Poll: People's Pope Not Drawing More Parishioners to Church

Image: Poll: People's Pope Not Drawing More Parishioners to Church

Thursday, 06 Mar 2014 07:47 AM

By Drew MacKenzie

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Pope Francis has won high praise among American Catholics for his performance on issues facing the Catholic Church in his first year in the papacy, according to a new poll.

But the Pew Research Center survey shows that despite his popularity, the people's pontiff has not helped lead his flock in the United States to go to church more often, attend mass on a weekly basis, or take confession regularly.

Eight out of 10 Catholics said the pope was doing a good job spreading the Catholic faith, and the same number believe he stands behind the church's traditional moral values.

Francis: Who Is Pope Francis? Book Reveals the Man

Three out of four Catholics say he has shown great concern for the problems facing the poor while 62 percent of respondents felt that he was doing a good job reforming the Vatican bureaucracy. A majority of Catholics, 71 percent, said that Francis represented a "major change in direction" for the church.

When it comes to taking on the priest sex abuse scandal, which was the No. 1 issue facing the pontiff in a poll a year ago, Francis has been doing a good or excellent job on the problem, according to the new survey.

On the other hand, 22 percent of Catholics said that during the first year of Francis' pontificate they had gone less often to confession compared to the 5 percent who have been going more often.

The percentage of observers who went to Mass at least once a week remained at 40 percent, the same number as under his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI. The number of Americans who identify as Catholic, 22 percent, is the same as a year ago while the number of people volunteering in the church has not changed either.

"This could be interpreted as showing that Francis has had no impact," Rev. Thomas Reese, a senior analyst at The National Catholic Reporter, told The New York Times.

"Since church attendance has been declining since the 1950s, the fact that it did not go down could be considered a victory."

Sister Mary Ann Walsh, director of media relations at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, told The Times her organization had received anecdotal evidence of greater attendances, increased donations and more people having confessionals, but "we don't have hard evidence."

However, the poll also found that one quarter of Catholics have become "more excited" about their faith over the past year, compared to the one in 10 who are less excited about their religion.

Four in 10 American Catholics say they have been praying more in the past 12 months, compared to 8 percent who have been praying less often.

Francis: Who Is Pope Francis? Book Reveals the Man

Also, more than eight in ten U.S. Catholics say they have a favorable view of the pontiff, including half who view him "very favorably," according to the Pew poll.

The percentage of Catholics who view Francis "very favorably" is comparable to the number who felt equally positive about Pope John Paul II in the 1980s and 1990s.

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