The Way We Worship: Why Latinos Are Leaving the Catholic Church

More Latinos than ever are leaving the Catholic Church for other religions and spiritual practices—whether it be Pentecostalism, Islam or no spiritual practice at all. What the way we worship says about us as a changing community.

Sunday morning around Manhattan’s West 107th Street is a busy time: From a tiny storefront Pentecostal church, shouts of “Alleluia!” and tambourine music ring out. Nearby, Latino Jehovah’s Witnesses worship in their Kingdom Hall. Just down the street, Ascension Catholic Church is filling up for a Spanish-language Mass. The Mexican family living next door has already had their church service—at home—the day before; as Seventh-day Adventists, their Sabbath is on Saturday. Their Paraguayan neighbors are in the park practicing meditation; they are spiritual but not tied to any church.

Less than a generation ago, all of this would have been very unusual. In 1990, 76 percent of U.S. Latinos were Catholic. But today this scene could take place in almost any Latino barrio.

Latinos are exploring more different faiths than ever before, a new study by the Pew Hispanic Center confirms. We’ve left the Catholic church in great numbers: today, only 62 percent of Latinos call themselves Catholic—and that drops to just 40 percent among third-generation U.S.-born Latinos.