A Good Year for the Pope
March 13 will mark the one year anniversary of the election of Pope Francis, and according to a new Pew poll, American Catholics, and a majority of American non-Catholics, like Pope Francis. Amongst U.S. Catholics Francis has an 85% “net favorable” rating, while 66% of the U.S. general public has a favorable opinion of him.
In addition, sizable numbers of folk think Pope Francis represents a change for the better. According to the March 6 poll:
“7 out of 10 American Catholics say Pope Francis “represents a major change in direction for the church, a sentiment shared by 56% of non-Catholics. And nearly everyone who says Francis represents a major change sees this as a change for the better.”
So much for the good news. The poll also found that it is not clear if there is any kind of ‘Francis effect’ taking place amongst Catholics:
“There has been no measurable rise in the percentage of Americans who identify as Catholic. Nor has there been a statistically significant change in how often Catholics say they go to Mass. And the survey finds no evidence that large numbers of Catholics are going to confession or volunteering in their churches or communities more often.”
But when it comes to Catholicism, the question most often asked is, will the Church change its teachings on birth control, allowing priests to marry, allowing women priests, and allowing homosexuals to marry? According to the poll, expectation that there will be changes on any of doctrines in the near future has increased only slightly among American Catholics. By the year 2050, according to the poll results: only 51% of American Catholics think the Church will allow priests to marry; only 42% think the Church will allow women priests; only 56% think the Church will allow birth control, and only 36% think the Church will recognize same-sex marriages.
And, perhaps not surprisingly, while there is support for these changes, support does vary by issue and is also strongest amongst Catholics who attend Mass less often than “weekly.” While 63% of Catholics who attend Church (CWAC-W) weekly agree that birth control should be allowed, a whopping 85% of Catholic who attend Chuch less often (CWAC-LO) think so. Similarly only 57% of the CWAC-W crowd think priests should be allowed to marry, but 79% of the CWAC-LO folks do. On the issue of women priests, only 54% of CWAC-W’s are supporters, while 75% of the CWAC-LOs favor this change. And finally, only 33% of CWAC-Ws support same-sex marriage, but amongst the CWAC-LO crowd support appears to be at 58%.
In what direction Pope Francis will take the Church only he and maybe his closest confidants know for sure. The most recent conjecture, by David Gibson, writing for Religion News Service, says that we should not expect any doctrinal changes or major transformations in Church teaching. Instead, he says, Pope Francis may have only a modest three-step plan for change: 1) Make the Curia understand that they are Pastors and not a Royal Court; 2) Eliminate the “command and control” style of management practiced by too many Catholic leaders and replace it with more “fraternal and open confrontations” (i.e., dialogue and discussion); and 3) Evangelize by hitting the bricks and, talking to people,”leaving behind all the internal disputes and power struggles that have sapped its [The Church’s] spirit.”
This conjecture is backed up by to some extent by Boston Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley in an interview in the Archdiocese of Boston’s Pilot Catholic News. Cardinal O’Malley matter-of-factly stated, “I like the phrase that someone said, that he is not changing the lyrics but only the melody.”
Since, however, the Left seems determined to make Pope Francis into one of their own, they might be wise to emulate his approach in regard to change and immediately adopt a slightly modified version of the Pope Francis Three-Step Plan offered up by Gibson:
1) Understand that liberal politicians are pastors and caretakers and not royalty.
2) Eliminate their command and control style behavior and start actually talking to their conservative counterparts.
3) Hit the bricks and start talking to all of their constituents instead of only the ones that see things from a socialist point of view. Maybe they’ll gain some converts . . . or maybe they will get converted.
If the Left is truly concerned about the poor and middle class, they should realize that a ‘we know what’s best’ confrontational style of behavior in Washington and elsewhere serves little purpose and usually accomplishes nothing. Rather than trying to force their version of Utopia on the Republic, they should accept the fact that at least half of this country isn’t buying what their selling, and look for ways to work with conservatives on solutions that everyone can live with.