The Catholic Church in the Anglosphere and western Europe is in no small part today being propped up by immigration, but this is not a long-term solution for the survival of the Church across the Western world. There are two key reasons for this: the first is the decline in Catholic affiliation in much of the Global South, and the second is the liberal drift in Western countries impacting immigrant communities and their descendants. Both of these trends can be seen in the United States with its Latino population.
As we reported last week, the Catholic Church is on a path of decline across Latin America albeit the Church is often not losing out to atheism so much as other denominations. This is especially true in Brazil (the country with the highest number of Catholics on earth). While 40 per cent of the world’s Catholics still live in Latin America, the percentage across the region fell from 70 per cent (2010) to 57 per cent (2020). Simultaneously, a secular trend has been evident among Latinos in the United States. The percentage of Catholics among this group fell from 57 per cent (2009) to 47 per cent (2018/19).
Although the decline of Catholicism has been less pronounced in Mexico – the biggest source of Latino immigrants to the US, and the country with the second highest number of Catholics on earth – it has still declined. According to data from Latinobarómetro – as reported by Axios – between 2010 and 2020, Mexico’s Catholic population fell from 83 per cent to 74 per cent. Catholics are also now a minority in Guatemala (41 per cent) and El Salvador (39 per cent), countries which supply a large number of Latinos to the US.
Meanwhile, a growing immigrant population – including a large and overwhelmingly Catholic Filipino population (the Philippines has the third highest number of Catholics on earth) – has failed to reverse the collapse of Catholicism in Canada. The same is true of Australia, also with large Christian Filipino and South Asian populations, but where Christianity is now practised by under 44 per cent of the population. While data from the UK suggests the Church has been boosted by immigration from Africa, Asia, and parts of Europe, the liberal drift in the UK suggests – like the US – that secularism could eventually turn many in these communities from the faith.
Speaking of Europe, there is also a third factor. As the Catholic Heraldreported in 2019, the decline of the Polish population in the UK could lead to a decline in the overall Catholic population, something which appears increasingly evident. As Simon Caldwell wrote at the time: “Poles soon became the largest migrant ethnic group in the UK, peaking at about a million people in 2017. Since then, numbers have fallen to 800,000 and, according to Arkady Rzegocki, the Polish ambassador to the UK, only 27 per cent of those remaining have applied for settled status following Brexit, indicating that vast numbers might be planning to go home.”
Not only then is reliance on immigration to boost Catholic populations in Western countries likely to fail due to the liberal drift in certain countries of the Global South – and especially, the rising tide of secularism in the West eventually influencing all groups living in these countries – but the fact that some immigrant groups eventually decide to return, as have thousands of central and eastern Europeans who are returning to countries where the substructure is conservative, Christian, nationalist and traditionalist.
Of course, the Church welcomes immigrant populations which help to grow Catholic populations in Australia, Canada, the UK and the US. But, ultimately, without fixing the underlying culture of these countries it is likely that immigration will offer only a temporary reprieve as the overarching secular trend eventually draws majorities of all groups into its orbit. On top of that – as seen in Latin America – the cultural imperialism of Western progressivism has impacted much of the Global South, meaning religiosity is already in decline in parts of the world supplying immigration to the West.
That said, the Church is holding up in much of Africa and Asia, meaning immigrants from say Nigeria or the Philippines are likely to come to the West with greater faith and conservative values than most of those already in the West. What cannot be guaranteed however is that once people arrive in the West, their religious values will hold, especially among second- and third- generations. The Church cannot then simply rely on immigration to bolster its numbers, however much it may welcome immigrants to its congregations. To ensure long-term survival, the Church must help mend the foundations of a degenerating West. Unfortunately, there is no short-term fix for that.
Having been unable to sell in churches for well over a year due to the pandemic, we are now inviting readers to support the Herald by investing in our future. We have been a bold and influential voice in the church since 1888, standing up for traditional Catholic culture and values.
Please join us on our 130 year mission by supporting us. We are raising £250,000 to safeguard the Herald as a world-leading voice in Catholic journalism and teaching. For more information from our chairman on contributing to the Herald Patron's Fund, click here
Make a Donation
Donors giving £500 or more will automatically become sponsor patrons of the Herald. This includes two complimentary print/digital gift subscriptions, invitations to Patron events, pilgrimages and dinners, and 6 gift subscriptions sent to priests, seminaries, Catholic schools, religious care homes and prison and university chaplaincies. Click here for more information on becoming a Patron Sponsor. Click here for more information about contributing to the Herald Patron's Fund