For U.S. Catholics, the ‘Fran­cis Ef­fect’ has muted im­pact

The Washington Times Daily - - Front Page - BY ALEX HOP­KINS

Pope Fran­cis may have to work harder to charm his Amer­i­can au­di­ence, a new sur­vey of U.S. Catholics finds.

De­spite re­ports that the new Ar­gen­tine pon­tiff has sparked a surge of the faith­ful in the pews in Europe, the “Fran­cis Ef­fect” has been neg­li­gi­ble in the United States, the coun­try with the world’s fourth-largest pop­u­la­tion of Ro­man Catholics, a poll re­leased Mon­day by the Pew Re­search Center found.

Ac­cord­ing to the sur­vey, 22 per­cent of Amer­i­cans iden­tify them­selves as Catholic — vir­tu­ally un­changed from 2007 and the same as when Car­di­nal Jorge Ber­goglio was elected the suc­ces­sor to the ail­ing Pope Bene­dict XVI in March. Sim­i­larly,

weekly Mass at­ten­dance lev­els in the eight months of Fran­cis’ young pa­pacy have re­mained sta­ble at 39 per­cent — a slight sta­tis­ti­cal de­cline from the 40 per­cent re­ported 2012, the last full year of Bene­dict’s pa­pacy.

Fran­cis’ global pop­u­lar­ity and fa­vor­able me­dia cov­er­age have led some to search for the “Fran­cis Ef­fect,” with Catholic clergy mem­bers hav­ing no­ticed an in­crease in church at­ten­dance in Italy, Bri­tain and other coun­tries.

“So many are re­turn­ing to the sacra­ments, in some cases af­ter decades,” ob­served Car­di­nal Giuseppe Be­tori, the arch­bishop of Florence, Italy, in an in­ter­view with The Lon­don Guardian.

Pope Fran­cis has thrilled some and un­nerved oth­ers in­side the church with his forth­right state­ments on is­sues such as so­cial jus­tice for the poor, fair treat­ment of the dis­abled and per­sonal hu­mil­ity, while down­play­ing many of the so­cial is­sues such as abor­tion and same-sex mar­riage. In a marked con­trast with his pre­de­ces­sor, Fran­cis has es­chewed the lux­u­ri­ous pa­pal res­i­dence, shown a pop­u­lar touch while wad­ing into large crowds and washed the feet of pris­on­ers.

But de­spite the changes at the Vat­i­can, the per­cent­age of for­mer Catholics in the U.S. pop­u­la­tion re­mains flat at 10 per­cent, the study found. “Has the pope’s pop­u­lar­ity pro­duced a Catholic resur­gence in the U.S.? ... Not so far, at least in terms of the share of Amer­i­cans who iden­tify as such, or the share of those who re­port at­tend­ing Mass weekly,” wrote Conrad Hack­ett, a de­mog­ra­pher at the Pew Re­search Center’s Re­li­gion and Pub­lic Life Project.

The re­sults were pro­duced by ag­gre­gat­ing a string of polls the Pew re­searchers have pro­duced since the new pope’s elec­tion in March.

Fran­cis’ cur­rent ap­proval rat­ings stand at 79 per­cent among Catholics and 58 per­cent with the gen­eral pub­lic. Th­ese rat­ings are nearly equiv­a­lent to those of Pope Bene­dict, whose pop­u­lar­ity peaked at 83 per­cent among Catholics af­ter his April 2008 visit to the United States.

The Pew re­sults stand in con­trast to re­cent sur­veys in Western Europe, where reg­u­lar church­go­ing rates among Catholics are tra­di­tion­ally far lower than in the United States. Italy’s Center for Stud­ies on New Re­li­gions ear­lier this month re­ported that pri­ests


The 2013 Capi­tol Christ­mas Tree, an 88-foot-tall spruce from Colville Na­tional For­est in Wash­ing­ton state, is lifted Mon­day from the flatbed truck that car­ried it on a 5,000-mile cross-coun­try trip to Capi­tol Hill. Story, A2.

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