The overall number of Hispanics who self-identify as Catholic is about 30 million, perhaps more. To put things in perspective, this number is larger than the entire population of most countries in Latin America and the Caribbean.
One number, however, that often gets little attention when talking about Hispanic Catholics is that of Hispanic priests. According to data collected as part of the Fifth National Encuentro of Hispanic/Latino Ministry process (V Encuentro), there are about 2,985 Hispanic priests in the U.S. Of these, 280 are inactive/retired.
We should not assume that only Hispanic priests can serve Hispanics Catholics. We know that such is not the case in most parishes.
Yet, putting the total number of Hispanic Catholics next to that of Hispanic active priests is quite revealing: 30 million and 2,705. There are about 11,000 Hispanic Catholics for every Hispanic active priest — the ratio for the total U.S. Catholic population is about 2,000 Catholics per priest.
According to V Encuentro research data, there are 4,473 parishes with Hispanic ministry in the U.S. This reflects a small increase compared to the 4,368 similar parishes identified by Boston College’s National Study of Catholic Parishes with Hispanic Ministry in 2014.
If we were to place one currently active Hispanic priest in every parish with Hispanic ministry, about 1,768 parish communities would not get that privilege.
The Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate estimated that in 2017, there were about 37,181 Catholic priests in our country. Let’s keep in mind that about a third of them are retired or semiretired. Barely 8 percent of all priests in the U.S., active and retired, are Hispanic.
While two-thirds of Hispanics are U.S. born, and the fastest-growing sector within the Hispanic Catholic population is that of those born in the United States, V Encuentro research revealed that 76 percent of Hispanic priests are foreign-born.
CARA recently reported that about 430 priests would be ordained in 2018 to serve in Catholic communities throughout the country. Of these, 334 responded to an annual survey. Approximately 20 percent of the new priests this year are Hispanic. About half of the 30 percent who said they were foreign-born come from Latin American and Caribbean nations.
What do we learn from these numbers? Three things.
One, Catholic parishes, dioceses, schools and organizations need to do much more to foster vocations to the priesthood among Hispanics. As the Hispanic population gears to becoming soon a numeric majority in the U.S. church, we need Hispanic priests to serve parishes with large numbers of Hispanic Catholics as well as every other Catholic in our nation.
Two, there is a major gap between the mostly U.S.-born Hispanic Catholic population and the mostly immigrant clerical leadership. This gap needs to be gradually balanced. Historically, immigrant priests served various immigrant Catholic groups that arrived in the U.S. Then the U.S.-born generation cultivated its own priests. Today, most Hispanics are not immigrants. We need to take the next step.
Three, we need to understand better the reasons and circumstances that prevent more Hispanic Catholics, particularly U.S.-born, from considering the priesthood as a calling. Also, we need to assess what we are doing and investing in our parishes and dioceses to mentor Hispanics to discern ecclesial vocations. In the fall of 2018, Boston College will launch a two-year national study to explore these realities.
In the meantime, let us heed the words from our Lord Jesus Christ, “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest” (Mt 9:37-38).
Ospino is professor of theology and religious education at Boston College. He is a member of the leadership team for the Fifth National Encuentro of Hispanic/Latino Ministry.
In a time of crisis CatholicPhilly.com keeps the information flowing
During the current coronavirus crisis, you can help CatholicPhilly.com deliver the kind of news people need to know about the Catholic Church, especially in the Philadelphia region, and the world in which we live ― every day.
Budgets are tight at this time, and CatholicPhilly's is no different than those of most families. We make sure your donation in any amount will go a long way toward continuing our mission to inform, form in the Catholic faith and inspire the thousands of readers who visit every month.
Here is how you can help:
- A $100 gift allows us to present award-winning photos of Catholic life in our neighborhoods.
- A $50 gift enables us to cover a news event in a local parish, school or Catholic institution.
- A $20 gift lets us obtain solid faith formation resources that can deepen your spirituality and knowledge of the faith.
- A small, automated monthly donation means you can support us continually and easily.
Won't you consider making a gift today?
Please join in the church's vital mission of communications by offering a gift in whatever amount that you can ― a single gift of $40, $50, $100, or more, or a monthly donation. Your gift will strengthen the fabric of our entire Catholic community.
Make your donation by credit card here:
Or make your donation by check:
222 N. 17th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103