Growing Number of Hispanics in U.S. Leave Catholic Church

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from The Wall Street Journal,

Trends Mirror Other Countries as Different Religions Benefit.

Both Miriam Alvarez and Gloria Muniz were raised Roman Catholic. Today, Ms. Alvarez is a devout Seventh-Day Adventist, while Ms. Muniz hasn’t been to any church in years.

The two women represent distinct religious trends among Hispanics in the U.S.: going from Catholic to evangelical Christian and from Catholic to religiously unaffiliated, according to a new Pew Research Center study.

Since the 1990s, the Roman Catholic Church in the U.S. has seen Hispanics, many of them arrivals in a massive immigration wave, help bolster its shrinking ranks. The study released Wednesday by Pew, a nonpartisan think tank, suggests a religious churning in the fast-growing population group, the country’s second-largest.

The share of Hispanics who are Catholic likely has been in decline for at least the past few decades, according to Pew, but in just four years—from 2010 to 2013—that share dropped 12 percentage points to 55%, the study found. Nearly one in four Hispanic adults in the U.S. are now former Catholics, based on their responses to Pew’s survey, and a growing share identify as religiously unaffiliated or Protestant.

The trends mirror what has been occurring in Mexico, Brazil and other Latin American countries, where evangelical Christian denominations such as Pentecostalism have gained ground at the expense of Catholicism. They also reflect wider shifts in the U.S., where Catholicism has lost followers and the share of people who identify as religiously unaffiliated has grown. From 2007 to 2012, for example, Pew found the share of the Americans who describe themselves as religiously unaffiliated rose to 19.6% from 15.3%.

Hispanics are still significantly more Catholic and less Protestant than the U.S. population as a whole, the Pew study found. About 48% of the general public is Protestant, compared with 22% of Hispanics, while only 22% of the general population is Catholic. The unaffiliated share of the two groups is similar—18% for Hispanics and 20% for the general population.

Experts cite the rise of religious pluralism as a key reason for the trends. “Latinos are growing up in a religious culture of choice, with the possibility of switching religion or ending up in no religion at all,” said Timothy Matovina, theology professor at University of Notre Dame. “Religion is increasingly a matter of choice rather than family or cultural tradition.”

She noted that the Catholic Church has a higher retention rate, at 71%, for Hispanic youth in the U.S. than for non-Hispanic youth, at 62%, according to 2012 data from the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate.

Pastor Luis Liñán Olivera, a Peruvian immigrant, helped establish Seventh-Day Adventist churches catering to Spanish-speaking immigrants in Pennsylvania, Delaware and Virginia before taking the helm of a church in a Latino enclave of Hollywood three years ago. Once an altar boy, Mr. Liñán said many of his flock also are former Catholics.

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