The Ineffective “Francis Effect”

According to a new Pew poll the much vaunted “Francis effect” is mostly wishful thinking. The pope’s popularity has, in fact, done little to bring life back to a zombie church of disaffected Catholics that now rivals the actual church in its size.

Catholics view the kinder, gentler reign of Pope Francis more favorably than that of his grouchy predecessor Benedict, but not by much. Francis’ net favorability rating is only six points higher than Benedict’s, which attests not so much to Benedict’s popularity as to the fact that Catholics really don’t pay all that much attention to what the pope does or says. He’s more like a mascot than a leader.  

Francis is a cuddlier mascot but hasn’t propelled as much change as the ecstatic media coverage of his papacy suggests. Only a quarter of Catholics say they’ve become more excited about their faith and they aren’t going to church any more often. The number who go weekly—a core Catholic obligation—is still well under 50 percent and hasn’t budged. Most importantly, they aren’t being joined by an onslaught of returning Catholics.

Patricia Miller is the author of Good Catholics: The Battle over Abortion in the Catholic Church. Her work on the intersection of sex, religion, and politics has appeared in The Nation, Ms., and Huffington Post. She was the editor of Conscience magazine and the editor-in-chief of the National Journal’s health care briefings.

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