December 22, 2011


The Coming Latino Catholic Majority: Hispanics account for more than 70 percent of the growth in the US Catholic population since 1960. (Jeff Ziegler, 12/01/11, Catholic World Report)

In 1940, when only 1.9 million out of America's 132.2 million people were Hispanic, a discussion of a Latino majority of United States Catholics would have appeared fanciful--as fanciful as an 1840 prediction that the majority of Catholics in the United States would soon be Irish. Ten months before Pearl Harbor, the appointment of Bishop Robert Lucey as archbishop of San Antonio placed Hispanics on the radar screen of bishops across the country.

As was common for many prelates of his era, Archbishop Lucey backed the New Deal, built 40 parishes, invited 30 religious institutes into his archdiocese, and supported the Vietnam War, delivering the invocation at President Lyndon Johnson's inauguration. Archbishop Lucey was appalled by the poverty and discrimination experienced by local Hispanics, who could not serve on juries in some parts of the state before the landmark 1954 Supreme Court decision Hernandez v. Texas. The prelate was the driving force behind the formation of the US Bishops' Committee for the Spanish-Speaking in 1945; he actively promoted catechesis, sought improved health care for Mexican-Americans, and called for higher wages for migrant workers.

In 1970, Archbishop Lucey was one of the co-consecrators of Bishop Patrick Flores, the first Hispanic bishop in the United States. Since then, nearly 50 Hispanic priests have been ordained bishops. Today, some 40 percent of Catholics in the United States are Hispanic, accounting for more than 70 percent of the growth in US Catholic population since 1960. Hispanics form the majority of Catholics under 35, and the majority of Catholics in the United States will be Hispanic in the decades ahead, though recent estimates of when exactly this will occur vary from 2025 to 2035.

Alejandro Aguilera-Titus, director for Hispanic/Latino Affairs at the US bishops' conference, told CWR that "the Catholic Church in the United States will benefit from a young, vibrant population that has a profound faith in God...a strong sense of family and community, an authentic Marian devotion and rich Catholic popular practices, [and] a need to feel God's presence in daily life and in ministry through vibrant apostolic movements."

Hispanic Catholics today

The number of Hispanics in the United States grew from 1.9 million in 1940, to 14.6 million in 1990, to 50.5 million in 2010, according to US Census Bureau data. Of these, 31.8 million are Mexican-American, 4.6 million are Puerto Rican, 1.8 million are Cuban-American, and 1.6 million are Salvadoran-American. Hispanics today do not uniformly assent to "popery": 68 percent of US Hispanics are Catholic, according to a 2007 report by the Pew Research Center, while 15 percent are Evangelical Protestants and 8 percent profess no religion.

"The number of Hispanics self-identifying as Catholics has declined from nearly 100 percent in just two decades, while the number who describe themselves as Protestant has nearly doubled and the number saying they have 'no religion' has also doubled," Archbishop Gomez noted in a 2009 talk.

Posted by at December 22, 2011 6:54 AM

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