BOSTON — A new report finds many signs of vitality in Hispanic Catholic ministry in the United States, but recommends immediate action and more youth outreach to meet Hispanics’ growing needs and to counter secularization.
“A new generation of Hispanic leaders in the Church is emerging,” Hosffman Ospino, the Boston College professor who led the study, said May 5. “The question is: Is the Catholic Church ready for this? Will the structure of the American Catholic Church allow them to succeed?”
He said American Catholics “still have a long way to go.”
The Boston College School of Theology and Ministry and Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) conducted the study — “Hispanic Ministry in Catholic Parishes: A Summary Report of Findings From the National Study of Catholic Parishes with Hispanic Ministry” — between 2011 and 2013. It considered 4,368 U.S. parishes with some form of Hispanic ministry, which make up 25% of all Catholic parishes in the United States.
Ospino, a professor of Hispanic ministry and religious education, said that only 3% of Hispanic Catholic children attend Catholic schools, while fewer Hispanics under 30 attend church.
“The secularization of Hispanics is the biggest threat to the future of the Catholic Church in America. We run the risk of losing a whole generation of Catholics.”
The report was released as the Pew Research Center published the results of its national survey examining Latino religious identity in the United States; Pew reports that about 25% of the Hispanic population is made up of former Catholics.
The changes appear to be primarily among adults under the age 50. Those aged 30-49 who have left Catholicism move towards either evangelical Protestantism or no religious affiliation, while those aged 18-29 who have left Catholicism heavily trend towards adopting no religious affiliation.
About 55% of U.S. Hispanics are Catholic, 22% are Protestant, and 18% are unaffiliated. The report appears to show a 12-point drop in the proportion of Catholic Hispanics since 2010, when about 67% of respondents said they were Catholic.
Hispanic Catholics tend to be less religiously engaged than Hispanic evangelicals, the Pew study found. About 40% of these Catholics say they attend religious services weekly or more, and 61% say they pray daily. Hispanic Catholics tend to be less opposed to abortion and same-sex “marriage” than evangelical Hispanics, though a majority of Hispanic Catholics favor a ban on all or most abortions, and only 30% support the redefinition of marriage, according to the Pew report.
Ospino said that a failure to address the issues facing Hispanic Catholics and their parishes could mean a “dramatic decline” for the parish structure in America, similar to that in Europe.
The summary report of Ospino’s study said that about 40% of all Catholics in the United States are Hispanic, which represents significant growth from the early 1980s, when Hispanics made up an estimated 15% of U.S. Catholics.
Since 1960, Hispanics have made up 71% of the growth in the U.S. Catholic population, the report said, and about 6% of all Masses in the United States are now said in Spanish.
Citing the Department of Labor’s 2013 Current Population Survey, the Boston College report said that 61% of Hispanics and 93% of all Hispanics under age 18 are U.S.-born. The report said that as the U.S.-born Hispanic Catholic population increases, Hispanic ministry may need to expand or shift to providing more services in English.
Most parishes with Hispanic ministries are in the southern and western United States.
Hispanic parishes often bring together different nationalities and ethnicities from 21 Latin-American countries, Spain and Puerto Rico. About 72% of Catholic Hispanic parishioners have Mexican roots.
The apostolic movement with the greatest presence in parishes with Hispanic ministry is the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, which is present in about half of those parishes.
Pastors of parishes with Hispanic ministries have an average age of 58, slightly younger than the national average for Catholic clergy. Of these pastors, 69% say they are proficient in Spanish.
The presence of vowed women and men religious is “very significant” in parishes with Hispanic ministry, the report said.
The summary report found 10 “signs of vitality,” such as the continued place of the parish as a “very important institution” for Hispanic Catholics to “build community and celebrate their faith.” A new generation of young Hispanic pastoral leaders is also emerging, and parishes with Hispanic ministries benefit from the experience of both Hispanic and non-Hispanic leaders. Hispanic permanent deacons are one of the fastest-growing groups of pastoral leaders.
However, the report also found areas requiring “immediate pastoral attention”: There will be major transitions in the next decade due to the retirement of thousands of “culturally competent” pastoral leaders; Hispanic Catholics have “minimal” integration into parish life; ministry resources are “limited” and “unequally distributed”; the offertory at Spanish-language Masses is “significantly” lower; there is a “widening distance” between predominantly Hispanic parishes and Catholic schools; and those engaged in Hispanic ministry are often unpaid.
Pastoral outreach to Hispanic youth, especially U.S.-born Hispanics, is “minimal,” compared to the size of the Hispanic population.
The report emphasized, “Lack of appropriate investment in ministry with this population at a time when most young Catholics in the country are Hispanic is self-defeating.”