Hispanic Catholics Ignored

By Jones, Arthur | National Catholic Reporter, February 11, 2000 | Go to article overview
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Hispanic Catholics Ignored

Jones, Arthur, National Catholic Reporter

Second-class status still prevalent, report finds

Despite the fact that by 2020 Hispanics will surpass blacks as the nation's leading minority and may also surpass whites as the dominant ethnic group within the Catholic church, Hispanic Catholics are still second-class citizens in most Catholic parishes, and racism is still strong, according to a 1999 study.

Worse yet, according to a 1999 study, Hispanic Catholics are twice as likely to worship in "separate and unequal settings" as in "equal" settings. Hispanic parishioners frequently are required to "rent" the church they belong to. "In quite a few dioceses, a relative minority of Euro-American Catholics who predate the Hispanics still control the central functions of the parish, and the Hispanics, in effect, constitute a `parish within a parish.' In fact, this relationship is explicit: The Hispanics keep their Mass collections in a separate fund and use monies to pay `rent' to the church for use of its sanctuary and parish hall."

Disturbing too, are the statistics in this soon-to-be-released U.S. bishops' Hispanic Affairs committee's study, "Hispanic Ministry at the Turn of the New Millennium." Those statistics deal with dioceses with the most rapid increase in their Hispanic Catholic population.

Charlotte, N.C., heads the list, up 84.3 percent in six years, 1990-'96. And while the impact of the 22,735 new Hispanics may seem small, so was the Catholic population absorbing them, 97,000.

A starker indication of the silent giant of shifting Hispanic Catholics is in Atlanta, Ga., the third fastest growing diocese, after Reno-LasVegas. The Atlanta Catholic population nearly doubled in a decade: from 158,00 in 1989 to 311,000 in 1999 while the general Atlanta population increased by only 25 percent (4 million to 5 million).

Though the registered Hispanic Catholic presence in Atlanta increased by 60,000 (80.1 percent, 1990-96), Atlanta likely has at least another 300,000 "anonymous" new Catholics out there it can barely touch. (The "Millennium" study says a "conservative" estimate is that 67 percent of all Hispanics are Catholic. That means 300,000 of Atlanta's Hispanic new arrivals are Catholic.)

However, says Gonzalo Saldana, Hispanic ministries director for the Atlanta archdiocese, possibly only 15 percent of those newcomer Catholics are known to the church.

The archdiocese does not have the resources to tap the new Catholic arrivals among the more than 450,000 Hispanics who have arrived in the past decade. A high percentage of them are undocumented, getting what The Atlanta Journal-Constitution calls "the big wink" because the Georgia economy is now so dependent on them. The archdiocese does train Hispanic ministry catechists, said Saldana, but it has to rely on the parishes to do the evangelization outreach.

Nationally, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, there were 23.3 million Hispanics in the United States in 1990, and that constituted 9 percent of the population. The number has grown to 31.7 million or 11.6 percent of the population today.

Other "Millennium" study findings include that:

* Nationwide even parishes with a significant Hispanic presence do not offer "culturally sensitive" programs to Hispanics. Less than a third of them have youth ministry, programs for adults preparing to join the church, lay leadership training and parish renewal or cursillo retreat programs in Spanish;

* Hispanic Mass attendance is much higher than commonly believed;

* Hispanic men do not appear to be significantly less likely than Hispanic women to participate in church activities;

* Christian base communities no longer are, if they ever were, the quintessential expression of the Hispanic small group faith experience, and in many dioceses, "base communities have come and gone";

* The dominant small group faith experience for Hispanics today is the charismatic movement;

* Significantly fewer priests and sisters receive continuing education in Spanish language and Hispanic devotions and sacramental life than at the start of the decade.

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