US Catholic Faith in Real Life

The future of Hispanic Catholics in the church

By Elizabeth Lefebvre | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

Last Friday, the Pew Research center released a new report on the state of Hispanic Catholics in the United States. The results were somewhat surprising, given the reality that most young Catholics (54 percent of those born in 1982 or later) in this country are Hispanic. The new data suggests that, just like the Catholic population at large, many Hispanics are increasingly identifying as Protestant or religiously unaffiliated, while the number of those identifying as Catholic has declined.

There seems to be an unusual reality, though: While the number of Hispanics who identify as Catholic is declining, at the same time, the percentage of all Catholics who are Hispanic is rising. The Pew’s Fact Tank breaks down why that seemingly contradictory statement is true: 55 percent of Latinos identify as Catholic, down from 67 percent in 2010, and nearly a quarter identify as former Catholics. But, the Hispanic population has risen dramatically in the United States, which accounts for the second statistic: that about one third to one fourth of adult Catholics are Hispanics. In 2012, Hispanics made up nearly 17 percent of the population of the United States, up from 12.5 percent in 2000.

If both trends continue, Fact Tank points out, at some point in the future it is possible that a majority of U.S. Catholics will be Hispanic even though the majority of Hispanics will no longer be Catholic.

In the March 2012 issue of U.S. Catholic, we interviewed theologian Timothy Matovina, executive director of the Institute for Latino Studies at the University of Notre Dame. In the interview, he said: "I would like to see Hispanic ministry be a priority in everything we do in the church. We should be asking of each ministry in our dioceses, 'What have you done to pass on the faith to Hispanic young people?' We have to make every Catholic see that our own survival as a church depends on it because today’s young Latinos are either going to be in church or not be in church 20 or 30 years from now."

In light of this new data, Matovina's call to make Hispanic ministry a priority seems even more crucial.

Image: Photo by Wes Frazer (