Along the way when writing about The Francis Effect™ (mostly a rather shallow, “I don’t agree with the Church about a bunch o’ stuff, but I like this new Pope!”, though sometimes a genuine revitalization of Gospel values), I have opined something along the lines of: We shall see. We shall see if this makes any difference in how people live, whether they change their lives in any way.
It is one thing to say “He’s the most wonderfullest, fluffiest Pope ehvur! He’s the first Pope who has ever smiled or kissed a baby!” and quite another to say, “Because of his inspiring model I’ll give up using contraception, get my marriage straightened out, and go to confession.”
Pew Research has results of polling about The Francis Effect™ now.
No clear ‘Pope Francis effect’ among U.S. Catholics
There are all sorts of numbers that show that Francis is popular, that he has a high favorable rating.
But has the pope’s popularity produced a Catholic resurgence in the U.S., where 10% of adults are former Catholics? Not so far, at least in terms of the share of Americans who identify as such, or the share of those who report attending Mass weekly. [It hasn't been even a year since his election.]
A new analysis of pooled Pew Research surveys conducted between Francis’ election in March and the end of October this year finds that the percentage of Americans who identify as Catholics has remained the same – 22% — as it was during the corresponding seven-month period in 2012. In fact, our polls going back to 2007 show Catholic identification in the U.S. has held stable, fluctuating only between 22% and 23%.
Though Americans may report attending church more frequently than they actually do, our surveys find that self-reported levels of Mass attendance have remained virtually unchanged since the new pope was elected. Since April of this year, 39% of U.S. Catholics report attending Mass at least weekly, similar to the 40% attendance figure last year.
Another Effect might be, however, the use by catholic politicians of off-the-cuff phrases uttered by Pope Francis to justify immoral acts (cf. Illinois and Kentucky). But people who do that sort of thing are either wicked or dumb or both. If they didn’t use Francis as a body-shield, they’d find some other way to justify their scandalous actions.
I read here, always in the same study, that there is little or no change in the numbers of people going to confession because of TFE™.
The new survey also finds no evidence that large numbers of Catholics are volunteering more or going to confession more often than in the past. Roughly one-in-eight U.S. Catholics (13%) say they have been volunteering more in their church or community over the past year, but 23% say they have been doing this less often, and 59% say their level of volunteering has not changed. Just one-in-twenty Catholics (5%) say they have been going to confession (also known as the sacrament of penance and reconciliation) more often over the last 12 months, while 22% say they have been going to confession less often, and 65% say their frequency of confession has not changed very much. [That 87% who are not doing so well with this.]
Time will tell.