Latin America is home to more than 425 million Catholics ”“ nearly 40% of the world’s total Catholic population ”“ and the Roman Catholic Church now has a Latin American pope for the first time in its history. Yet identification with Catholicism has declined throughout the region, according to a major new Pew Research Center survey that examines religious affiliations, beliefs and practices in 18 countries and one U.S. territory (Puerto Rico) across Latin America and the Caribbean.
Historical data suggest that for most of the 20th century, from 1900 through the 1960s, at least 90% of Latin America’s population was Catholic (See History of Religious Change). Today, the Pew Research survey shows, 69% of adults across the region identify as Catholic. In nearly every country surveyed, the Catholic Church has experienced net losses from religious switching, as many Latin Americans have joined evangelical Protestant churches or rejected organized religion altogether. For example, roughly one-in-four Nicaraguans, one-in-five Brazilians and one-in-seven Venezuelans are former Catholics.
Overall, 84% of Latin American adults report that they were raised Catholic, 15 percentage points more than currently identify as Catholic. The pattern is reversed among Protestants and people who do not identify with any religion: While the Catholic Church has lost adherents through religious switching, both Protestant churches and the religiously unaffiliated population in the region have gained members. Just one-in-ten Latin Americans (9%) were raised in Protestant churches, but nearly one-in-five (19%) now describe themselves as Protestants. And while only 4% of Latin Americans were raised without a religious affiliation, twice as many (8%) are unaffiliated today.