Latino immigrants are having a powerful impact on the American Catholic Church — but a new study raises questions about whether that impact will last:
New arrivals from Spanish-speaking countries have helped the Catholic Church maintain its status as the dominant religion in the U.S., according to a new Trinity College report slated to be released today.
In fact, the report said, without the influx of 9 million Latino Catholics from 1990 to 2008, the denomination would have lost ground.
But the influx of immigrants masks another trend documented by the study: The longer Latinos live in the U.S., the less likely they are to identify themselves as Catholic.
“As they spend more time in the United States, they have so many other options,” said Ariela Keysar, a Trinity demographer who worked on the report with sociologist Barry A. Kosmin and Juhem Navarro-Rivera, a doctoral candidate at the University of Connecticut.
“They are able to pick and choose from faiths that are different than the one they grew up with,” Keysar said.
Sometimes, the religion of choice is none at all. The number of Latinos who identify with no religion grew from 6 percent of the Latino population in 1990 to 12 percent in 2008.
That doesn’t surprise the Rev. Jose Mercado, pastor at St. Augustine Church in Hartford and director of the Hartford Archdiocese’s Office of Hispanic Evangelization.
“People get more secularized and they lose the sense of the religious,” Mercado said. “Other things take the place of God — careers, money … that’s a big factor not only within the Hispanic community but among Catholics as a whole.”
When Mercado visits Puerto Rico, where his parents were born, he is struck by how much of a community’s life orbits around the church. “It’s the social center, the religious center,” he said. “In the United States, faith is not that visible.”