Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger once related a story he had heard from two Latin American bishops. A whole village left the Church because, they said, the pastors had been good social workers, “But, they said, we also need a religion and for this reason we all have become Protestants!” The great majority of the Latin American people have a strong thirst for God. The question is whether the Church can respond to it.
There are many signs of hope. Authentically Catholic spiritual and intellectual movements are thriving. Young people long for guidance, and many of their elders are wise enough to give it. There are also good shepherds, ready to give their lives for their sheep: in Venezuela, for instance, bishops have confronted the tyranny, risking imprisonment or death.
However, the powers that be are trying to extirpate that thirst for God, or subvert it, or distort it by the use of all possible means: the subversion of religion, music, literature; a constant bombardment of pornography and erotic speech in radio, television and the internet; the promotion of gender ideology in the education system; and the imposition of abortion.
The problems are not only outside the Church. Clergy have often been deprived of a thorough theological formation with which they can be armed to protect the sheep from the wolves. Seminaries, universities and theology faculties are frequently dominated by non-Christian doctrines (Marxism, gender ideology and relativism), and not a few of the clergy have betrayed the Church and work for the world. They deny even the most basic tenets of the faith (like the divinity of Christ), and of morals (like absolute moral prohibitions). Believe it or not, some even mix pagan rites with the Christian liturgy. They join in with the world’s criticism of the Church.
All these things weaken the Church. But we must remember St Paul’s words: “He has answered me, ‘My grace is enough for you: for strength is perfected in weakness’ … That is why I am glad of weaknesses, insults, constraints, persecutions and distress for Christ’s sake. For it is when I am weak that I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
If the Latin American Church wants to keep yielding fruits of eternal life, she must return to the divine teachings and means which Christ left on earth. This will necessarily involve a thorough reform of our seminaries and educational institutions; where these have become corrupt beyond remedy, the bishops may need to found new ones. But it is vital that good shepherds re-institute faithful study of Scripture, philosophy and theology. The liturgy also needs close attention, and the bishops should combat the heretical versions of Scripture which circulate.
Such reforms will doubtless lead to collisions with other churchmen. Courageous and faithful bishops understand that they will give account of the salvation of their sheep to Jesus Christ Himself. In some cases, it may be necessary to discipline wayward clergy or, if that’s impossible, at least build a separate community of clergy and lay people. I have no doubt that amid persecution, the Church will prevail in Latin America, if bishops build on the foundation of the Rock, which is Christ.
If our leaders depend on Christ, they can resist any human being (whatever his position, apparent authority and power) and any demonic influences which attempt to separate them from their fidelity to our Saviour and His eternal teachings.
Carlos Casanova is a Venezuelan-born lawyer and philosopher. He teaches at the Universidad Santo Tomás, Chile
This article first appeared in the January 26 2018 issue of the Catholic Herald. To read the magazine in full, from anywhere in the world, go here