Skip to comments.Protestant Perseverance and Catholic Decline?
Posted on 04/30/2013 3:28:16 PM PDT by Alex Murphy
Protestants with a strong religious identity continue to increase as Catholics with a strong religious identity continue to decline, according to a March study by the Pew Research Center. The proportion of Catholics reporting strong religious affiliation declined by almost twenty percentage points over the last few decades, from 46 percent of Catholics in 1974 to 27 percent in 2012. Protestants reporting strong religious affiliation increased more than ten percentage points during the same period, from 43 percent to 54 percent.
The contrast between Protestant and Catholic trends is not as straightforward as the numbers suggest. The data tell us more about intra-ecclesial changes than they do about inter-ecclesial comparisons. The data on Catholics indeed suggest reasons for some concern, but the data on Protestants are not quite as rosy as they initially appear.
Lets start with the Protestants. The increase in the proportion of Protestants who report a strong religious identity may result not from an overall increase in the number of strong Protestants, but rather from a decline in the number of weak Protestants. These folks could have dropped out entirely from counting as Protestantseither now reporting no belief or reporting adherence to another religion. Thus the proportion of Protestants reporting a strong religious affiliation will appear larger, even though the absolute numbers have not changed at all.
The Pew Research Center chart below on Protestants as a Share of the Adult Population seems to confirm this claim. The proportion of the American population calling themselves strong Protestants has remained more or less steady at around 27 percent since 1974. During that time, however, the percentage of less strong Other Protestants declined by over one-third, from 36 percent of the adult population to 23 percent. While the absolute number of strong Protestants would have increased along with the overall increase in the U.S. population during this period, the decline in other Protestants accounts entirely for the reported increase in the proportion of Protestants with a strong religious affiliation.
While strong Protestants havent gained in the overall population, despite gaining proportionally among self-identified Protestants, they also havent lost ground in the overall population during this period. The news may not be as good as it seems, but neither is it as bad as it might bewhich is to say, as bad as it is for Catholics.
Strong Catholics have lost ground, both proportionally among Catholics and also in the entire population. As can be seen in the chart below, the proportion of strong Catholics in the overall U.S. population has declined about 40 percent from 1974, from twelve percent of the entire adult population to seven percent. While the five-percentage point decline in the proportion of strong Catholics almost mirrors the four-percentage point increase in other Catholics, I suspect from other reports that the turnover is greater than the General Social Survey numbers pick up, with an increase in the Hispanic population in the U.S. masking the loss among Catholics of Anglo origin because of the relatively greater Catholic identification among Hispanics.
There seems to be some question whether Hispanics will continue as a group to make up for the loss of Anglo members in the U.S. Catholic Church. In a recent cover story, Time magazine reported (drawing on different data from Pew) that while currently two-thirds of Hispanics in the U.S. are Catholic, the expectation is that only 50 percent will be Catholic by 2030. Among young Latinos, Time reports, the drift away from the Roman Catholic Church is even more rapid.
Do Catholics have any reason for optimism? To be sure, a dynamic, vibrant pope from Latin America might excite Catholics about their faith, particularly young Hispanics in both Latin America and the U.S. Further, while strong Catholic identity may be declining overall in the U.S., my impression is that there is a steady stream of converts from Protestantism to Catholicism at elite levels. Some of these converts are Evangelicals; others are from mainline denominations, or even from no religion at all.
A trickle of high-profile converts cannot numerically offset the laity leaving Catholicism for other churches or no church at all, but their conversionsoften made with some reference to perceived Catholic intellectual vibrancymay reflect a strength in the Catholic Church not captured by the numerical measures.
That said, while the movement into the Catholic Church at elite levels is often discussed separately from the movement out of the Catholic Church at the popular level, I wonder whether both are, in part, a reflection of the same cause: the evaporation of much of the traditional social stigma of being a Catholic in the U.S. The effect would be most direct at the elite level. Decreasing prejudice clears the way for conversions among elites, at least at the margin, by decreasing the social and economic penalties.
But likewise, in the more common case of laypeople joining Protestant churches, I wonder whether anti-Catholicism in the past might have constructed a hedge that served as much to keep Catholics in their Church as a result of their exclusion from fully interacting with Protestants in American culture. This might plausibly have created a psychology of us versus them that may have helpedagain, at the marginto sustain commitment to Catholicism.
The removal of much of the hedge of prejudice against Catholicism in the U.S. could thereby allow easier entry into the Catholic Church at the very same time it allows easier exit from the Catholic Church relative to earlier times.
The implication of the Pew report seems to be status-quo holding for Protestantism: It is maintaining its core members while losing its more peripheral members (hence core members make up a greater proportion of Protestants, even though core members are not increasing numerically faster than population growth). The implication is more concerning for Catholics: Even though overall numbers are maintaining, core membership is declining.
....A trickle of high-profile converts cannot numerically offset the laity leaving Catholicism for other churches or no church at all, but their conversionsoften made with some reference to perceived Catholic intellectual vibrancymay reflect a strength in the Catholic Church not captured by the numerical measures....
....The implication of the Pew report seems to be status-quo holding for Protestantism: It is maintaining its core members while losing its more peripheral members (hence core members make up a greater proportion of Protestants, even though core members are not increasing numerically faster than population growth). The implication is more concerning for Catholics: Even though overall numbers are maintaining, core membership is declining.
I've never met a immigrant from Mexico who was Catholic. They are either Evangelical, or Jehovah's Witness. Maybe some unaffiliated. People in the U.S. don't seem to realize, Mexico was founded by rabidly anti-Catholic people, with an explicitly anti-Catholic constitution. It was not even fully legalized to be a Catholic priest in Mexico until 1998.
We have a fair number of 1st/2nd generation Hispanics who are Catholic, but you’re right, the number of Mexican Catholics is nowhere near what people think.
I notice some of the evangelical ones try to appear Catholic superficially, and some of them go so far as to mislead people that they really are part of the Roman Catholic Church.
< Good Lord man, Mexico is Catholic, it was 96% Catholic in 1970 and is still 83% Catholic.
“We have a fair number of 1st/2nd generation Hispanics who are Catholic...”
The Catholic church my family goes to in New Mexico dates back to the 1600’s. You should learn more of your country’s history.
Well, there are figures all over the net that rate the percentage of Catholics in Mexico anywhere from 85 to 95 percent of the population.
Mexico wasn't founded that way. The push of Communists in the early 1920s started the anti-clericalism, and it has continued. This is the force that started the Cristero movement, depicted in the movie, "For Greater Glory".
We’ve got lots of Seventh Day Adventist Hispanics around here. They are building a new church north of here.
About 19% of the Hispanics in America are Protestant, they voted 56% republican in 2004, 48% republican in 2008.
I don't know where you're at, but I'm in Arizona. Though there are a lot of Evangelical/Pentecostal/JW/LDS Hispanics here, our Spanish-language Masses are overflowing. Same in California when I visit there.
They voted for Bush and Obama because they both pandered to them, telling them they would be made legal and putting them on welfare by the hundreds of thousands. Will we ever get another conservative president? Damn sure don’t look like it.
No, Protestant Hispanics are just more conservative than Catholic Hispanics.
They voted republican by 56% in 2004 and republican by 48% in 2008, they are in play for republicans.
Immigration, whites have been fleeing Catholicism for years in massive numbers.
This is from the Catholic publication, "Our Sunday Visitor".
""Latinos are on track to become a majority in the U.S. Catholic Church already more than 50 percent of American Catholics younger than 25 are Latino. Thirty-five percent of Catholics were Latino in the 2000 census, and Hispanics comprise 71 percent of Catholic population growth since 1960, according to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.""
Most hispanic Catholics, I mean the ones that come to America by way of Mexico, are totally ignorant of the faith. I talked to one right after the election that voted for Obama. I asked him why did he vote for Obama and told him didn’t he know Obama was pro-homo marriage and pro-abortion. He looked at me like I was crazy and said I must be mistaken. I asked him did he believe in these things and he got mad and said HELL NO! I told him he needed to educate himself before he votes for another democrat. The majority of Mexicans voted for Obama because of welfare and pandering them, telling them he would make them citizens. Bush mumbled a few words in Spanish and got the majority of hispanic votes not once but twice. Again by pandering.
Catholics have only gone republican 5 times in our history, so this isn’t something new and explained by race or by some exotic, secret handshake Catholic teachings that people from almost pure Mexican nations don’t know.
Protestant Hispanics don’t exactly get PHDs in those unknown catholic teachings that are unavailable in catholic nations.
I’m not going to get into another pissing contest, but we all know that Church going Catholics vote republican and cafeteria catholics vote democrat. The exact same thing can be said of protestants. What does that mean? There are more cafeteria catholics that REAL CATHOLICS. Real Catholics are the ones that live their faith. And if you are Catholic and live your faith, no way in hell do you vote for a democrat. Years ago yes, but not after they became the party of killing children and letting Joe and Tom get “married”. The democratic party of years ago was just as pro-life as republicans are today.
Republicans only do OK with Protestant Hispanics, not the atheist and Catholic Hispanics. Bush NEVER won the Hispanic vote
Bush only won the Protestant Hispanic vote in 2004 (56%), he lost the overall Hispanic vote, he also got 44% from Protestant Hispanics in 2000, but lost terribly among the overall Hispanic vote that year.
In 2008 when I said the Protestant Hispanics went 48% republican, McCain only won 32% of the overall Hispanic vote.
What we know is that republicans have won the Catholic vote 5 times in our history, and that the democrats have won the Protestant vote 3 times, 1932, 1936, and 1964.
Clinton, Clinton, Al Gore, Obama, Obama. are all normal Catholic voting, republicans may never win the Catholic vote again, those 5 times may never become 6.