January 9, 2015

5 facts about Catholicism in the Philippines

Catholic faithfuls in pose in front of a cardboard stand-up photograph of Pope Francis in suburban Manila, 2014. AFP/Getty Images
Catholic faithfuls in pose in front of a cardboard stand-up photograph of Pope Francis in suburban Manila, 2014. (AFP/Getty Images)

Next weekend, Pope Francis will make his first visit to the home of Asia’s largest Catholic population, the Philippines. The pontiff, who also will be making a stop in Sri Lanka, is very popular in the Philippines and should expect an enthusiastic welcome during his five-day visit.

The Philippines’ Catholic majority has its origins in the islands’ long period as a Spanish colony, and popes have made the more than 6,000-mile trip from the Vatican a few times before. Pope Paul VI visited the country in 1970, and St. John Paul II traveled to the Philippines twice as pope (in 1981 and 1995).

Here are five facts about Filipinos and their attitudes toward religion:

1Very few countries are home to more Catholics than the Philippines. As of 2010, there were about 76 million Catholics living in the Philippines – roughly the same as the number living in the United States. The two countries have the world’s third- and fourth-largest Catholic populations, behind Brazil and Mexico. About eight-in-ten Filipinos (81%) are Catholic; a somewhat smaller share of Filipino Americans (65%) identify as Catholic.

2 Pope Francis is extremely popular in the Philippines. Nearly nine-in-ten Filipinos overall (88%) – including 95% of Filipino Catholics – say they view the pope favorably. In fact, more than half of the country’s people (56%) view Francis very favorably.

3 Pope Francis plans to visit Tacloban, a city devastated by Typhoon Haiyan in 2013. Later this year, Francis will reportedly focus on environmental issues and publish a papal encyclical urging action on climate change. About a third of Filipinos (34%) see pollution and environmental problems as the greatest threat to the world; no other problem mentioned in the survey (including religious and ethnic hatred and nuclear weapons) is viewed with such alarm by as many people in the Philippines.

4 Many Filipinos have conservative views on social issues, some of which are strongly in line with Catholic Church teachings. For example, two-thirds (67%) say that getting a divorce is morally unacceptable – three times the share of Americans who say this (22%). Filipinos overwhelmingly view having an abortion as immoral (93%); no country among the 40 surveyed is more universally opposed to abortion on moral grounds.

5Throughout several years of Pew Research studies on global restrictions on religion, the Philippines consistently has displayed a “low” level of government restrictions on religion. In 2012, the most recent year for which data are available, the country had a “moderate” level of social hostilities involving religion, although the Islamist militant group Abu Sayyaf has been active in recent years.

Topics: Religious Affiliation, Restrictions on Religion, Catholics and Catholicism, Religious Leaders

  1. Photo of Michael Lipka

    is a senior editor focusing on religion at Pew Research Center.


  1. SeniorMoment (pen name)3 years ago

    A lot of Hispanics migrating North to the USA convert to other Christian religions for a variety of reasons, but often just because they permit divorce. I imagine though it is easier to stay together even if you learn to dislike each other if such a large share of the community frowns on divorces. That has not however kept all Filipino Americans faithful to their spouse with or without divorce. With no relatives in the USA though most Filipinos might have to wait on an immigration list to the USA 40 years long and if they can tolerate their spouse for 40 years they should be able to just stay married.

  2. Monique A Idowu-Hall3 years ago

    I wonder what is unique about the Philippines that led to them adopting Catholicism MORE than any other country in the world??? Every one I have ever met from the Philippines has been VERY HARDWORKING, KIND and gentle. Pity they do not know that Catholicism is a religion that is probably the FURTHEST away from TRUE CHRISTIANITY than any other denomination..smh

    1. Walter Johnson3 years ago

      You are dead wrong about Catholicism, and when Catholics have problems with the hierarchy in the church they usually just ignore what the priest or bishop says anyway. There is for example no statistically significant difference in the USA between Catholic and the rest of country on use of artificial birth control. Many also find the Catholic Church less pushy about the amount donated to the church than many other religions.

      Mormons in particular are very fussy that you donate 10% of your income to their church to remain an active member and in turn the organization provides various forms of help to those who need it. My paternal grandparents were always listening to protestant evangelist on the radio pleading for donation that we now know mostly want to enrich them and their particular group rather than to aid the poor. In Catholic churches you usually only hear one sermon per year with the focus of donating to he Catholic Church and occasional suggestion to donate to other Catholic organizations like Catholic Charities which is the largest non-government social services program.

      Religious diversity is good for the USA too because it keeps any one denomination from successfully telling government what to do. Every religion though, including Catholics, have some extremist members. Look now how tightly the Russian government works with the Russian Orthodox Church or Saudi Arabia and the most conservative of all Muslim sects. Only 47% of Americans though regularly attend weekly church services so more morality is being written into civil law every year to compensate.