|| Hispanic Catholics ignored
By ARTHUR JONES
Despite the fact that by 2020 Hispanics will surpass blacks as the nations leading minority and may also surpass whites as the dominant ethnic group within the Catholic church, Hispanic Catholics are still second-class citizens in most Catholic parishes, and racism is still strong, according to a 1999 study.
Worse yet, according to a 1999 study, Hispanic Catholics are twice as likely to worship in separate and unequal settings as in equal settings. Hispanic parishioners frequently are required to rent the church they belong to. In quite a few dioceses, a relative minority of Euro-American Catholics who predate the Hispanics still control the central functions of the parish, and the Hispanics, in effect, constitute a parish within a parish. In fact, this relationship is explicit: The Hispanics keep their Mass collections in a separate fund and use monies to pay rent to the church for use of its sanctuary and parish hall.
Disturbing too, are the statistics in this soon-to-be-released U.S. bishops Hispanic Affairs committees study, Hispanic Ministry at the Turn of the New Millennium. Those statistics deal with dioceses with the most rapid increase in their Hispanic Catholic population.
Charlotte, N.C., heads the list, up 84.3 percent in six years, 1990-96. And while the impact of the 22,735 new Hispanics may seem small, so was the Catholic population absorbing them, 97,000.
A starker indication of the silent giant of shifting Hispanic Catholics is in Atlanta, Ga., the third fastest growing diocese, after Reno-LasVegas. The Atlanta Catholic population nearly doubled in a decade: from 158,00 in 1989 to 311,000 in 1999 while the general Atlanta population increased by only 25 percent (4 million to 5 million).
Though the registered Hispanic Catholic presence in Atlanta increased by 60,000 (80.1 percent, 1990-96), Atlanta likely has at least another 300,000 anonymous new Catholics out there it can barely touch. (The Millennium study says a conservative estimate is that 67 percent of all Hispanics are Catholic. That means 300,000 of Atlantas Hispanic new arrivals are Catholic.)
However, says Gonzalo Saldana, Hispanic ministries director for the Atlanta archdiocese, possibly only 15 percent of those newcomer Catholics are known to the church.
The archdiocese does not have the resources to tap the new Catholic arrivals among the more than 450,000 Hispanics who have arrived in the past decade. A high percentage of them are undocumented, getting what The Atlanta Journal-Constitution calls the big wink because the Georgia economy is now so dependent on them. The archdiocese does train Hispanic ministry catechists, said Saldana, but it has to rely on the parishes to do the evangelization outreach.
Nationally, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, there were 23.3 million Hispanics in the United States in 1990, and that constituted 9 percent of the population. The number has grown to 31.7 million or 11.6 percent of the population today.
Other Millennium study findings include that:
Hispanic religious vocations are low, with only 511 Hispanic seminarians nationwide, and only one Hispanic priest per 10,000 Hispanics, compared to one priest for every 1,200 Catholics in the general population. Only 18 percent of U.S. dioceses offer English as a Second Language to Hispanic seminarians; only 31 percent require non-Hispanic seminarians to study Spanish.
In reporting findings of the Hispanic Affairs Secretariats national mail and telephone surveys, a plus side, down side comparison states that while 43 percent of dioceses do have lay leadership institutes or programs for Hispanics, most Hispanic programs reach only adults -- Spanish-speaking and English-speaking. Hispanic youth are not well served.
While more dioceses do support Spanish outreach, theyre no match for the proselytizing of Hispanic Catholics by Protestant groups, which has increased dramatically.
Nor, apparently, is the diocesan structure for Hispanic support consistent. While 44 Hispanic ministry offices have been created or upgraded, 10 were dismantled or downgraded. Hispanic ministry budgets are higher than previously, Hispanic ministry staffs have doubled, the directors are better educated and more professional, but collaboration between Hispanic ministry and other diocesan departments is limited, and there is little sustained Hispanic pastoral planning.
Contacted by NCR, study director Stewart James Lawrence of Puentes, Inc., which researches partnership building in Latino communities nationwide, said one key issue is that the next census will probably show that newcomer Hispanics are 50 to 55 percent of the Hispanic population while programs are being geared more to established Hispanic/Latino communities settled for two and three generations.
Another factor no one wants to talk about, said Lawrence, a recently baptized Catholic who is a member of Washingtons Sagrado Corazón Parish, is that newcomer Hispanics feel social discrimination and feel locked out by existing Hispanic and Latino entrenched populations.
Its very hard for the newer Hispanics to find any foothold in these Catholic parishes. Central Americans in Long Island, N.Y., switch to Protestant churches because they feel shut out by an earlier generation of Latinos, even in Hispanic oriented parishes. But nobody likes to talk about that stuff.
Its a fear among quite a few people in dioceses where the [Hispanic] population is overwhelmingly foreign born, such as Arlington, Va., and many out west, he said.
The essence of the study, said Lawrence, is that the problem of participation is a problem of leadership. If you dont foster, or allow the fostering of a dynamic of leadership within the Hispanic Catholic community, if you dont foster a dialogue between that leadership and the existing leadership in parishes and dioceses, youre not going to have the vibrant multicultural or bicultural church that all these documents have been proclaiming for the past 25 years.
The biggest weakness, he said, is that in most dioceses there is not a collaborative Hispanic ministry being implemented from the get-go. Its an inherent problem. Collaborative ministry is a prophetic vision. Weve not been there before. The church articulates it but doesnt follow through.
In the studys summary, Lawrence writes that if he finds major shortcoming in the progress of Hispanic ministry since 1985, it is not because he is unaware of the tremendous progress: 21 Hispanic bishops and Hispanic ministry offices in 150 dioceses.
There can be no doubt, on paper at least, writes Lawrence, of the churchs and the bishops historic commitment to Hispanics.
But what about Hispanic Catholics being charged to use the parish sanctuary and church hall. Dont the bishops know its going on?
Sure they do, said Ronaldo Cruz, who directs the bishops Hispanic Affairs Secretariat. Thats part of the task of education. People have to be informed of the disparities. Its part of why we have Encuentro 2000.
The U.S. bishops are currently sponsoring Encuentro 2000 in July, the fourth nationwide Hispanic gathering since 1972. This time it is nationwide, but different from past meetings in that instead of a huge gathering, the focus is on parish-level groups at which Catholics are encouraged to tell their multicultural stories in order to understand others.
The Millennium study, said Cruz, is the Hispanic Affairs committees more scientific alternative to the customary encuentro (encounter) consultation process.
Like Encuentro 2000, he said, the study is the beginning of a process. Asked if critics would remark that Hispanic Affairs is always a beginning process, Cruz replied, Thats true, and part of the reason for that is because we have such constant incredible change going on.
The U.S. bishops Hispanic Affairs committee will release the study in March.
National Catholic Reporter, February 11, 2000