Brazil: Evangelical Sects Are Catching Up with the Church

October 23, 2019

The results of the national survey conducted by Datafolha during the summer of 2019, and published on October 8 by Folha de São Paolo, confirm the decline of the Catholic Church in Brazil. It may have even been surpassed by so-called evangelical sects in the Amazonian part of the country.

In 2019, evangelical groups claim 46% of the 25 million people living in the Brazilian part of the Amazon, compared with 45% for the Catholic Church. Datafolha however recognizes a possible margin of error on the order of 5-6%. Still, this survey shows that Protestant sects are gaining ground.

At the national level, the underlying trend also reveals a loss of speed for Catholicism, which for the moment still remains the majority, with 51% of the Brazilian population declaring itself Catholic. There are 32% who claim an “evangelical” confession, as opposed to 22% in 2010. The strategy of conquest by “capillarity” of the evangelical sects is the main reason put forward by Folha de São Paolo to explain their breakthrough.

The French anthropologist Véronique Boyer, quoted by the Brazilian daily, has observed the growth of Protestant sects in the country for 30 years. According to her, this expansion is due to the “proselytism of self-proclaimed and isolated missionaries, rather than an action planned by ‘churches.’”

Thus, within the Assembly of God—the main sect prevalent in Brazil—“its language adapts to the local environment; there is no decision-making center, so any indigenous movement can be ‘approved’ by the Assembly,” explains Pastor Samuel Camara.

Aggiornamento Is a False Solution

Faced with this phenomenon, the Catholic hierarchy was slow to react. During the post-conciliar decades, she was too busy opening up to the world, in the name of the aggiornamento wanted by Vatican II: “The Church did not take the growth of evangelical groups seriously: the pastors went and acted in places where the priests did not go,” explains Véronique Boyer.

Let us add that the Catholic faith is no longer preached in its purity and integrity, for the benefit of a vague Christianity which accommodates itself to Protestantism and modern currents (liberation theology, inculturation, and charismatic experiences, interreligious and intercultural dialogue ...), the hierarchy has found it to be very hard to correctly evangelize the populations entrusted to its care.

The scarcity of priestly and religious vocations, in Brazil as elsewhere in the countries where the Church is in the process of secularization, did nothing to fix the situation. In addition, the (pseudo) Catholic missionaries preferred to “dialogue” with the Amazonian culture, respecting the richness of their primitive culture. Thus, an Italian missionary boasted of not having performed a single baptism in 60 years.

Today, rather than rediscovering the stainless wealth of her Tradition, the Church, during the synod on the Amazon, seems to be tempted by the carry-on-regardless strategy, haphazardly envisaging an Amazonian rite, the ordination of married men, women’s ministry, an ecological examination of conscience and a neo-liberation theology. It is the hour of darkness and confusion. We are definitely in the middle of the jungle.