Pew Research Shows the Pope’s ‘Francis Effect’ Hasn’t Affected US Christians

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The “Francis effect”—a phrase used to describe the presumed positive impact of Pope Francis upon Catholicism—has been used so often that it has inspired a book, a podcast, and a documentary.

But it hasn’t been enough to inspire Americans to join the Catholic church—or even to encourage US Catholics to go to Mass more often.

A Pew Research Center survey released today found “no evidence of a rise in the share of Americans who identify as Catholics [22% in 2012 vs. 20% in 2017], and no indication of a Francis-inspired resurgence in Mass attendance [41% weekly in 2012 vs. 38% weekly in 2017].”

In fact, while American Catholics are still mostly supportive of Francis (84% rate him favorably, compared to 85% in 2014), fewer said he was a major change for the better (58%, vs. 69% in 2015). And fewer said the pope was doing an excellent or good job at addressing sex abuse scandals (45%, vs. 55% in 2015), spreading the Catholic faith (70% vs. 84%), or standing up for traditional morals (70% vs. 80%).

While Catholics still widely believe Francis is humble (91%) and compassionate (94%), more of them now think he’s too liberal (34% vs. 19%) or naïve (24% vs. 15%).

Other American religious groups show the same small but growing discontent with Pope Francis. White evangelicals rate him lower than they did before (52% favorable, vs. a high of 64% in October 2015), as do black Protestants (53%, vs. 59% in June 2015) and white mainline Protestants (67% vs. 74% in February 2015).

Francis’ unfavorability ratings among all three are also up: from 9 percent to 28 percent among white evangelicals (since March 2013), from 15 percent to 21 percent among black Protestants (since September 2013), and from 7 percent to 17 percent among white mainline Protestants (since March 2013).

The opposite trend can be seen among the religiously unaffiliated. Since March 2013, the pope’s favorability rating among the “nones” rose from 39 percent to 58 percent while his unfavorability rating dropped from 27 percent to 16 percent.

Pew dug into the growing discontent among Catholics, which appears to be coming almost exclusively from political conservatives. Those who identify as or lean Republican were much more likely to have a diminished view of the pope: 79 percent viewed him favorably, down from 90 percent in 2014.

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Source: Christianity Today