While two popes battle it out in Rome, evangelists come out on top
In recent weeks, it became public that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI (92 years old) was to appear as co-author of a book where he advocates, with conservative passion and religious fervor, the practice of celibacy within the Catholic church.
The doctrine has affirmed that family life and life as a priest are incompatible by nature. The idea behind celibacy is the divine concept of love, which argues that dedication to God combined with the altruistic commitment to love everyone equally should never create a space that allows sexual relations to take place.
But this conservative posture of Benedict XVI (secular name Joseph Ratzinger) clashes with that of the Synod for the Amazon, convened by the Vatican itself, where the door to the no-celibacy of priests in remote parts of the world was opened.
Benedict XVI became Pope emeritus after resigning his position due to a "lack of strength" in 2013, at the age of 85. At that time, he made a commitment not to get involved in the decision-making processes of the new Pope, Francis, known for his more progressive positions.
Benedict, perhaps surprised by the controversy that the news caused, a few days later requested that his name be removed from the book, but this has not distracted from the cracks that already exist between him and Pope Francis.
It seems that the book was a reaction to the requests of the Synod of the Amazon to authorize the ordination of married men as priests, since there are not enough single men willing to become priests to celebrate Mass.
Although the participation in the drafting demonstrates that Benedict XVI is not yet ready to move completely into the background, his withdrawal from authorship shows that he is consistent with his commitment to not express his disagreements with his successor so publicly.
But while the ideological divergences between the two popes are in dispute, evangelism in the region continues to grow and is taking advantage of the lack of a clear and united position within Catholicism to attract new followers. They also have the competitive advantage that they can make pastors from married men, which is what Pope Francis wants to counter.
That is why we tell you everything you need to know about the background of the conflict between Francisco and Benedict, and how this gives even more wings to evangelism, its direct religious rival, which will surely be strengthened.
Tensions between two popes
The situation in which two living Popes live together is practically unprecedented for hundreds of years in the Catholic Church, and the tensions between Francisco and Benedict XVI are nothing new.
One of Francisco's positions that most created an ideological clash between the two, was his relative openness towards the LGBTI community
They began to appear when Francisco ascended the throne of San Pedro almost 7 years ago. One of Francisco's positions that most created an ideological clash between the two, was his relative openness towards the LGBTI community, which came into conflict with the frontal rejection of Benedict who regards sodomy as a sin, and he has even expressed that homosexuality "represents a threat to world peace."
This conflict began with an interview in 2013 in America Magazine, where Francisco stated that he does not condemn gay people and that they should always be considered as equal human beings.
Years later, he declared in another interview that the Catholic church could be open to equal marriage, even if the church's position that marriage is usually between a man and a woman is recognized. According to Francisco, we should evaluate that possibility on a case-by-case basis.
There are also deep disagreements about the widespread scandals of pedophilia and sexual abuse within the ranks of priests of the Catholic Church. Francisco's decision last year to abolish the law of silence contrasts with the approach of his predecessor, which was almost always to promote absolute confidentiality on this terrible matter with the argument of protecting the reputation of the church.
Francisco's decision implies that now the Catholic Church can collaborate with civil authorities in investigating cases of sexual abuse, and can provide information to prosecutors and judges, something that they could not do before. The new measure seeks to avoid impunity for priests guilty of sexual abuse and to put an end to the church's policy of tolerating and covering up these cases, which are too frequent.
However, Benedict's position was the denial of any responsibility for having tolerated these acts, blaming a certain homosexuality hidden within the church for the abuse scandal. At no time did the Pope Emeritus support the abolition of the confidentiality policy defended by Francisco.
Evangelism in Latin America
While this conflict is unfolding within the highest ranks of the Catholic church, evangelism is seeing an opportunity to attract new followers, confused and fed up with the lack of moral consensus that these conflicts are displaying.
Some political scientists have even suggested that the evangelical vote succeeded in swaying the vote towards Bolsonaro in the presidential elections last year
Evangelism, in its many manifestations, is the most powerful new religious force in Latin America today. The evangelical churches even have the capacity and money to influence elections in the region. According to historian Andrew Chesnut, "the strong influence of rising evangelicals is one of the main trends of current politics in the Americas."
In Brazil, a country with a strong evangelical tradition, 22.2% of the population identified as evangelical in 2012, which compares with only 5% in the 1970s. In the absence of more up-to-date reliable statistics, all indicators point to the fact that this figure will have increased significantly in recent years.
Some political scientists have even suggested that the evangelical vote succeeded in swaying the vote towards Bolsonaro in the presidential elections last year, thanks to his extreme beliefs, which gained him the support of many pastors who then promoted him to their followers.
In return, Bolsonaro even appointed an evangelist pastor, Damares Alves, as the Minister of Human Rights, Family and Women as a member of his government. Today, the so-called “evangelical bench” in the Brasilia Congress is bigger and more powerful than ever.
In Mexico, the Evangelical Social Encounter party managed to create an electoral alliance with the current president, López Obrador, obtaining its largest number of seats in Congress throughout history. In Bolivia, with Jeanine Áñez replacing Evo Morales fraudulently, evangelical right wing politics gained an unusual force.
Áñez came to accuse indigenous people of praying to satan and enthusiastically celebrated the "return of the Bible to the Government." In Guatemala, former President Jimmy Morales openly identified as an evangelical and his successor, Giammettei, retains many ties with the evangelical community.
Undoubtedly, evangelicals in the region are happy about the existence of an ideological conflict within the Catholic church that is helping to weaken its greatest religious rival in the region. However, catholicism still remains hegemonic and is the official religion of all Latin American countries, and in all countries except for Guatemala and Honduras, more than 70% said they still identify as Catholic.
It seems that the idea of keeping two Popes alive has not turned out as hoped, which prevents the Catholic Church from recovering the initiative in this scenario of enormous competition for Latin American souls. It seems that the Argentine Pope knows this very well, but in Rome the ways of the Lord are inscrutable.
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