Latinos Drift from Catholic Church

By Grossman, Cathy Lynn | The Christian Century, June 11, 2014 | Go to article overview

Latinos Drift from Catholic Church


Grossman, Cathy Lynn, The Christian Century


A new report, "The Shifting Religious Identity of Latinos in the United States," reads very much like a biography of Fernando Alcantar.

Like six in ten Hispanic Catholics in the United States, Alcantar was born in Mexico, where "you are Catholic as much as you are Mexican. You like jalapenos and worship the Virgin of Guadalupe," he said.

But once he moved to California after high school, his faith journey diverged--and was derailed. Today Alcantar, 36, calls himself a humanist.

The Pew survey report released May 7 is subtitled: "Nearly One-in-Four Latinos Are Former Catholics." And Alcantar is one of them.

Hispanics are still a pillar of American Catholicism--fully a third of the U.S. church today. And their share is climbing along with the overall growth of the Hispanic population.

More than half (55 percent) of the nation's estimated 19.6 million Hispanics identify as Catholic, according to Pew's report, which uses "Hispanic" and "Latino" interchangeably.

But that's 12 percentage points below 2010, when 67 percent of Latinos surveyed said they were Catholic, the survey found.

"Everyone was surprised in some way by the findings, the first time the size of the decline in Hispanic Catholics has been measured in depth," said Pew research associate Jessica Hamar Martinez. "If both trends [immigration and shifting] continue, a day could come when a majority of Catholics in the United States will be Hispanic, even though the majority of Hispanics might no longer be Catholic," the survey said.

According to the report:

* Nearly one in three Hispanics (32 percent) said they no longer belong to the major religious tradition in which they were raised (not including changes between Protestant denominations). Among foreign-born Hispanics, half switched faiths before arriving in the United States.

* Today 18 percent of Hispanics claim no religious identity, up from 10 percent in 2010. "I think people were expecting the growth in evangelicals among former Catholics, but the rise of the unaffiliated was unexpected," said senior researcher Cary Funk.

* Now 22 percent of Hispanics say they are Protestant. This includes 16 percent who call themselves evangelical, up from 12 percent in 2010.

* The movement out of the Catholic Church is led by the young and middle-aged. Only 45 percent of Hispanics under age 30 are Catholic. And four in ten (37 percent) of those young Catholics say they can imagine leaving the Catholic Church someday.

* Most Hispanics (seven in ten) who left the church for any new direction left before the age of 24.

That story sounds familiar to Alcantar, of El Centro, California. He left Catholicism at age 18 and Christianity altogether by the time he was 32. Two of his three siblings are agnostic; only one sister remains devoutly Catholic.

Among ex-Catholics who turned to another denomination, the Pew survey found that many have turned to the enthusiastic worship of Pentecostal, charismatic or "renewalist" churches that celebrate gifts of the Holy Spirit such as divine healing, receiving direct revelation from God, and "a strong sense of God's direct, often miraculous, role in everyday life."

That is the route taken by Alcantar's parents. His mother, Teresa Foucar, is an evangelical Protestant, and his father became a deacon with an Assemblies of God church.

Among ex-Catholics, most told Pew they either "drifted away" (55 percent) or just stopped believing in the teachings of their childhood faith (52 percent). …

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