New evidence from the Pew Research Center reveals that Mexican Catholics who emigrate to the United States are considerably less religious than their counterparts who remain in Mexico.
A hefty majority of US Hispanics are of Mexican descent (64%), according to US Census Bureau statistics, and about a third of Mexican Americans were born in Mexico and immigrated into the US. Mexican Americans, however, exhibit differences both in religious affiliation and in doctrinal belief as compared with Catholics living in Mexico.
Though the Pew study does not explore the reasons Mexican Catholics leave the Church when emigrating to the US, it does offer statistics that show a substantial decline of Catholic affiliation. While 81% of Mexicans identify themselves as Catholics, the number drops to 61% of Mexican Americans–a difference of 20%, or some four million persons, in real terms.
Some have theorized that the drop-off may be due in part to inadequate attention to Hispanic Catholics in US parishes. A recent Boston College study found that only a quarter of US Catholic parishes have programs aimed at Hispanics, despite the fact that they make up about 40 percent of the approximately 78 million Catholics in the country. About six percent of all Masses in the United States are now celebrated in Spanish.
Of those Mexican American Catholics who leave the Church, some become Protestants and others lose any religious affiliation whatsoever. Percentagewise, there are twice as many Mexican American Protestants as Mexican Protestants and 17% of Mexican Americans claim no religious affiliation, compared with only 7% of Mexicans in this category.
A similar pattern reveals itself concerning specific beliefs or views on Church discipline, such as priestly celibacy or the ordination of women. While only 31% of Mexican Catholics believe that priests should be allowed to marry, for instance, the number jumps to 55% of Mexican Americans. The number is even higher (65%) among Mexican Americans born in the US.
Regarding the ordination of women, again, 31% of Mexicans would like to see a change in Church teaching, whereas among Mexican Americans, 53% would be favorable to such a change, according to the Pew Research Center.
Despite these difference in affiliation and belief, in the area of religious practice differences are considerably smaller or even nonexistent. According to the study, Mexicans and Mexican Americans attend Mass at about the same rate, with some 40% of both groups saying they go to church once a week or more. In both cases, the more they attend Mass, the more conservative they tend to be in their beliefs.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome