Poll: US Hispanics Becoming Less Catholic

Lest we forget, in the ongoing excitement over the new spirit let loose in the Church with Pope Francis, many of the same ongoing challenges remain.

WaPo reports that

  • 53 percent of [U.S.] Hispanics identify as Catholic, compared with 69 percent who say they were raised Catholic as children.
  •  13 percent call themselves evangelical today, compared with 7 percent raised evangelical.
  •  12 percent say they have no religious affiliation, compared with 5 percent who said they were raised that way.

Story here.



  1. A Hispanic family with whom I have become somewhat close left the Catholic church a few years ago for an Evangelical church. And though they “very much miss the Eucharist” they have found that their Evangelical church is far more cognizant of their culture and customs and far more able (willing?) to adapt its pastoral services to their needs.
    Not that long ago, most Catholic parishes had the staff and resources (and will?) to adapt their services to the varied needs of their varied parishioners. They were able, in the words of Pope Francis, to be shepherds who “smelled like their sheep”. Now, with greatly reduced staff & resources, some parishes seem to offer a “one size fits all” spirituality, a take-it-or-leave-it approach to parish ministry. The challenge for a Catholic is to find a parish that offers what he/she needs, who speaks his/her language, whose “smell” is familiar.
    In these days of parish closure, mergers and collaborations I am afraid we will be losing more than just our good Hispanic people. Are our parishes running the risk of becoming too “generic” to be to any degree effective ministers if the Gospel?

  2. John Swencki : Not that long ago, most Catholic parishes had the staff and resources (and will?) to adapt their services to the varied needs of their varied parishioners.

    You’ve been fortunate to have lived in such parishes! I’ve observed much the opposite, particularly in parishes with multicultural congregations. Resources are stretched and broken, and true outreach is non-existent at almost every parish I’ve seen.

    The easiest target, of course, is language. Priests who do not speak Spanish can find it difficult to build relationships, provide true counseling, hear confessions, etc., with their non-Anglo parishioners. Even the language of the liturgy itself is foreign.to many.

    But it’s not just language. The outflux of Catholics is just as prominent throughout Latin America as it is in the U.S. The Evangelicals have made great strides both places in getting their message to the masses. (Whether this can continue in the long term, given the personality-based foundation of many such churches, remains to be seen.) Most of them carry a very positive message focused more on the “God wants you to be happy and successful on earth” model than the “suffer now, relax later” model.

    The issue of ‘choice’ comes into play as well. Mr. Swencki rightly posits that our parishes may have become too generic. Society has taught us to seek variety. There’s still In-and-Out for the burger purist, but McD’s has salads and iced mocha. Our liturgy really has not fundamentally changed despite V2. It’s still ‘pray, give, consecrate, commune, byebye’ as it’s been for centuries. To the typical parishioner, especially a non-Engish speaker, our internal strife over word translations is little more than a battle over whether the pickle goes on the left or right side of the bun.

    They expect a lot more out of God’s Church on earth.

    1. @Sean Keeler – comment #2:

      Most of them [evangelical churches] carry a very positive message focused more on the “God wants you to be happy and successful on earth” model than the “suffer now, relax later” model. [my addition in brackets]

      While I agree with you that many evangelical churches in Central and South America as well as the US preach the prosperity gospel, this message is not confined to any particular ethnicity, background, or geographical location. The prosperity gospel is a global phenomenon.

  3. Many in the American Catholic establishment saw personal parishes as an embarrassment; for the past several decades the hierarchy has worked to obliterate these parishes from the Church. Now the model that worked well for Germans, Polish and others isn’t available for Hispanics.

    1. @Sean Peters – comment #3:
      Sean, by “personal parishes” do you mean national parishes? National parishes experienced an evolution in the US as certain waves of immigrants assimilated into American society. Hispanic immigration was always different in that they did not bring their own clergy with them, for the most part, and they did not have the same cultural dynamics concerning organizations and building projects.

      If you are claiming that national parishes were subject to a campaign for obliteration because the hierarchy found them embarrassing, I am not sure what you mean. The dark side of what you are casting as an advantageous history is that the immigrant groups who built separate churches were discriminated against by other groups. This discrimination and hostility, not the cultural haven that was offered, was what was problematic.

  4. Would suggest that there are a number of issues that need to be separated:
    – the bullet points…..echoes what we have been seeing for 20 years with other ethnic groups, cultures, etc. Has more to do with movement from 1st to 2nd to 3rd generation in each cohort and socio-economic drivers than the appeal of evangelical churches
    – *national* parishes…..studies/data indicate that this continues to be an issue that has no resolution. For a few decades, bishops moved away from national parishes (this was based upon their experience esp. in large urban centers where you might find two or three catholic parishes (some with schools) in a small 4 or 5 block area….lack of priests, finances, upkeep, staffs, etc. made continuing these models impossible. In addition, given the 1st bullet, by 3rd generation folks are intermarried; had chosen the best schools, etc. and no longer automatically attended their national parish. There was also some movement in terms of social justice that stressed one parish with diversity, equal access, and no identification with a specific ethnic group. (#3 – yes, it may have worked well for a few decades but you ignore the significant current issues in large cities such as Boston, Chicago, NYC, STL where national parishes are unable to continue)
    – in terms of the comment on *service*; data indicates a number of added issues for Hispanics……continuing debate over english only approach, spanish kept for churches (language connected to religious practice), bilingual approaches (none of the language groups are satisfied e.g. mixture of two or three languages at mass); continued lack of hispanic priests and bishops (call to ministry and celibacy tension in the cultural mix).
    Dioceses that currently are seeing significant hispanic expansion struggle to find qualified/trained priests, staff, deacons…..in reality, certain parishes become identified as hispanic because they are in neighborhoods that are 70% or more hispanic; spanish is the primary language, etc. So, much of this is driven by socio-economic forces; educational opportunites, job availabaility, etc. and has nothing to do with whatever the church provides.

  5. Faith is neither lived nor transmitted in a vacuum; it comes with a certain degreeof ‘cultural dressing’. That’s quite appropriate, because if faith is a personal response then a person’s culture will necessarily give color/flavor to his/her expression of faith. Many non-Anglo nagtional groups have a plethora of customs –both secular and religious– that celebrate their group’s understanding of what it means to live a human and Christian life. Many non-Anglo Catholic groups have an abundance of treasured “devotional practices” which, sadly, many Anglo Catholic find to be an embarrassment. The ‘devotional life’ of many Anglo parishes has virtually died out while the non-Anglos (even 2nd, 3rd and 4th generations!) desperately try to retain them. And while many devotional practices are ‘home based’ they receive a sense of ‘validation’ and empowerment from the parish. (Flip through the Book of Blessings. How many of them are either “ethnic” in origin or are popularly celebrated by particular ethnic groups. And consider how few of those blessings find any kind of regular expression in a typical parish.)

    By and large it is the non-Catholic Christian churches that make the greater effort to ‘welcome’ the non-Anglo person with all [or most of] his cultural characteristics and which welcome cultural expression of faith in their churches.

    America at its best was never a ‘melting pot’ but rather a mosaic– the unity of differences treasured and celebrated. The best of Catholicism, by definition, is not a spiritual melting pot either. It, too, is a wonderful mosaic of numerous hands, feet, eyes, ears, noses, etc etc that come together to make a beautiful Body.

  6. John – don’t disagree but, in all fairness, anglos also bring their cultural values to the parish just as hispanics do. Anglos also have *devotions* & values which may be different from hispanics.

    Welcoming – not sure I would agree with your generalization but, yes, certain parishes and pastors are not open to some of the things you allude to.

  7. The national parish model was discontinued by Cardinal Spellman in the 1950s with the first waves of Puerto Rican migration. Instead he had his priests and seminarians become “inculturated” by sending them to Puerto Rico and Spain to learn Spanish language and culture. (To this day, there is one Irish-American priest in our parish from this time whose Spanish is so flawless some people thought that he didn’t speak English!)
    Unfortunately the national parish model was abandoned at the time when cultural identity was highlighted in the secular sphere (e.g. 1970s bilingual education).
    While there is no wrong or right answer to the national parish question (its only one tool in the toolbox), its usefulness should not be underestimated or devalued.

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