The criticism came in a statement published today following the annual meeting of the administrative council of the "Populorum Progressio" Foundation, held July 8-12 in Coban, Guatemala. The foundation was created by John Paul II in 1992 to assist Indian and Afro-American peasant populations in Latin America and the Caribbean.
The meeting was attended by German Archbishop Josef Cordes, president of the Pontifical Council "Cor Unum," and six Latin American bishops, including Cardinal Juan Sandoval Íñiguez of Guadalajara, Mexico.
"In recent years," the statement states, Guatemala "has been resisting a strong attack planned in the rich countries of the north, with abundant economic means at their reach, described as a genuine religious earthquake, caused by a multitude of sects, generally of Protestant and Anglo-Saxon origin."
The Cor Unum press statement, distributed by the Vatican Press Office, adds that Guatemala "represents an emblematic case in Latin America, where a Pentecostal, atomized and fragmented Protestantism ... is trying to proliferate."
Such Protestantism has "abundant economic resources, offering a panorama of very varied denominations and tendencies," the statement says. It points out the case of the province of Solola, where evangelical places of worship outnumber Catholic sites 498 to 194.
This is not the first time a Vatican representative has made such a denunciation.
In statements published by the Notimex agency on Jan. 3, 1999, Mexican Archbishop Javier Lozano Barragán, president of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers, mentioned a report written by Nelson A. Rockefeller for U.S. President Richard Nixon in August 1969.
Rockefeller wrote that, in the wake of the Second Vatican Council II, "the Catholic Church is no longer a trustworthy ally of the United States and the guarantee of social stability in the (South American) continent." The report insisted on "the need to replace Catholics with other Christians in Latin America," by "supporting Christian (Protestant) fundamentalist groups, and churches such as Moon and Hare Krishna."
Archbishop Lozano said these groups had hoped to recruit half of the Guatemalan population by the year 2000.
The sects, many of which are independent and often the result of splits, found a great ally in General José Efrain Ríos Montt, who became president after a 1982 coup.
Cor Unum´s statement recognizes that "the great majority of the population still resists" the forced expansion of sects, "and the results have not corresponded to the economic and human investments" of these groups.
The document also requests that the country´s resources, long diverted to the 36-year civil war, be invested especially in favor of Indian communities, which make up 55% of the population.
It also includes a reference to Bishop Juan Gerardi, "and many other catechists immolated in their land, [to the] glory of the Guatemalan Church."