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As Ireland Joins Europe’s Sprint From Catholic Fold, Francis Looks South

This may explain why Francis, while silent about Ireland before the vote, has been remarkably focused this month on a sex abuse scandal in Chile, threatening the church’s credibility there.

“The sex abuse scandal and the negligence of bishops in Chile has done enormous damage,” said Juan-Carlos Cruz, a sex abuse survivor who recently met with the pope. He said he hoped the Vatican would hold bishops accountable and give that strategy a chance to succeed in Chile. The failure to address the crisis, he said, had caused a “rapid climb of secularism in countries that were the hope of expansion for the church.”

The church’s looming problems outside Europe’s borders don’t stop with sexual abuse.

As Ireland Joins Europe’s Sprint From Catholic Fold, Francis Looks South
As Ireland Joins Europe’s Sprint From Catholic Fold, Francis Looks South

In Latin America and Africa, where the future of the church seems most promising, there are also signs it is losing ground in a bustling religious marketplace.

In Brazil, which has the world’s largest Catholic population, evangelicals preaching prosperity gospels are giving stiff competition to Catholicism, which is projected to become a minority faith in 2030. Francis made Brazil his first trip overseas after his election.

Whereas Francis sees a focus on the poor as the church’s greatest hope, his predecessor, Benedict XVI, a German, saw secularism as the greatest threat to the church’s future. His pre-election homily against the “dictatorship of relativism” helped get him the job, and his papacy was considered by many as a last-ditch effort to save Europe and its Christian roots. But the European erosion continued unchecked, and Benedict called it quits in 2013.

To find his successor, cardinals searched “the ends of the Earth,” as Francis said, and chose the first non-European cardinal in nearly 1,300 years. Vatican analysts said the church had recognized that its future lay elsewhere.

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