The Latinos who aren’t Catholic, but used to be

It’s a trend that bears watching:

While the Catholic church is still the principal religion for Latinos, a growing number are bucking tradition and moving toward evangelism — particularly among the younger generation.

“My mother is so Catholic,” said Jose Rosales, 55. “She tripped out when she found out. She and my aunt said, ‘Oh, great; now you’re a Hallelujah.’ ”

About 23 percent, or 9.5 million of 41 million Latinos in the U.S. in 2004, identified themselves as Protestants or other Christians, according to statistics compiled by Gastn Espinosa, an assistant professor of religious studies at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, Calif.

Each year, as many as 600,000 U.S. Latinos leave the Catholic Church for other Christian denominations, Espinosa said.

In the most recent numbers — a 2007 Pew Research Center report — 43 percent of the 4,600 Hispanics interviewed identified themselves as evangelicals who had converted from Catholicism.

Destiny Church in Indio, Calif., opened its doors in 2004. Five years later, it added a Spanish service and bought another building in anticipation of the growing Spanish ministry.

In 2009, when the Spanish service was first offered, 15 to 20 people would attend the service, said Anthony Martinez, the church’s membership director. Now, an average of 150 are there.

Most of the Hispanic former Catholics at the church are second and third-generation, he said.

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47 responses to “The Latinos who aren’t Catholic, but used to be”

  1. There is a saying that, “God has no grandchildren”. What this story seems to demonstrate is that young Latinos may be less willing to remain Catholic simply because their parents and grandparents were. In the article linked, one woman said, “It comes down to knowing Christ,” she said. “I was drawn to the simplicity of the Gospel message and the unconditional love that comes with Christianity.”
    If Latinos and anyone else aren’t able to find that in Catholicism, we need to examine our collective conscience and figure out why.

  2. Is it any wonder! A lot of the Catholic Hispanics I know, who are a result of their Catholic heritage, have little knowledge of their faith and their practice seems a lot like the superstitions that so many Protestants take delight in accusing us of. Our parish actually cut back on a Spanish mass because the young Spanish speaking priest (from Brazil) was so outwardly disrespectful of the mass attendants that they stopped coming…….the pastor seemed oblivious. The area had an increasing Spanish population so the parish should have been ADDING masses not the reverse. Because of poor catechesis one can look also at all the Anglo Catholics that are abandoning the Church – let alone those of Spanish descent. If they only knew that they were leaving the Real Presence behind (not just the lousy music or poor homilies) how could they even consider leaving? Duh! Yet the knowledgeable Protestants who study our Catholic history and traditions continue to convert in surprising numbers and seem to be the most fervent and on fire for their new faith. Easy to figure that out. They KNOW what they have found.

  3. Dear Brother the Clergy, Religious & othere Lay leaders they have to start paying attention to the Catholic ‘hispanics’ in the USA, do that the Protestants, Muslims and others sxts, groups are doing a good job than the Diocese of Scranto PA, they hispanic aroun 65,ooo more that half they have been converted to their religion or sect, WHY you have to ask Bishop Joseph Bambrea…he may know…why if noit ask the pastors in the Monroe County where the hispanic are…I gues in thos EVANGELIZATION year we MUST put attention to this GROWING PROBLEM…Since 196 I have been warning the Leaders of the Dioces of Scranton, PA…

  4. The worst part of it is that unsavory protestants have been using the Blessed Virgin Mary, whom they don’t care about, as a way to lure them away from the Church. They claim they have her and the Church doesn’t. Its stupid, but effective. Its also sinful on their part.

  5. I Live in an area that is mostly Hispanic, actually it is a Spanish land grant area and the people here go back many, many generations. Most speak fluent English, but not all. So one of the members asked our pastor to say a Spanish mass once in a while. His reply? “Most of the people here understand English well enough.” With this attitude by the clergy I understand why several Protestant churches in the area are growing and the Catholic Church shrinking.

    The kicker is our pastor is Hispanic himself.


    Mike L

  6. Well, the dimwit interviewed in the article from CARA isn’t concerned, but I assure you that thousands of bishops and priests in the US are very concerned. Amazing that the lazy reporter from USA Today didn’t bother find a single Catholic Latino leader in the US to interview, like the Archbishop of LA among others. GetReligion blog, you have another post!

  7. The loss of any Catholic to any other faith is based simply on a lack of belief in the Eucharist as the body, blood, soul and Divinity of our Lord. If you truly believe Christ’s teaching in John 6 how could you ever follow any other path? But that is just my opinion.

  8. Of course some may have fallen through the cracks as far as catechesis is concerned; with a resultant lack of understanding and belief. And some may feel that the barriers between them and the Eucharist are insurmountable. I’m thinking particularly here of those who need to go through an annulment, and/or convalidation of a marriage in order to be able to receive Communion. The combination of pages of paperwork with imperfect English language skills, and maybe a sketchy immigration status, can seem daunting and perhaps risky. I’m sure there is help available for this if they know where to look for it. But they may just decide to opt out and go elsewhere.

  9. Obviously there is something that the other Christian churchs have that appeals to the younger generation of the Latino population. Perhaps a little research on the part of the Church might be needed to find out, if possible, just what that might be, if they don’t want to continue to lose members.

  10. oh no…not a tambourine. *facepalm* That’s bringing back horrible memories of my Mom banging hers in the Charismatic movement.

  11. Good music and dancing. Shouting in the pulpit. It’s an emotionally evocative place to be. It makes you want to jump up and shout Amen. Until you start poking holes in the theology and remember they don’t believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. The, in the back of your head, you hear the tune Ya Got Trouble.

  12. I work with two hispanics at work who are protestants. I never questioned them on it. Not my business, but it’s a sad thing. We Catholics have such poor catachism. Most basic protestant beliefs are so simple that it’s much easier to grasp than Catholicism if Catholicism isn’t taught well. Those proteatant beliefs are simple, but they are mostly wrong. We need a hispanic Scott Hahn.

  13. Very good point. That’s one of the reasons why i don’t support a return to only Latin mass. People’s language is a means of identification.

  14. Years ago, before I was Catholic and when I was just out of high school, I worked with an Ecuadorian of my age who told me he went to the Episcopal Church in the neighborhood because the Catholic church in the area was “snobby.” I think that probably reflected an Irish Catholic overtone to that parish in that era (early ’70s) that was not welcoming of outsiders.

  15. My son’s best friend is hispanic and they have discussed his friends leaving the Catholic Church. His reason was that the church he joined talked about the evils of abortion all the time while the Catholic Church in their sermons would go all year and never mention it. He sees abortion having devastating impact on the hispanic neighborhoods in many cities almost to the same degree it is happening in African American neighborhoods today. He was also upset with the Catholic Church seeming to support illegal immigration which is also causing havoc in the hispanic community. He told my son that he should try being a legal hispanic in the USA and he does not blame people for being upset when so many of his nationality are openly breaking the laws of the USA. He has been here for generations and served two tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. He also said many priests in Mexico are encouraging the people there to come across the border illegally and this upsets him as well. He feels the message being sent by the Catholic Church at this time is out of touch with what it shoud be preaching of giving to Caesar what is Caesars and not teaching enough about those grave sins which will condemn souls to eternal damnation. One final factor was the priest abusing boys scandal which offends huge numbers of hispanics who view this as proof of a massive number of gay priests and their culture does not like the gay lifestyle and we hear few sermons on the evils of the gay lifestlye choices.

  16. I wonder if this is related to the growth of Protestantism in Latin America? I think an issue there is that, at least some, Protestant faiths are seen as both more emotional and as having more who give practical advice about this life. Also you don’t have to be as educated to be a minister in many Evangelical churches so for poorer/less-educated people that might be appealing.

    Specific to the US, immigrants to America have long had a tendency to become more Protestant after arriving. I know of this with Italians. Italy itself was like 90%+ Catholic, but in the US I personally know of several who became Protestant or Anglican. A desire to assimilate is part of it with many groups as the US was traditionally majority Protestant. I would say the South, for this purpose I’m including Texas and even Oklahoma, is still fairly Protestant and many Hispanics settle in the South these days. Although with the Italians I recall another element might just be that “back home” Catholic was their only option. Coming here they felt they could “explore” so to speak.

    Although I admit when I first saw this, before I came here, I almost wondered if this would be more “exotic” as the articles’ title was “expanding their religious horizons.” So I was thinking maybe it would deal with Latinos/Hispanics who became Muslim or Baha’i or something. Hispanics being Protestant is not really new to me.

  17. The culture and education (internet & social media) have changed. The younger generation is very different from those of us from the 60s & 70s. We in the church who teach the youth must change to adapt to new methods and so must the church adapt to let the Spirit drive us in change. The generation will not fit in a 16 th century jar. I have seen nieces and nephews who went to great Catholic schools and grow up in outstanding Catholic families move to Protestant churches in search for liturgy and outreach that did not exist in their parishes. Adapt, change or die out. Hold the core to our hearts and teaching but adapt to changing culture and times.

  18. Many years ago I read a very good article in this subject that summarized the heart of the problem with the following quote: “When we need to elect a new union leader we go to the priest. When we want to hear about Jesus we go to the minister.”

    Growing up in Latin America, I remember one too many sermons about the evils of American capitalism and how Americans were going to hell in a hand-basket because, with all the hunger and poverty in the world we would spend money in dog food (to some extent I see a point there, though). They were all political and devoid of spirituality. So many priests preached and practiced a Marxist philosophy in that the comforts and hope provided by faith would take away energy to “fight the oppressor”.

    I do like one of the comments above referring to the simplicity of Protestant belief versus the rich, deep, reasoned theology of Catholicism.

  19. From personal experience I noticed that small protestant congregations like Pentecostals, Congregationalists and other groups that have attracted Hispanics, have a closer personal interaction with people who join. If you miss mass at a Catholic Parish probably no one will call you to see what happened or probably even notice you are not there. In a small protestant congregation they will no only call you but probably show up at your home. Also these protestant distribute food, clothes, help with money and have a very close knitted and cohesive congregation. We don’t have that in the Catholic Church.

  20. You’re right justamouse, BUT a lot of people AREN”t as interested in theology as you and I. They WANT an emoitonal connection with Jesus and for many of them Catholocism is too intellectual and doesn’t provide that, especially if you were born into it and are “cradle”. It just what your parents raised you as, NOT what you chose with your heart. Don’t you get that?

  21. With respect, justa mouse, those faiths that don’t believe in the Real Presense of Christ in the Eucharist are just as sincere in their faith as you probably are in yours. If there was only one way to believe and worship God, then why are there so many other Christian and non Christian faiths in this world? In the case of this article, currently the RCC isn’t able to minister to the young Latino population in a manner that appeals to them. Apparently they haven’t lost their faith, just need a different way to express their faith ie worship God.

  22. If they have walked away from the Real Presence in the Eucharist, for happy music and amens, I would honestly say they have lost their faith. I can also honestly say that, as a revert who spent 30 years in various loud Protestant/emerging churches. THAT said, I do think that perhaps the church community centers could host some great bands, or evens that would minister to these people.

    Our parish and another local parish have bi monthly Spanish masses, with full meals afterwards, and our Bishop is extremely serious about our Diocesan migrant ministry.

  23. I do get that (see my reply to Pagansister). But that emotional connection comes through the Real Presence. THAT is ‘the altar call (weekly, no less!) and ‘being born again’. Once you stop believing in it, it all becomes rote.

    Don’t get me wrong, I totally love theology, but that’s not what makes me want to run up the church stairs every Sunday (and miss it when I can’t be there weekdays). It’s not about the clapping, or the music, or the homily. It’s about the Eucharist.

    If there’s going to be a ‘revival’ within the RCC, it’s going to start with a priest who loves the Eucharist, teaching the parishioners about John 6:49, and how martyrs died for literal belief in those verses. Everything else falls by the wayside.

  24. Of course there is a need to use the new media as evangelization tools. But the people who have said it is about a personal and emotional connection with Jesus are right, that is as true now as it ever was. The Eucharist is the most personal connection of all. But if people don’t “get” that on a heart level, and I don’t mean just learning their catechism, they’re going to keep looking.

  25. That maybe true for YOU, but for many “I” know including those who believe in it, it ISN’T an emotional experience. It’s omething they accept, but they don’t feel joy. They don’t feel united with God. Somehow, for some, perhaps many Hispanics, evangelical services provide that. That they have felt, experienced, the presence of God. It’s very easy, especially if one was raised as a Catholic, for it all to become rote. When YOU choose to worship somewhere because YOU have made an emotional committment, the experience is completely different.
    I know this because I was seminarian many years ago.

  26. I agree with Melody (first comment). I know some non-hispanics who do not practice their faith or have gone to other Protestant religions. I do not think it is always because they were not taught their faith. One person told me that he was looking for something more positive, not so negative. Someone needs to figure out the reasons.

  27. As the discusssion has shown, there seem to be a number of factors here:

    – not saying Mass in Spanish or Brazilian Portuguese
    – people who want an emotional connection with Jesus, but not willing to make the intellectual connection (something that a priest told me many, many years ago)
    – those who are here illegally and the Church’s position on it;
    – poor teaching of our faith
    – not a personal connection within our parishes — one person calling another

    I think we all know what needs to be done, and we may do it on small daily scale but are our bishops willing to take up the call…or will we go more along the way of mainline protestant denominations.

  28. This was something a priest told me many,many years ago. Catholicism is an intellectual faith. Many of the store front churches (and now mega-churches) are emotional.

  29. justamouse: Sounds like your parish and the other local one are serious about keeping the Spanish speaking population returning to the Church. However I still disagree with you on what the loss of faith involves—-if happy music and a few amens causes someone to continue to go to church—whatever that church happens to be—then there is faith. Music and in some cases, amens,can be found in other places besides houses of worship, IMO.

  30. It is, but I think Catholicism is universal as well. If the faith is not reaching, or somehow alienating, non-intellectual people there is a problem I think.

    I kind of think of Catholicism as working on multiple levels. It’s a church that existed before popular literacy so there are things for less educated people. Many of the saints were simple people and traditionally it was easier to be downright illiterate and Catholic. (Art, memorized prayers, etc) Although I do think it’s a more complicated religion than many to most Protestant creeds, life is fairly complicated so I admit that just seems sensible. However I don’t think the faith requires you to memorize even the deuterocanonical books at the level some Evangelicals expect one to know the Protestant Bible.

  31. I have to admit that would turn me off and I think that’s why my Dad became Catholic. I don’t think I’d like “Why weren’t you at Mass today?” or constant attention. I’m a bit introverted.

  32. That’s just ridiculous. So it’s an intellectual reaction I have when I cry, as I’m taking communion?

  33. If you have to put up with tambourines in order to keep Hispanics in the Church, well, maybe you could you offer it up for the poor souls in purgatory?

  34. awashingtoncatholic, it’s my understanding that the RCC fully endorses immigration, and merciful treatment of immigrants?

    “Finally, immigration policy that allows people to live here and contribute to society for years but refuses to offer them the opportunity to achieve legal status does not serve the common good. The presence of millions of people living without easy access to basic human rights and necessities is a great injustice.”

    I think, perhaps, some Catholics in the pews are actually more against things like amnesty, than the Church?

  35. Good question. The Truth is complicated. The notion of sacrements and sanctifying grace and the magisterium are complicated truths. We especially need religious education and we do it so poorly.

  36. I think so many people want to be entertained at Mass and so it becomes about them and not about Jesus in the Eucharist. So much talk about the music, the atmosphere, the externals … it sounds like marketing and advertising. If the Eucharist is not the source and summit of our faith then the only thing left is the glitter and the faith loses to better performers.

  37. The answer is pretty simple. Those who leave are looking for a sense of community that the Church fails to provide to them. Simply relying on the Real Presence won’t be enough when people feel so disconnected to the community of believers around them.

  38. I wonder how much of this is effects of the state of the Church in Mexico, particularly fallout from the government’s war against the Church in the 20th century. In our community, virtually all Hispanics are Mexican — actually, most are from one town and are related to each other. It’s an uphill battle to convince them to put their kids into our parish school. They tell us that in Mexico Catholic education is strictly for rich people. While our school is very affordable, and we have financial aid available, it’s not just a money thing but a class thing — they don’t want to see themselves as snotty rich people. We make steady progress, basically because once you get some families in then it is normalized.

    In the first half of the 20th century, when the Mexican government was lining up priests and catechists in front of firing squads, it’s not clear how much catechesis was going on, heck, how much could have gone on? And even in the last half-century, access to the sacraments has been pretty irregular in the poorest and most rural places. So if you have parents and grandparents who are mostly uncatechized, and no family history of getting children off to Catholic schools or catechism classes, and language and cultural barriers in your new country, that’s a lot of barriers to overcome.

  39. Actually the war against the Catholic Church in Mexico started in the XIX century. First led by ultra-liberal Francisco Gomez Farias and then by the better known and secular saint Benito Juarez. There was an actual “Reformation” War (Guerra de Reforma) between around 1856 and 1861 that ended with the Liberal’s victory; churches were secularized, some demolished, others converted into government buildings, libraries or warehouses. Convents were outlawed, many were demolished and the work of Catholic Monks with poor peasant Indians was destroyed. The State outlawed religious education then making all schools secular (laicas). Only the French Intervention slowed down the pace of Jacobin destruction of the Church. Then Porfirio Diaz came, a moderate liberal, and a kind of “modus vivendi” was reached between the State and the Church. The Mexican Revolution of 1910 extended into outright religious war in the 20’s (an atrocious war of annihilation led by Plutarco Elias Calles and murderous liberals like the governor of Yucatan, Garrido) and ended with the defeat of Catholics and a tense truce between State and Church which lasted until recently. Until recent reforms, religious schools in Mexico were illegal, priests could not wear clerical garb outside the Church and the State considered Christian education as superstitious and dangerous. Of course, all of these was ignored in many instances and used only when convenient. Long history.

  40. Actually Tomás Garrido Canabal was the dictator governor of Tabasco (and used in Graham Greene novel “The Power and the Glory” as a model for the lieutenant who hunts for the “whiskey priest”.

    Gomez Farias name was Valentin (not Francisco) and he started his liberal reforms in the 1830’s.

  41. I don’t think we should waste energy on people who are prepared to trade the Body and Blood of Christ for a tambourine. Let them go.

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