May 7th, 2014
11:58 AM ET
By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog EditorFollow @BurkeCNN
(CNN) - Young Latinos are leaving the Catholic Church in droves, according to a new study, with many drifting into the country's fastest-growing religious movement: the nones.
Nearly a third of Latino adults under 30 don't belong to a faith group, according to a large survey released Tuesday by the Pew Research Center. That's a leap of 17 percentage points in just the last three years.
While the demise of organized religion, specifically Catholicism, is most dramatic among young Latinos, the overall shifts are broad-based, according to Pew, affecting men and women; foreign-born and U.S. natives; college graduates and those with less formal education.
The trends highlighted by Pew's Latino survey also mirror large-scale shifts in the American population as whole.
According to other studies conducted by Pew in recent years, nearly a third of all millennials - Americans between the ages of 18-33 - are religiously unaffiliated, a dramatic and ongoing change from previous generations.
“One of the most striking recent trends in the American religious landscape has been the growing share of the unaffiliated, and this study allows us to see where Latinos fit into that story,” said Cary Funk, a senior researcher at the Pew Research Center and one of the co-authors of the study.
“At the same time, understanding religious change among Latinos is important for understanding how this growing group may be reshaping the American religious landscape more broadly.”
The overall breakdown of the nation's estimated 35.4 million Latinos is: 55% Catholic, 22% Protestant and 18% unaffiliated.
That's bad news for the Catholic Church, which has seen a 12 percentage-point drop in Hispanic members since 2010, with most of the losses coming from former Catholics under 50.
As recently as years ago, two-thirds of Latinos were Catholic; now nearly one in four Hispanic adults is a former Catholic, according to Pew.
The most common reasons for leaving the faith?
More than half (55%) say they just "drifted away" from organized religion. A similar number (52%), say they no longer believed in the teachings of their childhood religion.
A smaller number of Latinos (4 percentage points) have left Catholicism to become evangelical Protestants, according to Pew.
"Outreach to the Hispanic community is a top priority for the Catholic Church as the huge growth in the Hispanic community offers a challenge to keep up with the pastoral needs," said Sister Mary Ann Walsh, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
"The Hispanic community, however, is not immune from the nation’s growing secularism, which concerns all religions, as church attendance seems less important to people," Walsh continued, "and people move from religion to religion and declare themselves spiritual rather than religiously affiliated."
The Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, head of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Council, said he was surprised by the sharp rise in Latino "nones."
“They are saying: established religions of both denominations are not attracting me. And I think it’s a wake-up call for Catholics and evangelicals to allocate all our resources on the next generation.”
The survey was conducted in English and Spanish between May 24-July 28, 2013, among a sample of 5,103 Hispanic adults living in the United States, according to Pew.
The margin of error for results based on all respondents is plus or minus 2.1 percentage points.
CNN's Gustavo Valdes contributed to this report.
About this blog
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.