A new study shows that the percentage of Catholics in the United States has fallen from nearly one-in-four to one-in-five, with the added news that Hispanics in America are no longer majority-Catholic.

The Pew Research Center survey released Oct. 17 noted that in general, religious practice in the country has declined at a “rapid pace.”

Based on telephone surveys conducted in 2018-2019, Pew found that 65 percent of Americans now call themselves Christian, down 12 percentage points from a decade ago; in addition, those having no religion – describing themselves as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular” – are now 26 percent of the population, up from 17 percent a decade ago.

Self-described Protestants went from 77 to 65 percent in that time period; Catholics went from 23 percent to 20 percent.

Although Catholic leaders might feel some comfort knowing they aren’t experiencing the same sort of decline as Protestants, they must be worried by the large number of Hispanic Catholics leaving the Church.

In 2009, 57 percent of Hispanics called themselves Catholic; it was only 47 percent in 2019. Only a small percentage of that can be attributed to joining other churches or religions – the number of Hispanics identifying as Protestant only rose from 23 in 2009 to 26 percent in 2017 (although the 2019 data showed 24 percent, the earlier survey is probably more thorough); and the number describing themselves as belonging to non-Christian religions rose from 1 percent to 3 percent. However, those describing themselves as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular” increased from 16 to 23 percent.

Another stark finding in the survey is that in an increasingly polarized country, religious affiliation is becoming more partisan.

In 2009, 72 percent of Democrats identified as Christian; in 2019 it is 55 percent. For Republicans, the figures are 86 percent in 2009, and 79 percent in 2019. Pew says religious “nones” now make up one-third of self-described Democrats, although the data shows there are a growing number of Republicans in the category.

In both parties, the decline for Catholics was less pronounced: In 2019, 20 percent of Democrats said they were Catholic, a drop of 5 percentage points from 2009; for Republicans, the 2019 figure is 19 percent, down from 23 percent ten years earlier.

Furthermore, the Pew Research Center says the data shows a wide gap between older Americans and Millennials: “More than eight-in-ten members of the Silent Generation (those born between 1928 and 1945) describe themselves as Christians (84 percent), as do three-quarters of Baby Boomers (76 percent). In stark contrast, only half of Millennials (49 percent) describe themselves as Christians; four-in-ten are religious ‘nones,’ and one-in-ten Millennials identify with non-Christian faiths.”

According to Pew, the trends of the data show that a “real and significant change” is underway in the U.S. religious landscape.

Follow Charles Collins on Twitter: @CharlesinRome

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