US Catholic Faith in Real Life

What a difference a year makes: How has the 'Pope Francis effect' impacted the church?

By Scott Alessi | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare
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It hardly seems like a year ago that the world met Pope Francis for the first time--maybe that's because there's seemingly been more media coverage of the current pontiff in 12 months than his predecessor received in all eight years of his papacy. But with all the talk, has Francis really made a measurable difference in the church thus far?

Well, it seems to depend on who you ask. New York's Cardinal Timothy Dolan told CBS This Morning back in November that he had been seeing the "Pope Francis effect" everywhere he goes, and that priests are telling him they've had increases in Mass attendance, longer confession lines, and more inquiries about joining the church. We've also seen plenty of individual stories of how people have been moved by Pope Francis to return to the church. But so far those changes haven't been reflected in actual data.

In the upcoming May 2014 issue of U.S. Catholic, we set out to answer the question of what difference Pope Francis is really making. From researchers who have studied hard data on the Catholic Church to people working at the ground level in parish ministry, we asked about any evidence that shows a significant change and whether it is possible to attribute those changes to Francis. The results tell an interesting story about what all the Francis hype has meant in the daily lives of American Catholics and offers some hints about where the church may be headed under his leadership. Don't miss the May issue for the full story.

In the meantime, it appears some of the hysteria around Francis is starting to settle down. Though we've been hearing for months the concerns that some Catholics have voiced over Francis, some criticism of the beloved pope has started to emerge from other circles, mostly as it pertains to his handling of the church's sexual abuse cover up. And Francis himself has recently tried to soften expectations, saying in an interview that he isn't a "superman" who will bring the kinds of change some people are expecting. As time wears on, more people both inside and outside the church may be disappointed that Francis doesn't move the church in the direction they had hoped for, and the enthusiasm we have seen may start to fade.

But it is important to remember that Francis has only been on the job for a year, which is no time in the life of the church. He hopefully has many healthy years ahead of him, and it may be many years after that before we can truly assess what his impact on the church will be. For now, let's just continue to enjoy the ride.

Image ©iStock/Marco Campagna