The Latino population within the Church has been steadily declining: the number of U.S. Catholics who are Latino dropped from 67% to 55% from 2010 to 2014. The drop has been especially deep in younger, U.S. born Latinos, who largely drift away from the church and openly disagree with church doctrine on family issues and reproductive rights.
Some of those issues were addressed during last October’s Extraordinary Synod, a 10-day-long conference of 183 bishops from all over the world that took place at the Vatican, at the request of Pope Francis. The meeting was convened to discuss important issues involving families and the Catholic Church, including the use of birth control, Catholic divorce, cohabitation and outreach to gays and lesbians.
Though these issues were the subject of debate, Synods do not change doctrine. In fact, language calling for a more open approach to these issues didn’t make it into the final document after the Synod.
“None of those positions have changed, nor will they change” says Manny García-Tuñón, a spokesperson of the Catholic Association of Latino Leaders, an organization of that works closely with the clergy in the U.S. and is in line with Church doctrine on family issues. “The Holy Father was looking to gather synod fathers and others in the church to have a discussion to determine how we can better minister and be more inviting with its members that are in these circumstances.”
However, Hispanic Catholics’ views on these issues are in general very different than the Church’s line. According to Pew research, within just the Latino Catholic community here in the U.S., 72% favor the use of birth control, 64% favor allowing Catholic divorce, and 49% favor same-sex marriage (30% oppose same-sex marriage).
“If we want to keep the next generations within the Church and part of the Church and active in the Church, these questions are gonna need to be looked at in a realistic way,” says Dennis Coday, editor of the National Catholic Reporter, a publication that covers the Catholic Church independently.
“We recognize the trends and we recognize we need to do a better job,” says Garcia-Tuñón. “And I think to a large extent it’s precisely the kinds of actions that the Holy Father is doing to have discussions.”
Even though there was no fundamental shift on the issues, they were debated in a manner of openness and free dialogue not usually associated with Synods, but increasingly associated with Pope Francis.
Archbishop of Louisville, KY, Joseph Kurtz was present at the Synod. “I found that the process was very engaging,” he says. “I didn’t agree of course with every aspect that was raised. That was the whole purpose of us being able to be frank in raising things.”
A more welcoming approach, championed by Pope Francis, might actually work. A whopping 84% of Hispanic Catholics say they like Pope Francis according to Pew, and over half believe that he represents a major change for the Church.
Archbishop Kurtz says that the Church can’t win people over by changing the rules, but by changing the approach.
“Someone who wants to learn baseball doesn’t begin by opening up the rulebook,” says the Archbishop. “They go to a baseball game. And as they uncover the love of the game and are fascinated by it, then they begin to ask questions. ‘Well why do we do what we do? Why is there this rule or that rule?’”
On November 10, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops will meet to discuss, among other things, October’s Synod. You can watch a livestream of that even using this link, and the USCCB will be live-tweeting here.
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