Why it matters: More Latinos are leaving Catholicism for Protestant churches, which is influencing the political landscape in the U.S.
By the numbers: Half of U.S. Hispanics identified as Roman Catholic and 15% as evangelical in 2020, according to data from the Public Religion Research Institute.
Two decades ago, those numbers were 53% and 8%, respectively.
An Axios-Ipsos Latino Poll in partnership with Noticias Telemundo also found younger generations of Latinos are less likely to identify as Catholic.
The big picture: People who left the Roman Catholic Church are driving most of the Protestant growth among Latinos, studies show.
The boom is also attributed to immigration to the U.S. from countries where evangelicalism is already strong, like Guatemala, according to Jonathan Calvillo, assistant professor at Emory University’s School of Theology.
Sociologist Aida I. Ramos, dean of the College of Education, Social and Behavioral Sciences at John Brown University, interviewed Latinos who converted for an upcoming study. She says the most common reasons given for the switch are:
- They feel disconnected from the Catholic Church that they grew up with and the Protestant “style of worship can feel less confined” to them.
- Protestant traditions offered them more community support.
The Pew study (from 2014) adds:
[Of those who switched religious affiliation], nearly a third (31%) say they found a congregation that reaches out and helps its members more, while roughly a fifth say the decision was associated with a “deep personal crisis” (23%) or with moving to a new community (19%). About one-in-ten (9%) say that marrying someone who practices a different faith was an important reason for leaving their childhood religion.
Latinos who have left the Catholic Church are especially likely to say that an important reason was that they stopped believing in its teachings; 63% of former Catholics who are now unaffiliated and 57% of former Catholics who are now Protestants give this reason for having left the church.
In addition, 49% of Hispanics who were raised as Catholics and have become Protestants say that an important factor was finding a church that “reaches out and helps its members more.”
The survey also contained an open-ended question asking respondents to explain, in their own words, the main reason they left their childhood religion. Some former Catholics cite particular aspects of Catholicism that they now reject, such as the veneration of saints and the Virgin Mary, or trust in the Catholic priesthood; about 3% specifically mention the scandal over sexual abuse by clergy, for example. But many others give general answers, such as that they no longer accept Catholic doctrine, came to a different understanding of the Bible, found God’s love, lost faith in all religions or decided for themselves what to believe.