A recent article in Salon reported some startling/unbelievable estimates from the latest Pewk study, first a claim that Catholicism appears to be in decline, and second linking this to a supposedly sharp decline in Latino Catholicism–along with the claim that more Latinos are joining sectarian Protestant denominations. Most alarming was the claims that the Pewk Study finds fewer than half of Latinos identify as Catholic. The author writes “The Pew survey found the percentage of Hispanics calling themselves Catholic dropped below 50 percent for the first time, from 58 percent in 2007 to 48 percent today. And while nearly 20 percent of Hispanics now identify as Evangelicals, that’s only up three points since 2007.” Wow. Really? That’s not what I found in Changing Faith, and so I updated our best estimates to the 2014 GSS to see how it compares to the Pewk study.
Interestingly, the Pewk data dramatically underestimate the proportion of Latinos who are Catholic in both time points. the GSS finds nearly 70% of Latinos were Catholic in 2006, and while this has decreased to about 56% in 2014, that’s an eight point gap to Pewk. And, where may these Latino Catholics be going? Are they joining fundy protestant groups like Pewk claims? No, they’re not. The proportion of Latinos who identify with sectarian protestant groups has fluctuated trendlessly, really, though you could say it is DOWN if anything. And, nowhere near 20% of Latinos are sectarian Protestants! Less than half that, at 9.5%. No, like other Catholics who leave the faith, most become Nones, and the GSS shows that by 2014 non-identification among Latin Americans almost doubled from 2006 totals–up to nearly 20%. So, about one if five US Latinos are Nones (just slightly less than the rest of the US population), while about one in ten are fundy protestants.
The claim that Catholicism is in a demographic collapse also does not fit with the reality presented by the best estimates we have available. And, I’d hardly call the Pewk estimate of a decline from 24% to 21% a demographic collapse. Indeed, the GSS finds relatively trendless fluctuation in Catholic identification—as it has for decades. They may be down slightly, but I wouldn’t hang my hat on it—and I half expect a “New Pope” bounce upward once the 2016 data are gathered. Nones have certainly increased from about 17% to about 21%—and sectarian Protestant identifications are in decline, from about 25% of identifiers to under 20% of adherents. The misreporting of religious demography makes me Pewk.