Are Latinos Reshaping Catholicism in the United States?

It's the only Catholic group that's steadily growing.

ByCristina Costantini
October 16, 2012, 3:48 PM

Oct. 16, 2012— -- Catholicism is on the decline in the United States. But the numbers would likely be even worse if it weren't for Latino immigrants, according to a recent Pew Research Center study.

The study indicates that Catholicism has experienced the "greatest net losses" of any religion as a result of religious converts. While nearly one-in-three Americans (31 percent) were raised as Catholics, fewer than one in four adults call themselves Catholics, the survey found. But the attrittion has been slowed by immigration and the growth of the Hispanic population. One in three Catholics is Hispanic, and 62 percent of all Hispanics are Catholic, according to a study from earlier this year.

Some attribute the Catholic church's loss in membership to recent sex-abuse scandals, while others see it as part of a general trend toward atheism and agnosticism across the country. Latinos, as the fastest growing ethnic group in the United States, are more likely to convert to another sect of Christianity or to describe themselves as religiously unaffiliated by the second and third generation than their foriegn-born coutnerparts. Still, Hispanics may be reshaping the Catholic landscape as one of the only groups of congregants steadily increasing in the U.S.

Even though Catholicism is the oldest of the Christian denominations, the version of the faith that Hispanics practice may vary drastically from that of non-Hispanics. A 2007 Pew survey found that half of Catholic Latinos practice a "distinctive form" of Catholicism which includes "speaking in tongues, miraculous healings and prophesying." Whereas, only 12 percent of non-Latino Catholics reported practicing a similar form of the religion.

Some Republican strategists have tried to appeal to certain pockets of Latino votersthrough social conservative values. While 51 percent of such voters said that abortion should be illegal in "all or most cases," Hispanic Catholics proved to be more progressive on the issue of gay marriage. Sixty percent of Latino Catholics say it "should be accepted by society," according to Pew.

Robert Suro, the director of the Pew Hispanic Center told the New York Times that it remains to be seen if and how Latinos will change the church.

"They are different in terms of beliefs, practices, language and culture, but they remain very Catholic," Mr. Suro told the Times. "The open question here is, Does the institution adapt to them, or do they adapt to the institution?"

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