WASHINGTON — A new study explores the Black Catholic experience in this country, particularly compared with Catholics of other races or ethnicities.
The Pew Research Center released the study, “Black Catholics in America,” on March 15.
Black Catholics topped their white and Hispanic counterparts in saying they pray at least once a day, that religion is very important to them, that they rely a lot on prayer when making decisions, that they read Scripture outside of services at least once a week, and that they believe the Bible should be taken literally. They were one percentage point behind Hispanic Catholics in saying they rely a lot on religious leaders when making decisions.
The study found that only one-fourth of U.S. Black Catholics worship in majority-Black parishes.
“That compares with 80% of white Catholic churchgoers who worship where most attendees are white,” said the study, issued March 15. Among Hispanic Catholics, 67% worship in majority-Hispanic parishes.
Black Catholics are “more likely than white or Hispanic Catholics to say they think it is essential that churches offer a sense of racial affirmation, as well as to say it is essential that churches assist needy people,” the report said.
“Black (40%) and Hispanic Catholics (42%) are more likely than white Catholics (18%) to say it is essential that churches teach practical job and life skills, and that they offer sermons that address political topics such as immigration and race relations,” it said.
Black Catholics said their parish should offer spiritual comfort , offer a sense of community or fellowship, offer moral guidance, help the needy with bills, housing or food, and offer sermons that address political topics, such as immigration or race relations. The percentage of Black Catholics topped even that of Black Protestants in the last two categories.
The Pew study said 16% of Black Catholics joined the church after either being raised in another religious tradition or had been religiously unaffiliated. The share of Black Catholics who entered the Catholic Church is higher than the share of white or Hispanic Catholics who did likewise.
However, “the share of Black Americans who were raised as Catholics and remain Catholic is lower than the corresponding shares of Hispanic and white Catholics,” the Pew study said. “Roughly half of Black adults who were raised Catholic still identify as Catholic (54%), compared with 61% of white adults and 68% of Hispanic adults.”
Black Catholics are twice as likely — 66% compared to 33% of their white counterparts — “to say they attend services where other attendees often or sometimes call out ‘amen’ or other expressions of praise,” Pew reported.
“They are also more likely than white Catholic churchgoers to say their experiences at least sometimes include two practices often associated with a charismatic style of worship: speaking or praying in tongues (29% vs. 9%) and jumping, shouting and dancing spontaneously during the service (24% vs. 2%).
“At the same time,” the report added, “among churchgoers, Black Catholics are somewhat less likely than Hispanic Catholics to experience people calling out ‘amen’ and speaking in tongues at Mass, and they are much less likely than Black Protestants to say these things are typically present at their worship services.”
“Black Catholics in America” is a follow-up to a February 2021 Pew report, “Faith Among Black Americans,” which explored their beliefs and practices of 8,660 Black adults, including 562 Black Catholics, via phone, mail and online surveys conducted from November 2019 to June 2020.
“The survey was designed with a very large sample to allow researchers to dig into subgroups, such as Black Catholics, that are too small to be analyzed in most national surveys,” the report said.
Besheer Mohamed, a senior researcher at Pew, told Catholic News Service in a March 14 phone interview that “Faith Among Black Americans” focused on differences among Black worshippers of various denominations, while “Black Catholics in America,” using responses generated in the same 2019-20 survey, examines the differences that exist among Black Catholics and their white and Hispanic counterparts.
Mohamed said the “great difference” between Black, white and Hispanic Catholics is that “Black Catholics are a bit more likely” than white Catholics in seeing opposing racism as “an essential part of being Christian.”
“They see that as part of their faith — more so than white Catholics or Hispanic Catholic,” he said.
Editor’s Note: The full report can be found online at https://www.pewforum.org/2022/03/15/black-catholics-in-america.