extract from the text:
How the (catholic) church is faring in the world’s biggest Catholic country
THOUGH Pope Benedict’s tenure has not had much effect on Catholicism in Brazil so far, it has entrenched an old conflict. The previous pope’s reign saw a “decapitation of the progressive parts of the church in Latin America and particularly in Brazil,” says Antonio Pierucci of São Paulo University. This war against the progressives was promoted by Benedict when he was still Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. Its price has been a loss of political influence for the church hierarchy, whereas the liberation theologians whom the bosses shunned continue to have the ear of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s Workers’ Party. Pope John Paul’s charisma partly compensated for this loss of influence. Pope Benedict does not have that to fall back on.
Even so, there is little evidence that problems at the top are affecting Catholic worship in Brazil. The census provides data on religious belief stretching back to 1872. The share of Brazilians who described themselves as Catholic fell from 99.7% in the first census to 73.9% in 2000. Almost two-thirds of this reduction happened in the 1980s and 1990s, when Catholics were apparently drawn away to new Pentecostal churches.
The Catholicism being practised might, however, be considered by the Vatican to be of the wrong kind. One challenge to orthodoxy comes from charismatic priests who use pop-star tactics, and are taking on the upstart Pentecostals at their own game.
A second challenge comes from the popular Catholicism that tends to flourish best in those parts of rural Brazil where the church has little presence. In much of the north-east, Padre Cícero, a 19th-century priest who performed the odd miracle and seems to have been excommunicated as a result, has long been sanctified. In many places, children who die or people who suffer unpleasant deaths can be granted a kind of sainthood and asked to intervene on behalf of the living. The pope faces a struggle to steer this bunch in the direction of the orthodoxy he reveres.