Hispanics Reshaping U.S. Catholic Church

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at ccat.sas.upenn.edu
Wed Apr 25 19:56:00 UTC 2007

April 25, 2007

Hispanics Reshaping U.S. Catholic Church


The influx of Hispanic immigrants to the United States is transforming the
Roman Catholic Church as well as the nations religious landscape,
according to a major study of Hispanics and faith released today. The
study, conducted by the Pew Hispanic Center and the Pew Forum on Religion
and Public Life, found that many Hispanics practice a distinctive form of
charismatic Catholicism that includes speaking in tongues, miraculous
healings and prophesying practices more often associated with
Pentecostalism. Among non-Hispanic Catholics, these traditions are
practiced by some but are not so widespread.

The study also found that most Hispanics are clustering in ethnic
congregations with Hispanic clergy, Spanish-language services and where
the majority of congregants are Hispanic. These ethnic congregations are
cropping up throughout the country  not just in neighborhoods with a
concentration of Hispanics, but even in areas where Hispanics are sparse.

According to the survey, 68 percent of Hispanics are Roman Catholic, 15
percent are born-again or evangelical Protestants, 5 percent are mainline
Protestants, 3 percent are identified as other Christian, and 8 percent
are secular (1 percent refused to answer). This is a very different
picture than that of non-Hispanic Americans, where the largest groupings
are 20 percent Catholic, 35 percent evangelical and 24 percent mainline

About one-third of Catholics in the United States are now Hispanic.
Roberto Suro, director of the Pew Hispanic Center, said: There are several
measures on which Hispanic Catholics look different than your basic white
suburban Catholics, which has been the dominant form of American
Catholicism for about a generation now.

They are different in terms of beliefs, practices, language and culture,
but they remain very Catholic, Mr. Suro said. The open question here is,
does the institution adapt to them, or do they adapt to the institution?

The study also found that conversion is a common experience for many
Hispanics. Nearly one in five changed either from one religion to another,
or to no religion at all. The conversions have resulted in an exodus from
the Catholic church, and a boon for evangelical churches. Half of Hispanic
evangelicals are converts, most of them former Catholics. The study finds
a link between conversion and assimilation. Hispanics born in the United
States are more likely to convert than are first-generation, foreign-born

These changes could have political repercussions. The Hispanic electorate
is largely Democratic (63 percent). But Hispanic evangelicals are twice as
likely as Hispanic Catholics to be Republicans  a far greater gap than
exists among whites.

The study, Changing Faiths: Latinos and the Transformation of American
Religion, is based on several surveys  the main one conducted from Aug. 10
to Oct. 4, 2006  that involved more than 4,600 adult Hispanics. The margin
of error is plus or minus 2.5 percent.



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