As Latino Population Rises – What Religion Is Chosen?


By Robert Cyr
Latinos are following a growing nationwide trend of leaving the Roman Catholic Church for other faiths or reporting no religion at all, and the fastest-growing religious identification among U.S. Latinos are those who report no religious affiliation or those who identify as Protestant and Pentecostal.
That according to Juhem Navarro-Rivera, a researcher at the Public Religion Research Institute in Washington, D.C., who has made a career out of following how many people adhere to different religions around the country, especially Latinos.
The work of Navarro-Rivera, a native of Puerto Rico, and two other specialists at Trinity College in Hartford in 2010 was part of a report on the religious identification among all Americans. The report indicates that the number of Latinos who do not identify with a religion according to the Navarro-Rivera report went up from less than 6 percent of the population in 1990 to almost 4 million, or 12 percent, in 2008. Protestant sects such as Jehovah’s Witnesses increased from 335,000 at 2 percent in 1990 to 1.2 million or 4 percent of U.S. Latinos in 2008.
The report also states that “Americanization is leading to de-Catholicization and religious polarization. U.S.-born Latinos and those most proficient in English are less likely to self-identify as Catholic and more likely to identify either as none or with conservative Christian traditions.”
More than 60 percent of those reporting no religion were male, while the Pentecostal respondents were 58 percent female. The largest proportion of young Latinos were found in the “none” and Protestant Sects – two groups that were also the fastest growing among Latinos since 1990.
Those without religious affiliation were the most educated, with one in four having a college degree. The least educated were Protestant sect members, according to the report. Latino Catholics and Latino who identify as None are more likely to be Democrats.
“It could be a result of Latinos becoming more part of the mainstream,” Navarro-Rivera said. “The trend continues of younger Latinos being more likely to be in that group or non-Catholic or non-religious. Religion is linked with the politics of the era, and as such there may be a negative reaction to that, especially with younger people. But overall, there’s certainly a national trend of people departing the Catholic Church.”
Another interesting finding, Navarro-Rivera says, is that while many Latinos were seen to migrate to other others religions or drop religion altogether, their rising percentage of the U.S. populations has still almost doubled their numbers in the Catholic church in this country.
“We realized that the percentage of Latinos went up like crazy, and we were expecting Catholicism was going to go down as a percentage of the population,” he said. “We had heard that they were becoming Protestant or Pentecostal, taking if you will the market share away from the Catholic Church.”  But the sheer increase in numbers of Latino in the U.S. he says has still led to their numbers increasing among Catholics.
In 1990, Latino Catholics numbered 9.6 million and made up 20 percent of all U.S. Catholics. The 2008 estimate for Latino Catholics was more than 18 million, comprising 32 percent of all U.S. Catholics, according to the Trinity report.
However, while the majority or 60 percent of the 31 million adult U.S. Latinos identified as Catholic in 2008, 66 percent identified as Catholic in 1990.
The report was based on a 2008 American Religious Identification Survey, which polled 54,461 Americans, 3,169 of them Latino, Navarro-Rivera said.
Data specific to Connecticut in the study is “non-existent,” Navarro-Rivera said, given the highly specialized nature of the survey and relatively small samples size. According to U.S. Census data, Latinos make up 13.8 percent of the state population, slightly behind the national figure of16.7 percent.
The Rev. Peter Rosazza, the auxiliary bishop emeritus of the Archdiocese of Hartford, is not Hispanic, but has been active in the Latino community for several years. While he said he has noticed Latinos – specifically Puerto Ricans – leaving Roman Catholicism, it’s a general observation that can’t be exactly quantified, he said.
“Puerto Ricans seem much more likely to leave the church, and even in Puerto Rico that’s true,” he said. “Now there are more Protestants of different sects. But that’s my limited experience and I can’t prove that. That’s anecdotal and it’s hard to tell.”
Rosazza spent years assisting St. Mary’s Church on West Main Street in New Britain, a heavily Latino congregation.
“I go back there from time to time and one thing is obvious to me: the community (church-going, Hispanic) hasn’t really grown,” he said.
Calls to Hartford’s Archdiocese were not returned.