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Many Latino Americans are leaving the heritage of their Catholic faith in favor of other denominations or no religion at all, according to a new study from Trinity College in Hartford, Conn. While the huge growth of the Latino population in the United States over the last two decades has boosted numbers in the Catholic church overall, the study shows that the community is becoming increasingly diverse in its spiritual views as they become more “Americanized.”

"What you see is growing diversity—away from Catholicism and splitting between those who join evangelical or Protestant groups or no religion," says report co-author Barry Kosmin, a sociologist and director of the Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture at Trinity College.

The study looked at data from surveys in 1990 and 2008 about religious identification. During this time, the estimated U.S. Latino population more than doubled in size from 14.6 million to 30.9 million. Reflecting this growth, in 1990, the Latino community made up 20 percent of the total Catholic community in America. In 2008, they made up 32 percent.

However, among the Latino community itself, the percentage of Catholics is declining. In 1990, 65.8 percent of Latinos identified themselves as Catholic, but by 2008, the number dropped to 59.5 percent.

The number of Latinos who identify themselves as part of other Christian faiths has also grown drastically in the last two decades, from 3.7 million to 6.9 million. However, in 1990 this group made up 25.1 percent of the total Latino community, whereas in 2008, it made up 22.2 percent. Christian Latino numbers are dropping, but not as significantly as those who are Catholic.

So where are these people going? Unfortunately, the number of Latinos who claimed they have “no religion” has risen from less than 1 million (6 percent of the total population) to nearly 4 million (12 percent).

"The biggest challenge the Catholic Church faces is the movement of Latino people not to other religions but rather to a secular way of life in which religion is no longer very important," Allan Figueroa Deck, a Catholic priest and executive director of the Secretariat of Cultural Diversity, told USA Today. "We really need to ask ourselves why that is and what response the church can develop for this challenge." [trincoll.edu, 3/16/10; usatoday.com, 3/16/10]

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