For decades, polls and studies have tracked the movement of Latinos from the Catholic Church to Protestant denominations, especially Pentecostalism. But a new Pew Research poll shows that large numbers of Latinos, particularly young adults, have switched from Catholicism to the "nones."
Since Latinos are the future of the U.S. Catholic Church, the consequences are huge for American Catholicism. The percentage of Latino adults in the U.S. who consider themselves Catholic has dropped from two-thirds as recently as 2010 to 55 percent, Pew reports, based on a poll of 5,000 Latinos. One in 4 Latino adults in the U.S. is a former Catholic.
A great deal of attention has been focused on the number of Latino Catholics who join Protestant churches. Pew says that 22 percent of Latino adults in the U.S. are Protestant, mainly evangelical. But that's not much more than the proportion of religiously unaffiliated Latinos, 18 percent. The biggest movement to the "nones" is among adults under age 30.
Pew's poll is the second major report this week to underline how crucial it is for the U.S. Catholic Church to respond to secularization among Latinos, especially young adults. Earlier, Boston College researchers, working with the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University, pointed to this secularization as a major issue.
The sharp increase in religiously unaffiliated Latinos, especially among the young, suggests that Latinos are assimilating into American society rapidly and reflecting its trends. Many dioceses have very vibrant youth ministries in Latino parishes, but these studies tell the church that something more is needed to retain those who are not so much drawn to Pentecostalism as to no church at all.
Paul Moses, a professor of journalism at Brooklyn College/CUNY, is the author of The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam and Francis of Assisi's Mission of Peace (Doubleday, 2009) and An Unlikely Union: The Love-Hate Story of New York's Irish and Italians (NYU Press, 2015).