The growing number of Hispanics in the Catholic Church in America has brought many new members, but also poses significant challenges, according to two recent studies.
The first study, published by Boston College, noted that already Hispanics make up 31.2 million of America’s 71.8 million Catholics. There are 4,368 Catholic parishes, nearly one in four of the national total, with some form of ministry to Hispanics.
Commenting on the report Assistant Professor Hosffman Ospino of the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry, also highlighted the growing secularization of Hispanics.
“Only three percent of Hispanic Catholic children attend Catholic schools and fewer and fewer Hispanics under 30 attend church. We run the risk of losing a whole generation of Catholics,” he said.
The parishes that have some form of formal structures to attend to Hispanic Catholics are divided among 172 dioceses, with a median number of Hispanic Catholics of 72,000.
One of the main points made by the study is that much more needs to be done to care for their needs and also to ensure a greater number of Hispanic priests and pastoral leaders.
While Hispanics accounted for 71% of the growth of the Catholic population in the United States since 1960, the number of parishes with Hispanic ministry has not kept pace with this increase.
The study also found that parishes with Hispanic ministry, of which 61% are in the south and west of America, have fewer resources compared to other parishes. More resources are needed in the parishes that serve Hispanic Catholics, the study urged.
The question of resources also accounts for what Ospino pointed out in his remarks about the low level of Hispanic children in Catholic schools. The study noted that the larger the number of Hispanics in a parish the less likely it is to have or share responsibility for a school.
The study explained that the Hispanic label covers a wide variety of nationalities. Some
64.5% of American Hispanics have Mexican roots, but there are also large numbers of Puerto Ricans and Cubans, along with immigrants from many South American countries. Around 61% of the total number were born in the United States.
The Hispanic population is younger, with an average age of 27, that the general population – 37.2 – and about 59% are Catholic.Information from parish surveys revealed that parishes with Hispanic ministry have a higher attendance at Mass, with a median of 1,000 parishioners on a weekend, compared to 750 at other parishes.
As well, on average, parishes with Hispanic ministry celebrated 82 baptisms in Spanish in 2011 and 36 in English.
One notable aspect of the surveys was that only 10% of pastoral leaders perceived the Hispanic parishioners as fully integrated into the parish. The total responses for “minimally” or “not at all integrated” amounted to more than 50% of the total responses.
Another issue that needs resolving according to the study is the matter of the credentials of Hispanic lay Catholics who work in faith formation and pastoral programs in the parishes. They require a greater level of formation so as to have the qualifications to be hired for positions of pastoral leadership.
Leaving the Church
The second study, The Shifting Religious Identity of Latinos in the United States, was published by the Pew Research Center.
It focused on the increasing number of Hispanics who have left the Catholic Church. Nearly one-in-four Hispanic adults (24%) are now former Catholics, according to a survey of more than 5,000 Hispanics by the Pew Center.
Overall, a majority – 55% – of Hispanics still identify as Catholic. About 22% are Protestant and 18% are religiously unaffiliated.
A previous survey carried out by Pew in 2010 found that 67% of Hispanics identified as Catholics, meaning that in a short time this percentage has declined sharply.
This shift, the study commented, is in line with changes in Latin America, where there has been a significant increase in the number of Protestants and those with no affiliation.
The changes in religious identity of Hispanics in the United States are across the spectrum of the population, affecting both those born in America and immigrants, and those with varying levels of education.
It has, however, occurred primarily among adult Hispanics under the age of 50. Among the youngest group – aged 18 to 29 – the trend has been overwhelmingly away from Catholicism to no religious affiliation at all. Of those aged 30 to 49 the move is split between those changing to Protestant groups and those not belonging to any church.
Both of the studies point to the importance of Hispanics for the Catholic Church in America, and they also reveal the great challenge for the Church in dealing adequately with these substantial demographic shifts.