The election of Jorge Mario Bergoglio as Pope Francis highlights the importance of Latin America for the Catholic church now and in the future. Almost 40% of the world’s Catholics live in Latin America, but the church has been losing ground steadily in recent years as Pentecostal and neo Pentecostal churches have gained significant numbers of adherents and competed successfully for public space and a legitimate position as representatives of “religion” in public affairs. The pope’s public statements and actions to this date underscore a desire to reach out in new ways and to begin reforms of the institutions of the Vatican. The question is whether these initiatives and reforms can begin to stem the losses and reposition the Catholic Church for the future in what is now a highly competitive and plural arena. What happens in Latin America must also be seen in the broader context of the global south, which is now the great arena of religious competition and expansion.
Daniel H. Levine is professor emeritus of political science at the University of Michigan, and author of Religion and Politics in Latin America: The Catholic Church in Venezuela and Colombia; Popular Voices in Latin American Catholicism; and Politics, Religion and Society in Latin America, among other works on democracy, social movements, religion and politics in Latin America.
Co-sponsored by the Department of Political Science and St. Mary Student Parish.
Daniel Levine, Emeritus Professor of Political Science, University of Michigan