The Pope, Latinos in America and the Catholicization of the GOP

By Alex Gonzalez

On Sunday, George Will eviscerated  Pope Francis  arguing that his views on climate change “would devastate the poor on whose behalf he purports to speak.” While Mr. Will maybe correct to point out that the Pope’s views have a anti-capitalist message and classic Catholic social teaching, Republicans need to measure their “tone” against the Pope because this is not ordinary Pope. Pope Francis has been dubbed the People’s Pope;  Pope Francis remains immensely popular among American Catholics and is widely seen as a force for positive change within the Roman Catholic Church. Also, the growth of Hispanic population in America,  and  shifting views among American Catholics on social issues, may make Pope Francis look more in-touch with mainstream America than any party platform.

And while it is a fact the Catholics in America are different than Catholics in Latin America, Mexico, Ireland or Italy, for a very long time conservative Catholics in America have used social conservative Catholic theology to strengthen the conservative pro-life movement and the fight against gay marriage, so faulting the Pope will not help the GOP with Latinos and other Catholic voters who share similar views with the Pope on poverty, gay marriage and immigration.

Not long ago, there was  a quiet process of Catholicization in the Republican Party and the GOP made good use of Catholic intellectual teaching in the 1970s. 

“There was a time when the Republican Party was strictly for White Anglo Saxon Protestants.” But this year Roughly one-quarter of Republican primary voters are Catholic. Notable Catholic GOP leaders include John Boehner, Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush. Six out of nine justices of the Supreme Court are Catholics, and five of them are Republicans. And, the GOP is undergoing a quiet process of Catholicization. It’s one of the reasons why this year’s race has focused so much on social issues. Moreover, part of this genuinely Catholic intellectual tradition and its ability to provide reasonable arguments to defend conservative values. The Catholic Church had a vast intellectual heritage that could be drawn upon when fighting the liberals.”

But the “culture war” is over and more Catholics in America now  are Open to Non-Traditional Families and the Supreme Court has ruled that gay marriage is legal. Moreover, conservatives like Arthur C. Brooks and Congressman Paul Ryan are arguing that Republicans need to take a softer “tone” when talking about poverty and social issues. American Catholics are shifting their views on what was perceived Catholic socials issues doctrine, and the Pope is taking note of  that. Moreover, Latinos are becoming the main pillar of the American Catholic Church ans soon will be forming a Catholic bloc across 8 western states.

Changing Social Views 

The most recent Pew survey of American Catholics shows that :

Nine-in-ten U.S. Catholics say a household headed by a married mother and father is an ideal situation for bringing up children. But the survey shows that large majorities think other kinds of families – those headed by parents who are single, divorced, unmarried or gay – are OK for raising children, too.


6-8-2015-11-25-48-AMAccording the Pew Center, in 2014,”0ne of the strongest factors underlying views of same-sex marriage is religion, and the sense that homosexuality is in conflict with one’s religious beliefs. White evangelical Protestants stand out for their deep opposition to same-sex marriage: Just 27% favor allowing gays and lesbians to marry, while 70% oppose it (43% strongly oppose); by contrast, majorities of both Catholics (56%) and white mainline Protestants (62%) support same-sex marriage, along with an overwhelming majority (85%) of the religiously unaffiliated. and Among Hispanics, 56% says the favor allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally.” Thus, there is consistent trend among American Catholics on the so-called social issues.





The Latino Catholicization 

In 2013, Gallup came out with another indicator that put pressure on the GOP to woo Latinos into the Party. The survey by Gallup showed that the ten-most Republican states are in the Western part of the nation while the most Democrat states are in the east coast. This observation by Gallup was important for Latinos because Latinos are mainly concentrated in Southwestern states where in the next 10 years Latinos will become at least half the population of the states (In California, Latinos are already the majority and ) and subsequently,  by 2042, Latinos will be 80% of the entire southwest from Texas to California. As a result, the growth of GOP, as Gallup showed, will happen only outside the East Coast in western states where Latino will soon become the majority and where religion is “very important.” This religious demographic  and trend inevitably will dominate politics by the next generation; and thereby, making it a must for the GOP to plant the conservative seed in Catholic Hispanic communities.

But more importantly, in the U.S.,  ethnicity is connected to religiosity and region so in this  new GOP-religion-region triangulation Republicans can win a lot . For example,  According to Robert Putnam’s book American Grace: How Religion Divides us and unites us,  when examining the religion and demographic makeup of the nation, all the religious ethnic groups cluster in specific areas.   There is an overlapping similarities between the presence of a particular ethnic group and members of an ethnically rooted religions. This overlapping can be seen when we look at the map that showing clustering of both ethnic and religious groups.  The most visible are those who are self-identified as German-Americans and Lutherans churches. When we look at the map of the map showing a concentration of German-Americans, we can see all 8 states in the upper mid-west populated by “German.”  When we look at the population of self-identified Lutherans, 80% of the maps show the same states and counties of that self-Identity as German-Americans, where there are Germans, there Lutherans.  And this trend holds up even after many generations have passed.

Also, Putnam argues that there is strong connection between the Scott-Irish and member of the Presbyterian churches who settled in the South predominantly. Thus, there is a strong connection that can be expected between the identity of the Presbyterian church  Scott-Irish ethic  identity  in regions of the South across many states.

Catholics—Irish, Poles , and Italians—settled in mainly in industrial   states of the north east and the Catholic map shows overlapping between Italians-Americans Catholic with the greater concentration in Northeast and California.  When the map of Latino Catholics is shown the concentration mainly in the 8 states in the Southwest–from Texas to California to Nevada and Colorado—and in south Florida. Here, too, the direct  overlapping  between the Latinos population and  Catholicism is concentrated in one single continuous  region is similar to that of ethnic   German-Americans  and the Lutherans Churches in upper Midwest or the Presbyterian churches with ethnic  Scott Irish’s  in the South.

This observation by Putman underscores that there is triangulation between religion, ethnicity, and region because groups like to stay together and attend religious services in churches that they are familiar with.  But, one little known fact is that, while there has been a “white flight” in the Catholic Church for the last 3 decades, Latinos have been the new pillar of the Catholic Church for the last 2 decades.  According to Putnam, Catholics are about 25% of the US population, a proportion that has remained steady for 3 decades. But, American Catholicism has experienced a dramatic change.  Over the last 3 decades, “Anglos”—non Latinos—Catholics have been dropping out and disengaging with the Catholic Church.  During the same periods, the numbers of Latino Catholics has grown tremendously transforming the American Catholic Church.

According to Putnam, the American Catholic Church was “severely affected” in the 1960s by major reforms in Rome—the Vatican II. Thus, in recent decades as large numbers of ethnic whites Catholics (the grandchildren of early waves of white ethnic Catholics) were slipping out one door of the church, but a large number of Latinos have rushed in through another door.  Without the timely arrival of these immigrants and their offspring, the collapse of Catholic mass and Catholicism would have been stepper in America.   Thus, the combination of high losses of white ethnic Catholics, a young exodus, and low converts, the only thing that saved the Catholic Church was the arrival of Latino immigrants.  The transformation of church was so dramatic that of Catholics ages (18 to 35) 58% are Latinos, and ages (35 to 49) 34% are Latino.  This Latino presence within the Catholic Church makes it evident that the future of the church will be linked to the future of Latinos in America. And religious beliefs are linked to ethnicity.

According to Ronald Brownstein from the National Journal, and based on another  Gallup Report, in 2013 Republicans were strongly favored in all of the 19 states that Gallup ranked as the most religious. In this GOP-religion-region eight of the 10 most religious states in 2011 are in the South with one straddling the line between the South and the Midwest (Oklahoma), and one in the West (Utah).  Thus, region and religion are important factors of the strength of the GOP in the South and western states. But western states will also be dominated by Latinos in the next generations since it only require a 60% of the population to embrace  a conservative or liberal identity.

At the same time that the GOP moves out the east coast into the west, there is another trend within the Republican Party that also will make the Republican Party more dependent on the growth of the Catholic Latino population in the Southwest.

The past “Catholicization” of the GOP linked the conservative social teaching with the Evangelical pro-life movement and opposition to gay marriage.  And that solidified the bond between Conservative Catholic views on social issue and the conservative mantra of the GOP and Evangelical.  For example, In an Op-ed on CNN by a Timothy Stanley is a historian at Oxford University argues that: 

“There was a time when the Republican Party was strictly for White Anglo Saxon Protestants.” But this year  Roughly one-quarter of Republican primary voters are Catholic. Notable Catholic GOP leaders include John Boehner, Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush. Six out of nine justices of the Supreme Court are Catholics, and five of them are Republicans. And, the GOP is undergoing a quiet process of Catholicization. It’s one of the reasons why this year’s race has focused so much on social issues. 

But the conservative movement has changed and gay marriage is becoming a non-issue for many Republicans. But the good news for Republicans is at  least 19 states in the nation where religion is very important for people, the GOP lead in favorability, especially in the South and Southwest; and the growth of Latinos population  in the Southwest gives opportunity for the GOP to make their argument before Latino communities.

Texas wills double its population from 27 million to 50 million in the next 20 years. The 2010 U.S. census estimated that 85% of population growth since 2000 was minority, which happened to be mainly Latino.  But in Texas, in 2013, minority births in the state hit 68.5%; and in California Latinos already are more than 50% of the population,  about 14.99 million Latinos live in California, edging out the 14.92 million whites in the state.  Consequently, at this rate, from Texas to California and Colorado, within a generation Latinos will be able to create a new regional bloc that can be converted into realignment similar to that in South in the 1960-79s when the South moved from Democrat to Republican.

But Republicans need to really work  in wooing Latinos because it would only take that Latinos, all eligible to vote, come out and vote in large numbers  to change the politics in conservative states like Texas and Arizona and Colorado – New Mexico and Nevada are  already leaning Democrat for the presidential  elections.


                                       Catholic Population in the US

The old cliché  that  “Latinos are naturally conservative” is enough for Latinos to eventually come to the GOP no longer apply; that is a myth.  Latinos  will  be the principle” ethnic” force driving the  growth of Catholic  Church in the southwest, so it will become obligatory for the Republican Party to adjust its views on gay marriage and poverty  to make the party more attractive for Catholics, Millennials and young Latinos  who see Pope Francis as a “reformer.

The Catholicization of GOP of the 1960-70s has clanged because American Catholics and Latinos no longer hold the same values on social issues.  And while there are many Catholic GOP leaders include John Boehner, Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush, the views of these GOP leaders will have to change as well to attract new voters to the Party. Perhaps they should listen to Pope Francis’s message closer when he speak in Congress. George Will argues Pope Francis “stands against modernity,” but the Pope is a very modern political and religious leader, and that is why American Catholics love him.


Alex Gonzalez  is a political Analyst and Political Director for Latinos Ready To Vote.  @AlexGonzTXCA

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