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National meeting signals ‘coming of age’ for Hispanic Catholics in US

Crosses can be seen on stage at the Gaylord Texan Resort and Convention Center in Grapevine, Texas, on Sept. 20, 2018. San Antonio Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller, far right, led an opening prayer at the V Encuentro meeting. RNS photo by Bobby Ross Jr.

GRAPEVINE, Texas (RNS) — Latinos are not a challenge or a problem for the U.S. Catholic Church.

They are the church.

That’s the message from some Hispanic leaders as the fastest-growing segment of American Catholicism rapidly becomes the majority.

“There are too many things that have gone wrong for the church to risk alienating its majority,” said Carmen Nanko-Fernández, professor of Hispanic theology and ministry at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. “Latinos are saying, ‘We’re almost the majority, but it sure doesn’t feel that way.’”

With the church hierarchy embroiled in scandal over clergy sexual misconduct and abuse of minors, Nanko-Fernández said, “There’s less tolerance for mismanagement in the church than ever before. There’s less tolerance for not being heard than ever before.”

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops described a four-day bilingual meeting last weekend (Sept. 20-23) as a “crucial turning point for the Catholic Church in America,” designed to discern ways in which the church can better respond to its growing Latino population.

In 1972, the bishops’ conference organized the first National Hispanic Encuentro — a Spanish word for meeting — to discuss greater participation for Latinos in church leadership and decision-making roles.

Nearly a half-century later, the fifth such national gathering — called “V Encuentro” — brought together more than 3,000 delegates and 127 bishops for what Pope Francis characterized as “a historic moment for the church in the United States.”

Said Nanko-Fernández, “I hope they listen this time.”

The conversation is a difficult one, given the diversity within that budding majority, generationally, culturally and even linguistically: for many younger Hispanic Catholics, English, not Spanish, is their primary language.

Delegates arrive at the V Encuentro meeting at the Gaylord Texan Resort and Convention Center in Grapevine, Texas, on Sept. 20, 2018. RNS photo by Bobby Ross Jr.

The Pew Research Center estimates there are roughly 51 million adult Catholics in the U.S., accounting for one-fifth of the total adult population. The share of Americans who are Catholic is falling, but the rapid growth of the overall Hispanic population means Latinos still make up a larger share of the total Catholic population.

And Latinos are already the majority among younger Catholics. According to numbers gathered ahead of the fifth Encuentro, 40 percent of all Catholics in the U.S. today are Hispanic; 50 percent of Catholics ages 14 to 29 are Hispanic; and 55 percent of Catholics younger than 14 are Hispanic.

“This is the moment to speak up,” said Belen Morales, 24, a delegate from the Archdiocese of Chicago. “Right now, we are having this time to talk about our needs, our realities, and we’re telling this to the church. And the church is listening to us.”

Morales immigrated to the U.S. from Ecuador at age 13. “At least where I live in Chicago, there’s support for the youth, but it’s more for the teenagers,” she said. “As for us, the young adults, we’re a little bit forgotten.”

In a six-minute video message to the thousands who assembled at a convention center in this suburb near Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, Francis, the first Latin American pontiff, said in his native Spanish, “I see that the fifth Encuentro is a concrete way for the church in the United States to respond to the challenge of going beyond what is comfortable, business as usual, to become a leaven of communion for all those who seek a future of hope, especially young people and families that live at the peripheries of society.”

Amid the changing demographics, the geographic center of the U.S. Catholic Church is also shifting gradually away from its traditional redoubts in the Northeast and the Midwest to the South and the West, said Elizabeth Podrebarac Sciupac at Pew.

Since the original meeting in 1972, Encuentro events have been convened in 1977, 1985 and 2000. In preparation for the 1985 gathering, the U.S. bishops published a pastoral letter titled “The Hispanic Presence: Challenge and Commitment.”

“While it was a well-intentioned and timely document, the title suggests some things that it’s unintended to suggest,” Fort Worth Bishop Michael Olson told Religion News Service. “Challenge is sort of a nice word for problem.”

No longer is the idea that the church will try to understand how to minister to a minority population, said Olson, whose diocese of 900,000 parishioners — more than half with Latino surnames — hosted V Encuentro.

“I think there is a coming of age,” the Texas bishop added. “It’s really a moment of grace and an opportunity for us to grow and mature as the whole church. This is not a convention to deal with a minority problem, but rather it is a coming together of the entire church for our own renewal as a church.”

Roberto Villatoro, a deacon at St. Anthony’s Catholic Church in Upland, Calif., said, “The main thing for us is to see how we can help the Hispanic culture to be recognized. … We need to see what we can do with the youth because the youth are very important, and they are being ignored.”

Ariadna Nuñez, 20, and Belen Morales, 24, delegates from the Archdiocese of Chicago, at the V Encuentro meeting in Grapevine, Texas, on Sept. 20, 2018. RNS photo by Bobby Ross Jr.

Ariadna Nuñez, 20, a fellow delegate from Chicago, agreed.

“I know there have been a lot of problems in the church,” said Nuñez, who was born in Mexico. “But we are here to make a change and show we are together.”

While the pope did not mention the sex abuse scandal, bishops and others who addressed the Encuentro delegates made repeated references to it.

“You are right to be brokenhearted by the faults of your shepherds, priests and bishops,” said San Antonio Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller, a Mexican-born prelate. “Let us pray to God for the victims of the crimes that led to this crisis. Do everything you can for the healing of all the victims of these abuses, and pray also for the perpetrators and for us, your shepherds.”

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, archbishop of Galveston-Houston and president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, said the “ongoing revelations of misconduct make us feel ashamed and sad.”

“We bishops have fallen short,” DiNardo told the delegates. “Amidst this darkness, the Encuentro is a light that shines and illuminates the way forward. The enthusiasm, the passion, the love and the joy of the Encuentro process is a means of grace, a gift to us as we rebuild the church.”

Despite her displeasure with the clergy sex abuse scandal, Erika Diaz, 35, a delegate from the Diocese of Pueblo, Colo., said she doesn’t fear those misdeeds will cause an exodus from the pews.

“One of the biggest things is that we know that we’re not perfect, and we know the clergy is not perfect,” said Diaz, a mother of four girls, ranging in age from 5 to 14. “We all fail. But the one that we follow, he is perfect.”

On the other hand, the Mexican-born immigrant does worry about leisure pursuits and sporting activities distracting young Latinos from spiritual matters.

“Now,” she said, “they’re having practices for sports and other activities at the same time as Mass.”

About the author

Bobby Ross Jr.


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  • Hispanic/Latino Catholics must not let the bishops take them for granted. The hierarchical nature of the church and the official doctrine of the *ordained priesthood* — a historically faux and self-serving teaching, if ever — present a real threat to a people whose Catholic religiosity is very, very strong. And therein lies the danger. I encourage ALL Catholics to study the history of Catholicism, a Christian faith tradition that culminated in clerical arrogance (“priests on pedestals”) and subordination of the laity (“clericalism of the laity”). The hierarchs will do their level best to draw Latino/Hispanic Catholics into maintenance of the status quo. BEWARE.

  • “We’re almost the majority, but it sure doesn’t feel that way.”

    And it never will if the public faces of the religion are Mike Pence and Paul Ryan, not to mention Scalia (deceased), Roberts, Alito, Thomas, Gorsuch and Kavanaugh.

  • The American Conference of Bishops need to stop supporting one political party over another. They need to stop throwing their support to Supreme Court Judges as a cure all. The continuation of supporting one political party will only end up alienating Latinos and throwing them under the bus and out of the country. The hierarchy can’t have it both ways in US politics of supporting Pro Life and loving the Immigrant. The hierarchy needs to go back to its roots of being Missionaries and not Politicians.

  • I believe your “The American Conference of Bishops need to stop supporting one political party over another.” should read “The Catholic Church needs to stop opposing abortion.”

    Because it believes that abortion is intrinsically evil, as long as the Democratic Party Platform includes

    “Democrats are committed to protecting and advancing reproductive health, rights, and justice. We believe unequivocally, like the majority of Americans, that every woman should have access to quality reproductive health care services, including safe and legal abortion—regardless of where she lives, how much money she makes, or how she is insured. We believe that reproductive health is core to women’s, men’s, and young people’s health and wellbeing. We will continue to stand up to Republican efforts to defund Planned Parenthood health centers, which provide critical health services to millions of people. We will continue to oppose—and seek to overturn—federal and state laws and policies that impede a woman’s access to abortion, including by repealing the Hyde Amendment.”

    it seems unlikely that the Catholic Church, or faithful Catholics, will be able to support Democratic candidates that vote in accordance with their party’s platform.

  • Pence grew up Catholic, but he converted to ultraconservative evangelical. He was a lousy governor of Indiana and would be a horrible replacement for the equally horrible Trump.

  • Thank you, Bob, for showing why the Democratic Party is preferable to the GOP. It cares about women and rights of conscience and religious liberty.

  • I guess I am suggesting that, over time, the brown and black Catholics have to wrest the social message of their church from the overarching influence of white conservatives who are more concerned about corporations than people.

  • It does seem to care about people who can vote and consider the lives of those who can’t expendable.

    Your idea of “rights” seems to correlate highly with your personal preferences.

  • I do not consider any person’s life “expendable.” As for my views on abortion rights, they are essentially the same as those of the Catholic voters in Ireland who voted 2 to 1 for abortion rights on May 25.

  • So you believe in the doctrine of “apostolic succession”?

    I once did — until I began reading about the history of the earliest Christian communities. They were led by unordained presbyteroi or episkopoi (terms not to be confused with our understanding of “priests” and “bishops” today). Their liturgical presidership was based on their community leadership. In addition, there is no evidence that the Twelve served as leaders/bishops of local Christian communities or ordained anyone to serve in this capacity. The doctrines of non-baptismal “priesthood” and ordination were gradual developments in the history of the Christian/Catholic churches. The notion of Jesus as sacrificial victim is derived from typology, an approach to recruiting and retaining converts to the Christian faith from Judaism, especially after the Roman destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 CE.

    Let’s remember that in the Gospel, Jesus never identifies himself as any kind of “priest”, high or low (HEBREWS is typology, which proves nothing). Instead, Jesus says he is a “prophet”, and, in other N.T. writings, the authors acknowledge Jesus as a prophet, never as any kind of priest.

    I recommend at least three sources for more information:



    + Robert Egan’s “Why Not? Scripture, History & Women’s Ordination” available free online at

    I’m reminded of Joseph Ratzinger’s observation that “facts, as history teaches, carry more weight than pure doctrine” (J. Ratzinger, THEOLOGICAL HIGHLIGHTS OF VATICAN II, Paulist Press/Deus Books, 1966, p. 16). The main theme of Vatican II was church renewal, a goal that can be accomplished only by retrieving our ecclesial roots.

  • I used to read your stuff when NCR had a Comments section.

    1 – I am completely unimpressed. You cut and paste the same stuff over and over.

    2 – Sorry you have problems with Catholicism. There a plethora of choices that reject sacraments, including ordination.

    Pick one.

    Have a nice day.

  • “Said Nanko-Fernández, “I hope they listen this time.””

    Yup – they’ll listen – they have to – otherwise how will they know how to gift-wrap the same-old same-old mixture of dogma, revelation and tradition to make it appear that they care about people. (And I’m sure that there are many RCs who do care about people – The evidence suggests few of them get far up the management chain).

  • Bob’s typical response. So 66% of Irish voters are “heretics or ignorant.” Didn’t 95% of them attend Catholic schools? What say you now?

  • You never quit, Edd.

    A faithful Catholic must accept the Church’s teachings. One who does not either does not understand it is a teaching, or the nature and importance of the teaching, and thus is ignorant, or knows full well the importance of a teaching and rejects it, and thus is a heretic.

    The teaching is:

    2271 Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law:

    “You shall not kill the embryo by abortion and shall not cause the newborn to perish.” -Didache 2,2:SCh 248,148; cf. Ep. Barnabae 19,5:PG 2 777; Ad Diognetum 5,6:PG 2,1173; Tertullian, Apol. 9:PL 1,319-320.

    “God, the Lord of life, has entrusted to men the noble mission of safeguarding life, and men must carry it out in a manner worthy of themselves. Life must be protected with the utmost care from the moment of conception: abortion and infanticide are abominable crimes.” – Gaudium et Spes 51 § 3

    2272 Formal cooperation in an abortion constitutes a grave offense. The Church attaches the canonical penalty of excommunication to this crime against human life. “A person who procures a completed abortion incurs excommunication latae sententiae,”a “by the very commission of the offense,”b and subject to the conditions provided by Canon Law.c The Church does not thereby intend to restrict the scope of mercy. Rather, she makes clear the gravity of the crime committed, the irreparable harm done to the innocent who is put to death, as well as to the parents and the whole of society.

    a – Canon 1398

    b – Canon 1314

    c – Canons 1323-1324

    Going to Catholic school doesn’t mean what it did when you went to Catholic school 70-80 years ago before leaving the Church.

    Catechesis collapsed in most school roughly 50 years ago.

  • I guess I am reading that you know less about Catholicism then most other things about you know little or nothing.

  • Blah-blah-blah ad infinitum. Poor Bob seems unaware that neither Augustine nor Aquinas believed that personhood began at conception; maybe those fathers of the church were heretics? Or that well over 90% of Catholics reject the Vatican’s silly ban on contraception, which to Bob would mean that they are all heretics or ignorant. And Bob seems to have a dim view if his church’s vaunted private schools.

  • Blah-blah-blah ad infinitum.

    The sin in abortion is unrelated to “personhood”.

    Science believes life begins at conception.

    I would tend to agree that those who reject the ban on artificial contraception, which predates the 20th century, are either ignorant or, as in the case of say Charles Curran, heretics.

    The lack of catechesis in the last half century is well-documented, as are your anti-Catholic positions as a Catholic apostate.

  • 1. “[C]ompletely unimpressed”? I’m OK with your knuckleheaded reply. Cut and paste: why waste (time and effort)?

    2. No problems with Catholicism (I’m as much a Catholic as are you). My problems are with:

    (a) a clerical culture that still elevates the ordained and subordinates the laity;

    (b) widespread clerical sexual abuse of children, episcopal malfeasance, and papal (read: JPII’s) indifference to all the aforementioned — aided and abetted, of course, by the laity;

    (c) a historically and self-serving faux doctrine of “ordained priesthood”, and

    (d) people like you whose ignorant and/or stubborn beliefs make the Church of Rome ripe for repeated harm to children and other vulnerable people.

    I do not “reject the sacraments” (if you’d read my “stuff” at NCROnline, you’d have known this truth already).

    Folks who fail to learn the lessons of history and institutional psychology are merely passing down their failures to subsequent generations.

    Sleep on it.

  • Because the American Conference of Bishops needs to support God’s “Greatest Second Commandment “ look it up ! Racism is an intrinsic Evil which your party supports in the character of your President. You cannot be a true Christian by supporting the policies of the Republican Party.

  • I am an independent.

    You cannot be a true Christian if you subscribe to:

    “Democrats are committed to protecting and advancing reproductive health, rights, and justice. We believe unequivocally, like the majority of Americans, that every woman should have access to quality reproductive health care services, including safe and legal abortion—regardless of where she lives, how much money she makes, or how she is insured. We believe that reproductive health is core to women’s, men’s, and young people’s health and wellbeing. We will continue to stand up to Republican efforts to defund Planned Parenthood health centers, which provide critical health services to millions of people. We will continue to oppose—and seek to overturn—federal and state laws and policies that impede a woman’s access to abortion, including by repealing the Hyde Amendment.”

    That alone seems to explain the never-ending nittering like “The American Conference of Bishops (Ed: actually United States Conference of Catholic Bishops) need(s) to stop supporting one political party over another.”, which disappears when any other issue is considered.


  • Several years ago I was involved in getting an amicus curiae brief to the SCOTUS on abortion rights signed by 12 Nobel laureate scientists (including DNA co-discoverer Francis Crick) and 155 other distinguished scientists. Their point was the scientific consensus that human person is not possible before a certain level of brain development, some time after 28-32 weeks of gestation. So Bob the Grand Inquisitor knows not of what he pontificates.


    I am sure that what the scientists, of which you are not, opined on is when “personhood” – a completely nebulous term – begins.

    Science is unanimous in noting that in sexual species the life cycle, from beginning to end, begins with conception.

    I am sure that this cr-p wins you plaudits in some fora.

    With me, not so much.

    Of course I have been reading your stuff for a couple of decades, so I am probably more familiar than most your readers with your limits, commencing with science.

  • The vast majority of Americans favor some sort of limits on abortion and have moral qualms about it.

    When it goes before the public for a vote you’ll have something to talk about.

  • One wonders what credentials Bib has to even discuss science. Human life began hundreds of thousands of years ago. What is important in this debate is when persons begin. Scientists agree generally that personhood requires consciousness, and that requires a certain level of brain development, not possible before 28-32 weeks of gestation.

    Bob would deprive women of the right to decide for themselves what to do about a problem pregnancy. My view and that of most Americans is that the individual woman should make that decision, not uppity males like Bob or his idol Trump.

    BTW, if “God” is so concerned about early fetal life, why do about half of all fetuses fail long before 28 weeks. Can Bob answer that?

  • In sexual species the life cycle commences with conception and ends with death.

    “Personhood” is not a scientific term, has no legal definition, and therefore has no legal or moral significance.

    Bob believes that when we discuss “problem pregnancies” we should be clear that we are talking about two lives, not one.

    Btw, if Edd thinks God is concerned about any life, how does he explain his remaining days are ticking off one by one?

  • All those folks came from white ethnic backgrounds that were equally mistrusted by the establishment in their day. It is part of the evolution of power and assimilation that many Hispanics are going through at various stages now. Those who assimilate, gain skills and education will move up the ranks of power just as the Irish, Germans, Poles, Italians, etc. Give it time.

    Over time many Hispanics through experiences, education, economic advancement, changes of thought or marriage will move on from the Roman Church to over forms of Christianity or no religion.

  • Or not.

    The Catholic Church in the United States has and has had a number of Hispanic bishops.

    Its membership in the Hispanic population is growing rapidly.

    Just like the Irish, German, Poles, and Italians they’ll remain Catholic for the most part.

  • Maybe on the east coast, but as folks move out and in other parts of the country; there is a lot of religious mixing and changing.

  • Bob has n respect whatever fr women’s health, rights of conscience or religious liberty. He just wants his church to impose its laughably outdated dogmas on everyone.

  • It came to a vote in predominantly Catholic Ireland and abortion rights won 2 to 1. Maryland, the state founded by Catholic around 1636, had a referendum in 1992 and abortion rights and Roe v Wade won 62% to 3,8%.

  • Why do you think these numbers mean something?

    Have you read the propaganda cranked out on these votes?

    Do you honestly with straight believe the average Irish voter is an actual practicing Catholic?

    Is morality and truth a matter of polling?

  • I respect natural law and science.

    You want to impose your laughably self-absorbed views on anyone who can’t vote.

  • “Natural law” is a rather meaningless term, and, as I pointed out, science is on my side. I’ll take my stand with DNA co-discoverer and Nobel laureate Francis Crick.

  • Every time you throw a ball in the air, and it falls back to earth, you confirm natural law.

    Growing old you confirm natural law.

    Francis Crick did not conclude that life in sexual species does NOT commence at conception.

    Well, backing to reading your old pamphlets from decades ago.

  • This issue is probably too complicated for Bob to understand. The examples he cites are not relevant to the question of human personhood. Of course life begins at conception, but personhood des not begin until brain development permits consciousness. That’s science, not theology.

  • Edd – “personhood”, because it is both legally and scientifically undefined, is irrelevant.

    The position you’re taking is one which has been used to take some pretty abhorrent positions.

    For example, Peter Albert David Singer holds that the right to life is essentially tied to a being’s capacity to hold preferences, which in turn is essentially tied to a being’s capacity to feel pain and pleasure, which constitutes “personhood”.

    Singer argues that newborns lack the essential characteristics of personhood – “rationality, autonomy, and self-consciousness” – and therefore “killing a newborn baby is never equivalent to killing a person, that is, a being who wants to go on living”.

    Life seems to be the uncontroversial conclusion as to when a new member of a species commences, and that occurs at conception.

  • Maybe you do know more than I do. Maybe you don’t. I don’t know. But you sure haven’t *demonstrated* much knowledge of the issues we’ve debated. Try again.

  • In both referenda the anti-choicers outspent the pro-choicers. The referenda were accurate measures of public opinion. I would not presume to judge the Irish voters who voted 2 to 1 for abortion rights. 95% of them were educated in Catholic schools/

  • Unfortunately for you your argument at the Pearly Gate will be “I corresponded to the lowest common denominator.”

    And you do.

  • Let me refer you to the book that psychologist James Prescott and I edited some years ago, Abortion Rights and Fetal “Personhood”, which was the basis of the scientists’ brief to the SCOTUS.

  • Let me refer you to the American College of Pediatricians which confirms that, in common with all sexually reproducing species, human life begins at conception.

    “The predominance of human biological research confirms that human life begins at conception—fertilization. At fertilization, the human being emerges as a whole, genetically distinct, individuated zygotic living human organism, a member of the species Homo sapiens, needing only the proper environment in order to grow and develop. The difference between the individual in its adult stage and in its zygotic stage is one of form, not nature. This statement focuses on the scientific evidence of when an individual human life begins.”

    That’s basic mammalian science, not tapdancing by a psychologist.

  • I found this comment in a leading newspaper.

    “”When you’re sitting there watching a hearing and you and your wife are crying while watching it, you know it’s the truth you’re hearing. This is sickening.”

    — AFineAmerican

    Millions of decent Americans are appalled, nauseated, and outraged at Trump and his proteges, including Kavanaugh, turning the USA into something it is not and never was meant to be. My husband are retired clergy and members of the Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights. If Bob Arnzen calls himself Catholic, he should hang his head in shame for wanting to deny women worldwide to right to control their reproduction. Shame on you Bob.

  • What Bob does not seem to grasp is that human personhood is what occurs when brain development permits conscioiusness some time after 28-32 weeks of gestation. That’s what Crick and the other biologists are saying. :Let me also refer Bob to theologian John Swomley’s book, in which I wrote the preface, Compulsory Pregnancy: The War Against American Women. The book also contains the scientists’ SCOTUS brief to which I have referred.

  • There is no accepted legal or medical definition of “personhood”.

    As I pointed out, Singer isn’t even willing to grant “personhood” to a child already born.

    Your attempt to palm off a substitute for life is just what one would expect from a Planned Parenthood tout, who complains about others passing laws that might bear a resemblance to a religious belief, but sees no problem ditching “life” for a definition he can manipulate to suit his purposes.

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