Thursday, March 6, 2014

Catholics and Pope Francis

A Pew Research Study was released in the past few days. The study surveyed a national sample of 1,821 adults, including 351 Catholics.

Some points to note:

There also is broad consensus among Catholics that Francis represents a major change in direction for the church, and that this is a change for the better. Large majorities of men and women, Catholics in all adult age groups, and both regular Mass attenders and more infrequent Mass-goers express this view.

Change for the better. While Francis has yet to make any changes in doctrine, what I find to be a "change for the better" is the change in tone. The "Francis Effect" on me has had to do with the way that this pope expresses himself; he does so as a pastor. His oft-quoted exhortation to priests is something I believe he embodies: he asked priests to be "shepherds living with the smell of the sheep."

The Study also focused on the effects of this papacy, one year in:

Many commentators have speculated about Francis’ effect on Catholics in the U.S. and around the world. The survey finds he is widely admired, but has his leadership sparked increased devotion among the faithful or inspired former Catholics to return to the church?

The evidence on this question is mixed. Pew Research surveys conducted since Francis was elected find no change in the share of U.S. adults who identify as Catholics: 22% of Americans describe themselves as Catholic today, identical to the 22% who did so in the year preceding Francis’ election. Aggregated data from Pew Research surveys also find no change in self-reported rates of Mass attendance among Catholics. In the year since Francis became pope, 40% of U.S. Catholics say they attend Mass at least once a week, unchanged from the months immediately preceding the papal transition.

What I found most astounding about this research is the 40% number. I guess I always thought that number was much lower, but in a similar study conducted about a year ago, the percentage was nearly the same. If you were asked today, "What is the percentage of self-identified Catholics who attend Mass at least weekly?" what would your answer have been? I guess mine would have been a little less than 20%. I guess I am a bit of a pessimist!

In my travels I have been asking RCIA ministers if they have noticed any changes since Francis became pope. These answers, of course, are anecdotal. One person said that she received a call from an Episcopalian who said that Pope Francis is the reason that she is now seeking full communion with the Roman Catholic Church. Another said that the number of catechumens celebrating the Rite of Election this year has grown substantially in her diocese. It will be interesting to see the numbers once the rite is celebrated this coming Sunday.

I know one thing. This blogger is much more excited and committed about being a Catholic than he was one year ago.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.


Alan Hommerding said...

I wondered about that 40% number as well; from a CARA item (2012) it gave 20-25%; I'm finding it difficult to believe that there was a 15-20 point rebound during the final year of Benedict's papacy:

Like most others, I'm encouraged by the change in tone and outlook from the new Pope. But I'm also holding my breath a bit - what happens to that Episcopalian woman entering full communion when she discovers that the local community she's joined bears no resemblance to the pope? What happens if next year or the year after we have another new pope who steers back to a former course? Placing all our hopes on the Pope is NOT a Vatican II ecclesiology. If this new pope is able to achieve anything, I hope it is greater autonomy for local communities, a wider and irreversible dispersing of concrete authority within the ecclesial structure, and helping us all realize that keys to the kingdom have been given to ALL the baptized, not just the bishop of Rome.

Jerry Galipeau, D. Min. said...

Thanks, Alan.
I share your cautious outlook here regarding placing all our hopes in Pope Francis. Time will tell, as will the infolding of the papacy in coming years.

Richard M. Sawicki said...

"keys to the kingdom have been given to ALL the baptized, not just the bishop of Rome."


That's not quite what Our Lord said to Peter.

Gaudete In Domino Semper!