THE BLOG
05/19/2014 12:14 pm ET Updated Jul 19, 2014

Hispanic Catholic Trends

"This is huge." Emma Green interrupts her own reporting (May 7, 2014) on desertions from Roman Catholic heritage and affiliation. Before her self-interruptive gasp she had begun her report: "According to a new Pew study, over the past three years, the proportion of Hispanic-Americans who call themselves Catholics has dropped by 12 percentage points."

I'll spare you the easily available statistics from the Public Religion Research Institute and the Pew Charitable Trust.http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/08/upshot/even-as-hispanics-lift-catholicism-theyre-leaving-it.html?_r=0 Green summarizes them in non-pollsters' prose: the new figures suggest "the difference between two-thirds of U.S. Hispanics being part of the Church, versus a little more than half." The slump is most dramatic -- no surprise here! --among younger Catholics.

Who cares, and who should care? Catholic leaders do, and must. Sister Mary Ann Walsh, who speaks for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, spells out what measures leadership is taking to slow the trends.

But Sister Mary Ann adds, on the 'huge' trend: "It is scary to consider that religious relativism may be the greatest threat that exists to the increasingly important Hispanic Catholic community." She sees young Hispanics along with others among the young following excitements, including non-Catholic religious versions, until "you move from your parents' church to another to no church at all."

Joseph Goodman in his "Public Religion" commentary accents, along with the move to "other faiths," the "drifting away" to the "nones," the "unaffilliateds," and not merely to the Evangelical, Pentecostal, and other Christian churches, including (12 percent of them) to "mainline Protestant," though only 9 percent had been raised in the mainline.

Back to, "Who cares?" Political observers note the trends, since the Catholic voters and interest groups are coveted targets by politically partisan recruiters. Will Catholic political weight count as much in battles over whether the Affordable Care Act is "anti-Catholic" when there are fewer Catholics around?

Who else cares? Once upon a time, Protestants might have relished observing and reporting on declines in any Catholic affiliation-sector. No more. No matter what you may hear from 'interest groups," any anti-Catholicism which focuses on Catholicism as a religious faith is muted, vague, unorganized and rare.

Instead, church-going Protestants mourn the Hispanic and other Catholic diminishments, both because they share the basics of faith and because strong Catholic participation signals to non-Catholics the importance of church-going and observance. A full Catholic parking lot down the street no doubt helped inspire non-Catholics to follow Catholic examples.

Many Catholics are looking for and hoping for the "Pope Francis Effect" to have its effect on attendance at mass and other Catholic parish activities. To date this effect has failed to materialize, despite the well-noted and oft-applauded public actions and messages from the popular pope.

For now, forward-looking Catholics are taking lessons from Catholic "parishes that do work," and from Pentecostals-Evangelicals etc. who offer pastoral care and focus on communal activities, though none of the latter can relax either in the times of "relativism," "drifting away," and other challenges.

Additional sourcing
Paulson, Michael. "Even as U.S. Hispanics Lift Catholicism, Many Are Leaving the Church Behind." The New York Times, May 7, 2014, The Upshot.

This post originally appeared in Sightings, an online publication of the Martin Marty Center of the University of Chicago Divinity School.

NOTE: This article is not available for republication without the consent of Sightings. Please contact the Managing Editor, Myriam Renaud, at DivSightings@gmail.com.