A growing number of Hispanics are leaving their Catholicism behind.
A new study by the Pew Research Center released Wednesday found that nearly one out of every four Hispanics are identifying as former Catholics and that the amount of Catholic Hispanics has dropped from 67 to 55 percent — a 12 percent drop — since 2010. Instead of following Catholicism, many Hispanic believers have shifted towards Protestantism.
“Together, these trends suggest that some religious polarization is taking place in the Hispanic community, with the shrinking majority of Hispanic Catholics holding the middle ground between two growing groups (evangelical Protestants and the unaffiliated) that are at opposite ends of the U.S. religious spectrum,” Pew reported.
Hispanics have often been noted as a strength of the Catholic Church. But since they're drifting away, what kind of challenge is this creating? And how can the Catholic Church solve it?
Michael Paulson of The New York Times wrote Monday that Hispanics have always been the core of Catholicism in America. In fact, it’s a main reason the religion has survived in the United States, Paulson wrote.
“The influx of Hispanics has been a stabilizing factor for the church,” he noted. “Were it not for immigration, Catholicism in the United States would be dwindling as non-immigrant Catholics drift away from the church.”
But Hispanics are different than most Catholic followers, Paulson noted. They don’t attend Catholic schools often, nor are young Hispanic Catholic men likely to enter the priesthood, he added.
“There is a bleak picture in terms of resources,” Hosffman Ospino, a researcher at Boston College, told the Times. “And it is noticeable that at higher levels of leadership, the number of Hispanics are lower.”
This isn’t a new development, though. Matthew Brown of the Deseret News National Edition wrote in November that young Hispanic immigrants face certain religious challenges when it comes to Catholicism. And, much like Paulson of the Times noted, Hispanic Protestants are growing.
"I attribute that to (the fact that) the percentage of Latinos who are not immigrants is growing," said Tim Matovina, a theology professor at the University of Notre Dame who specializes in Latino Catholicism. "We’ve known for a while now that the further people move away from the immigrant generation, the more likely they are to move and switch, which is not surprising. That’s true in American life generally."
So how can the Catholic Church keep its Hispanic population? Brown’s article spoke to experts who suggested that the church offer deep teachings and care for the poor in order to try and keep that segment of the population in the church. And it’s about strengthening family ties.
For some, Brown noted, the church has even become family.
"I was raised Catholic,” said Arlene Sanchez Walsh, a Hispanic American and professor of church history at Azusa Pacific University, to Deseret News National. “I have a cousin who’s a priest, so it’s rooted very much in who I am," she said, explaining how cultural aspects of Catholicism will always be a part of her life. "This is an anchor of familiarity that has been passed down to you."