That difference is key, says Gastón Espinosa, a professor of religious studies at Claremont McKenna College and an expert on Latino faith. “The reason why Protestant evangelicalism is growing is because it’s completely indigenous—that is, led by and for Latinos themselves.”
Today, Espinosa explains, there are over 22,000 Latino Protestant churches—mostly headed by Latino pastors and missionaries. But while there are 4,800 Catholic parishes with a majority Latino congregation, fewer than 1 in 10 priests is Latino. Another difference: in some evangelical Christian churches, women can be ordained as pastors.
The same shift is happening for the same reasons in Latin America. Less than half of Uruguayans are now Catholic, while in Brazil, some experts estimate half the population will be evangelical Protestants by 2020. Many of the region’s biggest pop-culture stars, from soccer player Kaká to bachata singer Juan Luis Guerra, publicly tout their conversion to Pentecostalism and other non-Catholic churches.
Since Spanish- or Portuguese-speakers make up nearly half the Catholics on Earth, the church has reason to worry about retaining our loyalty. In response, bishops have held huge conferences to plan how to win us back. Here in the U.S., more masses are being held in our languages and the church is working to attract more Latino priests and Latino lay leaders (people who, for example, teach religious education classes, or lead youth groups).