More evidence of the browning of U.S. Catholicism

If you’ve followed this column for a while, you know that I enjoy exploring statistics about the Catholic Church for surprising and meaningful shifts and trends. Of course, statistics never tell the full story, but they often can point you to some good ones. 

With that, let me direct your attention to an analysis published late last month on the blog of the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University. Among the things the organization is best known for is an annual national poll of adult Catholics that lets us know with some confidence, for instance, that Sunday Mass attendance for U.S. Catholics has remained at a pretty stable (but dismal) 22 percent for the past decade.  

CARA has sifted through the mountain of data collected in the 2010 poll and found that the demography of the U.S. Catholic population is undergoing a seismic shift, which can be seen when you look at the proportion of ethnic identities across different age groups of Catholics. 

“Through a combination of immigration and different fertility rates among sub-groups of the population,” writes CARA, “racial and ethnic identities of the Catholic population now vary significantly by generation.”  

The bottom line is that the face of the Catholic Church in the United States in the not-so-distant future is going to look very different. Hispanic, to be precise. 

CARA looks at four different age groupings: Pre-Vatican II (born before 1943), Vatican II (born between 1943 and 1960), Post-Vatican II (born between 1961 and 1981) and Millennial (born after 1982 and up to 1992 in order to be 18 in time for this year’s survey). 

Among the Pre-Vatican II generation, Hispanics account for 15 percent of the Catholic population and whites for 76 percent. 

But among Millennials, Hispanics account for 54 percent — a majority — and whites for just 39 percent. 

(Interestingly, the percentage occupied by blacks across the four generations is very constant, hovering around 3-4 percent. The next ethnic group in size — Asian and Pacific Islanders — occupy between 1 and 3 percent of the population across the generations.) 

If you live in Texas (or any southern border state), these numbers probably don’t surprise you. But many parts of the country have a different experience. Either there’s a very limited Hispanic presence in parishes, or there’s very little interaction between the Spanish and English Mass attendees. 

Or it could be that younger Latinos are falling away from their ancestral faith, as an AP poll found last month. It said younger Latinos, and those who speak more English than Spanish, are much less likely to identify as Catholics than older Hispanics who mostly speak Spanish. 

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