After more than a decade of researching parish life, and after teaching many cohorts of diverse pastoral ministers, something has become disturbingly clear to me: institutionalized racial and ethnic inequality, especially of the anti-Hispanic variety, is endemic in Catholic parishes.
There are statistics that bear this out. From 2011 to 2013, the National Study of Hispanic Ministry in Catholic Parishes surveyed parish and diocesan leaders across the country about parish ministries that serve Hispanics. Researchers found that, while people of Latin American origin or descent make up nearly half of the total U.S. Catholic population, only about one-quarter of U.S. Catholic parishes intentionally serve Hispanics. Among those that do serve Hispanics, more than 40 percent of parishioners are non-Hispanic whites. The structural difference is clear: white Catholics are accommodated everywhere, but Hispanic Catholics only in certain parishes.
A similar disparity also exists in Eucharistic worship, the foundational act of Catholic parish life. Spanish-language Masses account for just 6 percent of all Masses celebrated across the country, despite the fact that more than 12 percent of Americans speak Spanish as their first language. (Eighty percent of Hispanic Catholics are either Spanish-dominant or bilingual, according to the Pew Research Center.) In many shared parishes—that is, parishes serving multiple ethnic and linguistic groups—Sunday Masses in Spanish are often relegated to the least convenient times, or shunted to the most rundown spaces, even as sparsely attended English-language Masses continue to be celebrated at prime hours in the best spaces. At least one geographically vast Western diocese does not appear to offer a single regular Mass in Spanish. This takes a real spiritual toll, which often goes unseen. I recall one visitor to a Midwestern parish from a nearby state breaking down in tears while participating in the liturgy in her native language. It was something she hadn’t been able to do in a long while.