Experts say believers’ concerns need attention
BY NOEMÍ GUTTIÉRREZ
MEXICO CITY – For his visit to Mexico scheduled for Feb. 12-17, Pope Francis will arrive to a country in which the number of Catholics has decreased in the last two decades.
Even though Mexico is the country with the second-most Catholics in the world — the first being Brazil with approximately 150 million believers — the country has registered a decrease in the number of believers.
According to data from the National Statistics and Geography Institute’s (INEGI) 2010 Population and Home Census, of the 112.3 million inhabitants of Mexico, 89.3 percent or 93 million people consider themselves Catholic.
In 1990, 89.7 percent of Mexicans identified as Catholic, while in 2000 Catholic Mexicans registered at 88 percent.
For religion expert Elio Masferrer Kan, who also holds a doctorate in anthropology, the Catholic Church has distanced itself from its parish by not providing answers to their spiritual concerns.
“Many Catholics abandoned their religious practices and those who never believed are publicly saying that they aren’t believers. Simultaneously, many people who have spiritual concerns see that the Catholic Church doesn’t have enough space,” the expert said in an interview.
María Luisa Aspe, who holds a doctorate in religious history, belittled the drop in the number of Catholics.
“Pope Francis is going to come to a country with less Catholics. It doesn’t matter that much if there are less Catholics, because when there are Catholic testimonials, the Gospel lives,” she explained.
Despite the decrease in the number of Catholics, Rev. Hugo Valdemar, spokesperson for the Mexican Archdiocese, said that Catholicism continues to be healthy.
“We are a country with the most number of Catholics with a very acceptable organization with strong pastoral works. The last census showed an encouraging number, because more than 90 million Mexicans professed the Catholic faith, which is a very high number if we take into account Latin America, which has had a very serious decrease. The state of Catholicism’s health is very good,” the priest said.
According to the 2010 INEGI census, women are more religious than men, as there are 47,787,689 women believers and only 45,136,800 faithful men.
The majority of Catholics are people over the age of 30. Young people between the ages of 15 and 29 years old account for 24,669,602 Catholics.
“The most notable thing is the loss of parishioners among young people. Masses are made up of mostly older people and there has been a considerable drop in the number of baptism and people who marry in the church,” said Masferrer Kan.
OTHER RELIGIONS EXPAND IN MEXICO
The religious sectors that grew in Mexico were the protestants and evangelicals, according to INEGI.
In the year 1990, these groups represented 4.9 percent of the population. A decade later they accounted for 5.2 percent and in 2010 they were 7.6 percent of the population or 1,782,000 faithfuls.
In the last two decades the number of Mexicans that do not profess any religion has doubled. In 1990 they only represented 3.2 percent of the population, in 2000 the figure rose to 3.5 percent and in the most recent census 4.6 percent of the population identified as non-believers.
The growth of protestants, evangelicals and non-believers does not alarm the Catholic Church.
“In reality, the number of Catholics remains very stable. The growth of protestant groups is very small. What grew more was the number of agnostics and atheists, but it doesn’t seem like an alarming number to me. However we definitely shouldn’t let our guard down,” Valdemar said.
CLERICAL PEDOPHILIA SCANDALS
Among the factors which have caused believers to distance themselves from the Catholic Church is the lack of answers to people’s spiritual concerns regarding social issues, like the cases of clerical pedophilia going unpunished, said Masferrer Kan.
The most controversial case involved Mexican Marcial Maciel, founder of the “Legion of Christ,” who sexually abused seminarians and fathered at least three children. Despite the fact that a group of followers publicly denounced him in 1998, it wasn’t until 2006 that the Vatican removed him from the priestly ministry. He died in 2008 without ever having been judged by civil or ecclesiastic authorities. In 2010 the “Legion of Christ” recognized the accusations and disassociated themselves from their founder.
In other registered cases in Mexico where there has been pedophilia, the church just changes priests so as to avoid questions from followers.
“What the Catholic Church and the Mexican Catholic hierarchy have done is avoid addressing pedophilia. They are practically on a different plane, where they say that nothing is happening here. It happens in the United States, but not here. Here everyone is a saint. This is even worse because there are less known cases of abuse,” Masferrer Kan said.
However, for Rev. Hugo Valdemar, the scandals of pedophilia didn’t affect the image of the Catholic Church.
“In Mexico we haven’t been able to losing members measure if it has an influence. It hasn’t been a cause of great Catholic desertion, but it has greatly damaged the trust of the institution. But even today, despite the scandals, the Catholic Church continues to be the most trust-worthy institution in the country,” the priest said.
CHURCH CUT OFF FROM BELIEVERS
Masferrer Kan said that the Catholic Church is not committed to the social problems of its believers and it rejects sectors like the LGBTQ community and it even denies communion to divorced people.
“The church is not committed to social problems. It is the same with the issue of communion for the divorced. These things pertain to Mexican society. We have thousands of divorced people, millions even, and they are denied communion. And then it turns out that the priest giving the communion was or is a pederast. Moreover, the church is not forgiving of women who have had abortions for many reasons, or of cases of euthanasia,” said Masferrer Kan.
Although there is not an exact number of how many couples practice religious marriages specifically in the Catholic religion, according to the INEGI, in the last 20 years the number of couples who have chosen to live in free union has doubled. In 1990, this figure was 7.4 percent and by 2000 it was already 14.4 percent.
RENEWING THE FAITH WITH FRANCIS
Rev. Hugo Valdemar said that Pope Francis’ visit to Mexico represents an opportunity to renew the Catholic faith.
“Papal trips have a goal, which is to confirm the faith of Catholics all over the world, to strengthen it and encour- age people,” said Valdemar.
Luisa Aspe said that, “The reason he is coming to Mexico is to tell Mexican Catholics that their country is fundamental to Catholicism. He comes to give this message of hope, so that people can stop dwelling on things from the past and realize that Christianity is going to work for peace, no matter its numbers.”
However, Masferrer Kan said that the pope’s speech will be a wake-up call to the Catholic hierarchy so that they approach and become closer to their ock.
“The real reason of Pope Francis’ visit, speaking technically, is to put the hegemony of the Catholic Church into question. That is, disputing control of the faithful and telling the Catholic hierarchy who is in charge, and that is the pope. He is coming to tell them that he has a proposal that does reach the people and that bishops are only minding their own business or something else. That is why he is coming to the second country with the most Catholics in the world,” said Masferrer Kan.