Pope calls for Brazilian turnaround
Pope Francis has criticised the Brazilian church's failure to keep its flock from straying to evangelical churches, challenging the region's bishops to be closer to their people to understand their problems and offer them credible solutions.
In the longest and most important speech of his four-month pontificate, Francis drove home a message he has emphasised throughout his first international trip at World Youth Day: the need for priests and young Catholics to shake up the status quo, get out of their stuffy sacristies and reach the faithful on the margins of society or risk losing them to rival churches.
Francis took a direct swipe at the "intellectual" message of the church that so characterised the pontificate of his predecessor, Benedict XVI.
He said ordinary Catholics simply do not understand such lofty ideas and need a simpler message of love, forgiveness and mercy.
"At times we lose people because they don't understand what we are saying, because we have forgotten the language of simplicity and import an intellectualism foreign to our people," he said.
"Without the grammar of simplicity, the church loses the very conditions which make it possible to fish for God in the deep waters of his mystery."
In the speech outlining the kind of church that this new pope wants, Francis asked bishops to reflect on why hundreds of thousands of Catholics have left for charismatic Pentecostal congregations that have grown exponentially in recent decades, particularly in Brazil's slums or favelas, where their charismatic message and nuts-and-bolts advice have been welcomed by the poor.
According to Brazilian census data, the number of Catholics dipped from 125 million in 2000 to 123 million in 2010, with the church's share of the total population dropping from 74% to 65%. During the same period, the number of evangelical Protestants and Pentecostals has risen from 26 million to 42 million, an increase of 15% to 22% of the population in 2010.
Francis offered a breathtakingly blunt list of explanations for the demographic shift. "Perhaps the church appeared too weak, perhaps too distant from their needs, perhaps too poor to respond to their concerns, perhaps too cold, perhaps too caught up with itself, perhaps a prisoner of its own rigid formulas," he said.
"Perhaps the world seems to have made the church a relic of the past, unfit for new questions. Perhaps the church could speak to people in their infancy but not to those come of age."