Hispanic Catholics may be waiting in anticipation hoping the new Pope is Latino but a new Gallup poll says U.S. Hispanics are actually leaving the Catholic Church.
The poll found that the number of Hispanics who identify as Catholic in the U.S. dropped from 58 percent to 54 percent between 2008 and 2012. Hispanics who identify as Protestant rose slightly, from 27 percent to 28 percent during the same time.
“This is a tremendous concern for the Catholic Church,” says Timothy Matovina, Executive Director of Notre Dame’s Institute for Latino Studies. “The Catholic Church is losing many people.”
He says that while the poll is a little lower for Catholics and a little higher for Protestants than what he’s seen in the last 10 years, it’s more of less in keeping with the trends.
“You cannot help but notice the changing relationship between Hispanics and the Catholic Church,” said George Barna of the Barna Group, whose study found similar results in 2011. “While many Hispanic immigrants come to the United States with ties to Catholicism, the research shows that many of them eventually connect with a Protestant church.”
Perhaps just as troubling for the Catholic Church is that U.S. Hispanic Catholics are less religious than their Latino Protestant counterparts, which is reflective of a pattern found in the U.S. population overall. Fifty-one percent of all Protestants, including those who identify themselves as Christian but not Catholic, are very religious, compared with 43 percent of all Catholics.
But this eight-percentage-point gap among all Americans expands to 17 points among Hispanics, primarily because Hispanic Protestants are significantly more religious than all Protestants in the U.S. Hispanic Catholics, on the other hand, are no more religious than the general Catholic population.
While there are more Hispanic Catholics in the U.S. “there are more Latino Protestants in the United States than American Jews, Muslims, Episcopalians or Presbyterians,” said Gastón Espinosa, assistant professor of Religious Studies at Claremont McKenna College and a co-editor of Latino Religions and Civic Activism in the United States, according to the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.
Notre Dame’s Matovina says an interesting aspect that is often not reflected in polls is that many people travel between different denominations of their religion as well. “Catholics on the whole tend to lose a large number of adherents,” he says. “Raw percentages leave the impression that people stay Catholic or convert to Protestantism but that’s not the whole picture. There is a lot of ebb and flow.”
The Gallup analysis is based on more than 360,000 Gallup Daily tracking interviews conducted from January 2012 through January 2013, including 28,607 interviews with Hispanics.