pope John Paul II's papacy on Poland. That Pope Francis is Argentinian ought to be worth something in Argentina ... and it's not.

The poll errantly premises falling popular support for the Church with falling popular support for state funding of Argentinian church institutions as part of this trend. Actually, that mixes apples with oranges - state funding is what tends to drive Church membership down, so falling support is probably a good thing. 

State funding is a very signficant reason why Catholic membership is at rock-bottom levels in Europe and churches are going empty. In Germany, church membership even requires special high compulsory taxes, which is why many Germans say 'no thanks.' When the state is the big daddy and the source of all social welfare, doing the charity and all the things the Christian participants are supposed to do willingly on their own, who needs the the Church? The state's the story, nobody's individually responsible, and the Church fades.

Which brings us back to Pope Francis. The pontiff, despite his reputation, is constantly defending the state rather than the people. He even defends the indefensible, such as the Venezuelan state. The state, to him, is the source of all salvation to the people, which is why he always sides with socialists and other statists, no matter what the issue. It's why he talks about global warming when churches are being set on fire by socialists in places like Chile. It's why he chose the Chinese government over the tiny Church underground in China. It's why he stiff-armed the Ukrainian uniate Catholics in favor of an alliance with the state-linked Orthodox leaders. It's always the state for him. Sound appealing? Not to me.

Which might just be why they're staying away in Argentina, too. He never manages to put in a good word for the people. It ought to be a public relations problem for him at the very least since it's unlikely that as a dyed-in-the-wool socialist he's going to figure this out on his own.

The sheep are going a different direction, they'd apparently like a bit less state in the Church, even if there isn't a large amount of clarity.  Maybe the selectors of the next pope can take this unexpectedly weak performance to heart.  


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