A large drawing of Pope Francis depicting him as a superhero is seen on a wall near the Vatican Jan. 29. (CNS photo/Robert Duncan)
Next week will mark the one-year anniversary of Pope
Francis’ election, and Pew Research has
published a report on how the Holy Father is perceived by Americansboth Catholic
and non-Catholicand whether or not those perceptions are affecting religious practices.
In short: Francis is very popular among Catholics and non-Catholics in the US,
but this popularity doesn’t appear to be pulling more people into the pews (or
to the confessional line, or parish soup kitchen):
More than eight-in-ten U.S.
Catholics say they have a favorable view of the pontiff, including half who
view him very favorably. The percentage of Catholics who view
Francis “very favorably” now rivals the number who felt equally positive about
Pope John Paul II in the 1980s and 1990s, though Francis’ overall favorability
rating remains a few points shy of that of the long-serving Polish pope.
Catholics also now say Francis represents a major change in direction for the
church, a sentiment shared by 56% of non-Catholics. And nearly everyone who
says Francis represents a major change sees this as a change for the better.
But despite the
pope’s popularity and the widespread perception that he is a change for the
better, it is less clear whether there has been a so-called “Francis effect,” a
discernible change in the way American Catholics approach their faith. There
has been no measurable rise in the percentage of Americans who identify as
Catholic. Nor has there been a statistically significant change in how often
Catholics say they go to Mass. And the survey finds no evidence that large
numbers of Catholics are going to confession or volunteering in their churches
or communities more often.
The Pew report does indicate signs of “somewhat more
intense religiosity among Catholicsmore say that they are “more excited” about
their faith than say they are “less excited,” and more say they have been
praying and reading the Bible morebut the questionnaire did not tie these
practices to Pope Francis or perceptions of his papacy.
interview published in Corriere della
Sera earlier this week, Pope Francis himself alluded to the “Francis effect,”
or at least one aspect of itwhat he termed “the mythology of Pope Francis”:
I like being among the people. Together with
those who suffer. Going to parishes. I don’t like the ideological
interpretations, a certain ‘mythology of Pope Francis’. When it is said, for
example, that he goes out of the Vatican at night to walk and to feed the
homeless on Via Ottaviano. It has never crossed my mind. If I’m not wrong,
Sigmund Freud said that in every idealization there is an aggression. Depicting
the Pope to be a sort of superman, a type of star, seems offensive to me. The
Pope is a man who laughs, cries, sleeps calmly and has friends like everyone. A