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Study Shows U.S. Catholic Church Must Adapt to Growing Hispanic Population

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First Posted: May 06, 2014 06:06 PM EDT
Catholic Church
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While the growth of Hispanics in the U.S. Catholic Church has been explosive, a new study reveals that this increase presents both a strength and a challenge for the church.

A Boston College study on Hispanic Ministry in Catholic Parishes released Monday shows that the number of Hispanic Catholics has dramatically increased and has never been higher. However, the needs of this community are not being entirely met by the church. As a result, Boston College researcher Hosffman Ospino said that the Church is at risk of losing an ethnic group that is crucial to the future of Catholicism.

"There are already predictions about the death of the parish in America," Ospino said. "If we fail to address the issues facing Hispanic Catholics and the parishes that serve them, then the parish structure in America will experience a dramatic decline as it did in Europe."

The church is already about 40 percent Hispanic, which has helped stabilize the church as non-immigrant Catholics are drifting away, the New York Times reported. In a few decades, Hispanics are expected to dominate the majority of American Catholics. However, Ospino warns that the burgeoning Hispanic Catholic community is challenging parishes in areas of education, language, geography and ministry.

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Nearly one in every four Catholic parishes in the U.S. include a form of organized ministry to Hispanics. However, these parishes are led predominantly by non-Hispanic white priests who have reached the age of retirement. As a result, there is a shortage of programs to prepare Hispanic priests and pastoral leaders for Hispanic ministry.

"A new generation of Hispanic leaders in the Church is emerging," Ospino said. "The question is, is the Catholic Church ready for this? Will the structure of the American Catholic Church allow them to succeed? As it stands now, we still have a long way to go."

Unlike American Catholics, Hispanic parents are less likely to send their children to Catholic schools because of financial burdens, and their sons have been less likely to pursue the priesthood. Plus, there is also a concern regarding the lack of personnel and financial resources in parishes with a large number of Hispanic members.

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