The future of the U.S. Catholic Church depends on Latinos

The future of the U.S. Catholic Church depends on Latinos

By Insight Tr3s

Earlier this month, Hispanics celebrated the election of Pope Francis, the first Latino to hold the papacy. People of Latin origin are driving Catholicism’s worldwide growth, so clearly the College of Cardinals knew their target audience when they chose a South American as the next pontiff.

[caption id="attachment_23431" align="alignleft" width="300"]The first First Communion class of <a href=Union/Grainger Catholic Mission in Tennessee. " width="300" height="168" class="size-medium wp-image-23431" /> The first First Communion class of Union/Grainger Catholic Mission in Tennessee. [/caption]

However, while Catholicism is the dominant religion among Latinos, its membership is declining as Protestant faiths attract “very religious” Hispanic young adults. Insight Tr3s shares some research on U.S. Hispanics and religion:

More than 7 in 10 Hispanics 18 to 34 are Christian – and most are Catholic. To be exact, 72% of Hispanics age 18 to 34 are Christian, and 51% are Catholic. Other Christian religions represent smaller segments of the Hispanic population: 9% are “Christian,” 4% are “other evangelical Christian,” 4% are Pentecostal/Charismatic, and 3% are Baptist.

Just over half of Catholic adults 18 to 34 in the U.S. are Hispanic. Among total U.S. Catholic adults, more than 1 in 3 are Hispanic.

Hispanics 18 to 34 are four times more likely than non-Hispanics to be Catholic. 51% of Hispanics age 18 to 34 are Catholic, compared with 13% of non-Hispanics.

Young Hispanic adults are less likely than older Hispanics to be Catholic – and as likely to be Protestant. Though the percentages of young Hispanic adults are still large, they are smaller for the 18 to 29 group. 47% of Hispanics 18 to 29 are Catholic, compared with 56% of Hispanics 30 to 49 and 60-61% of those over 50. Meanwhile, 29% of Hispanics 18 to 29 are Protestant – compared with 27% of Hispanics over 30. While the Catholic Church is losing young adults, other Christian religions are not.

Over the last five years, Hispanics overall have become less likely to identify as Catholic – but are as likely to be Protestant. 54% of Hispanics said they were Catholic in 2012, down from 58% in 2008. However, 28% said they were Protestant, comparable to the 27% reported in 2008.

Catholicism is in rapid decline among non-Hispanics 18 to 34. From 2008 to 2012, the percentage of non-Hispanics 18 to 34 who consider themselves Catholic fell from 18% to 13% -- a decrease of nearly 30%. Hispanic Catholics 18 to 34 fell at a slower pace (61% in 2008 to 51% in 2012, a 16% decrease). Because non-Hispanic Catholics are declining faster, Hispanics will represent a larger share of young Catholics in the U.S. in the years to come.

Though smaller in number, Hispanic Protestants are more likely than Hispanic Catholics to identify as “very religious.” 60% of Hispanic Protestants said they were very religious, compared with 43% of Hispanic Catholics. Hispanic Catholics were more likely to consider themselves to be moderately religious (39%, vs. 29% of Hispanic Protestants). This trend held across age groups, though Hispanics over 30 were more likely than the 18-29 group to classify themselves as “very religious.”

When it comes to marriage, religious compatibility is very important to young Hispanics. They consider religion to be the third most important thing, following trust and love.

Source: Experian Simmons, Fall 2012 and Fall 2008 NHCS Adult Study 12-month; Tr3s 2012 “Hispanic 18-34s Living The ‘Next Normal’”; Gallup, “U.S. Catholic Hispanic Population Less Religious, Shrinking,” Feb 2013

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