Pew Survey: Latinos Shifting Away from Catholicism

Wednesday, 07 May 2014 02:45 PM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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Latinos are moving away from the Catholic faith, with many moving toward either Pentecostalism or away from religion altogether, a new survey reveals.

A Pew Research Center survey released Wednesday shows 12 percent of Latinos are no longer referring to themselves as being Catholic over the last four years.

However, because the Hispanic population is growing rapidly in the United States, Latinos are becoming a larger part of the nation's Catholic population, even while millions are leaving the church, reports The Washington Post.

According to statistics, the Hispanic population includes about 35.4 million adults and is still growing.

Latinos aren't the only people switching their faiths, as Americans are shifting at about the same rate. But about half of the foreign-born people in the Pew survey who switched their faiths did so before they came to the United States, with Protestant evangelists' outreach programs converting Catholics in their home countries.

Pew senior researcher Cary Funk, though, said Latinos' move away from Catholicism is a "striking" phenomenon, even while Americans are changing religions, as the Pew study discovered 1 of every 4 Latinos is a former Catholic.

According to the survey, 55 percent of Latinos identify themselves as being Catholic, down from 67 percent in 2010. Another 22 percent say they are Protestants, and 18 percent say they are not affiliated with a church.

Fifty-five percent are Catholic — down from 67 percent in 2010 — 22 percent Protestant and 18 percent unaffiliated.

"Broadly, it’s a similar level of religious switching. But the size of the change and the speed is unusually large," Funk told The Post. "What we’re seeing is a greater religious pluralism among Latinos."

Some experts say Latinos are moving away because the Catholic Church has not responded quickly enough to the growth of the Latino population in the United States.

For example, a Boston College study this week says that only 1 in 4 parishes minister to Latinos, even though a third of all Catholics in the country are Hispanic.

"There are already predictions about the death of the parish in America," said Hosffman Ospino, a Boston College School of Theology and Ministry assistant professor leading the study. "If we fail to address the issues facing Hispanic Catholics and the parishes that serve them, then the parish structure in America will experience a dramatic decline as it did in Europe."

And even when parishes do have Hispanic ministries, they have fewer resources than other parishes do, the Boston College study found, and Latinos hold few leadership positions in the church in the United States.

Many people said they were leaving the church because they gradually drifted away or quit believing in the church's teachings.

In addition, Hispanic Catholics, like non-Hispanics, disagree with the church's core beliefs, including the use of birth control.

A University of Notre Dame Hispanic theology professor, the Rev. Virgilio Elizondo, told The Post he finds the remarks "exciting, not alarming," and that when parishes offer vibrant programs to Latinos, people respond.

"Where the church is active, churches are packed beyond capacity," Elizondo said. "When you look in ecumenical terms, the greater the church follows Christ, that means more people are involved. There is excitement. That’s the reality. Latinos in the U.S. are excited about religion."

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