For years the number of people who have declared themselves Roman Catholic are in grave decline, and the last survey by Datafolha Institute indicates a loss of about 9 million faithful since 2014.
The institute heard 2.828 voting-eligible Brazilians, randomly selected as a representative sample of the population. The margin of error is two percentage points (level of confidence 95%). Two years ago, 60 percent of Brazilians over the age of 16 declared themselves Catholics.
According to the latest survey published on December 25, the percentage is now only 50 percent — a loss of 9 million.
During the same period, the percentage of those who claim not to belong to any religion has more than doubled, from 6 percent in 2014 to 14 percent now.
Sociology professor Reginaldo Prandi commented, "Socially, religion does not have a role anymore. It's not a mandatory condition in order for one to be perceived as a good citizen."
Datafolha Institute interviewed Msgr. Leonardo Ulrich Steiner, auxiliary bishop of Brazil and general secretary of the National Conference of Brazilian Bishops (CNBB). When asked what could possibly explain the decline of Catholics in the most Catholic country on the planet, Steiner said:
The decline on the numbers presented by this survey may present concealed elements, as for example the majority of non-practicing Catholics, people who were baptized and for whom the Church is part of a family tradition, but who hesitate to declare their Roman Catholic faith because they are distanced from the Church. And also, Pope Francis' election and the development of his pontificate have given to the global public opinion the understanding that faith and the action that ensues from it are basic human needs and they must be lived at any given time or place, connected to any tradition of faith. This new element might somehow have exerted influence in the independence shown by those who haven't exactly defined themselves as Catholics.
The Institute then questioned the auxiliary bishop why the numbers were so low, even though the new Pope is regarded as a man of change and is seen as close to the people. Steiner said he respected the survey and its method, but the CNBB continues to see Catholic communities in Brazil growing and thriving and claimed that Pope Francis' leadership is beneficial to the Church.
Evangelical protestants' numbers remain constant since 2014, but the growth of evangelical protestantism in Brazil is directly linked to the reduced numbers in the Catholic Church.
In another survey profiling evangelicals in Brazil, also published in December, Datafolha discovered that 44 percent of those who claim to be evangelicals today come from the Catholic Church. In August 1994, when the Institute made the first survey to delineate the religious make-up of the country, 75 percent of the population able to vote was made of Catholics. Ten percent were Evangelical Protestants of the Pentecostal kind, and 4 percent were Protestants from more traditional and historical denominations (Lutherans, Baptists, Methodists, etc).
In 2000, the official census figures were that Pentecostal denominations made up more than two thirds of the total number of Protestants in Brazil. During the eighties, historical denominations either stagnated or even suffered a decline, while Pentecostal churches grew nearly three times faster than the population.
In 2012, when the data for the official 2010 census was released, statistics revealed the astounding growth of Evangelicals (61.45% in 10 years). The predictions from the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE), the agency responsible for the censuses, is that by 2040 the number of Protestants will exceed the number of Catholics in the country. Within the Pentecostal evangelicals, two denominations are worth noting: the Assembly of God and the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God.
Silas Malafaia, a famous televangelist and head of the Victory in Christ Assembly of God, when commenting on the 2010 census data stated, "A majority of evangelicals used to be Catholic, but being a Catholic doesn't mean that you practice the Faith. Conversely, an evangelical is an evangelical at work, in school, in the community."
The statistics for the last Datafolha survey confirm the words of Malafaia. When asked if "all religions have the same value, as all of them follow the same God," 45 percent of evangelical protestants disagreed, while among Catholics the disagreement with the statement comes from only 15 percent of the participants. A full 65 percent of evangelicals go to church more than once a week, while the percentage among Catholics is only 17 percent.
And as many as 58 percent of evangelicals contribute financially to their church, while only 34 percent of Catholics contribute. The average contribution from an evangelical protestant is almost three times as much what a Catholic usually donates. The adoption of children by homosexual couples is approved of by 56 percent of Catholics, but by only 26 percent of evangelicals.
Religions of the world: a comprehensive encyclopedia of Beliefs and Practices has defined the controversial Universal Church of the Kingdom of God as "a polemical expression of neo-Pentecostalism." The encyclopedia describes neo-Pentecostalism's main characteristics as "the emphasis on the spiritual battle against the devil" and the profession of the "health and wealth gospel," explained as "the right of a 'true' Christian to live his life here and now in happiness and material affluence."
The Universal Church was founded in 1977 by Edir Macedo, owner of Brazil's third largest television network and, according to Forbes, one of the richest religious leaders in the world. Macedo is constantly involved in scandals of fraud, charlatanism and money-laundering. He has quoted Ecclesiastes 6:3 to justify his public advocacy of abortion, and one of the pastors of his church became famous in 1995 for kicking a statue of Our Lady of Aparecida, patron of Brazil, on her feast day, during a live transmission.
The evangelical protestants also have a very strong political expression, coined by the media as "The Evangelical Front." In 2015 they numbered 78 in Brazil's National Congress: 75 in the Chamber of Deputies (the lower house) and three in the Federal Senate (the upper house).
The advance of the evangelicals seems to be unstoppable. According to the 2010 census, the Assembly of God alone has 100,000 temples and 50,000 pastors, while the Catholic Church owns only 11,000 parishes and has around 25,000 priests. Professor César Romero Jacob, who studies the correlation between religious phenomena and the territory in Brazil in which they occur, believes that the Catholic Church has failed to follow the movement of its members.
"People leave a Catholic Brazil, from the South and the Northeast, and move to these poor outskirts of big cities where the Catholic Church is absent. The pentecostal groups fill these gaps."
Brazilian writer and professor of philosophy Luiz Felipe Pondé remarks that "the Church
turned toward Marxism and distanced Herself from the housewife. The mother who has a drug-addicted son doesn't care if it's capitalism's fault; she wants him to exchange the drugs for Jesus."