¿Es su casa mi casa? Latinos, Socialization, and the Catholic Church
Huckle, Kiku E.
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The American Catholic Church is in crisis with the highest rate of believers leaving the faith of any denomination (for every one convert, six others leave the Church). The steady growth of the Latino population is the only thing that has kept the Church from near collapse: Latinos are responsible for 76% of Catholic growth in this country since 1975 and now constitute 40% of the American Catholic population. However Latinos are also leaving Catholicism in high numbers - one in four Latinos are former Catholics. At the same time Latinos are part of a community with some of the lowest educational achievement levels, socio-economic status, and voter turn out rates of any racial group. These problems have an enduring impact on Latinos’ ability to participate in and benefit from the American political process. The American Catholic Church, with its long history of socializing and promoting the political ascendance of European immigrants, should be willing and ready to perform the same role in facilitating Latinos’ upward mobility. Doing so would encourage Latinos to remain Catholic, thereby securing the future of the Church itself. Given this context, my project asks: To what extent is the American Catholic Church serves as a socializing institution for Latinos? In order to answer this question, I first examine the experience of Irish, German, and Italian Catholics from 1850-1920 to validate the Church’s storied role in immigrant socialization, and also to look for other patterns of response that could explain the Church’s pattern of response to Latinos today. The Church in this historical period operated under a non-centralized, confederated structure that facilitated immigrant self-determination and localized service provision, resulting in the successful advancement of immigrant groups. However the less-storied aspect of the Church was its reluctance to respond equally to the unique needs and desires of congregants who did not share a similar ethnic background. As European immigrants gradually assimilated into a “white American” population, ethnic parishes faded and mixed parishes became more common. However power struggles within churches remained, though their basis shifted from ethnicity to race with whites dominating positions of power. This is the necessary context for understanding how the contemporary Catholic Church responds to Latinos who remain a minority both in congregations and in Church leadership positions. My project produces the most comprehensive analysis of Church service provision to Latinos to date. I examine the rate of Spanish mass and other culturally specific services in parishes according to Latino population density and descriptive representation in order to measure the contemporary state of Church socialization efforts. Further, the Church currently has a federal system of organization led by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). The USCCB is perhaps most influential as an agenda-setting organization, and so I examine how well Latinos are represented on the national church’s agenda. Elite interviews corroborate my empirical findings, and also reveal an important condition within the Catholic Church today: a striking disjunction between the intent of leaders to serve Latinos, and the reality of the Church’s failure to develop an intentional strategy of response. I conclude that the Church’s historical success in socializing European immigrant groups created an institution that is now unprepared to respond to contemporary immigrant and minority groups in an equally supportive manner.
- Political science