If a pope’s effectiveness is measured by Catholic church attendance, then the papacy of Jorge Bergoglio, aka Pope Francis, is a failure.
A Gallop poll found that Catholic church attendance in the United States between the pontificates of Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis experienced the sharpest drop in decades, since the 1970s:
- From 2005 to 2008 in the early years of the Benedict pontificate, an average of 45% of U.S. Catholics attended weekly Mass.
- That average fell to 39% during the heart of the Francis papacy, from 2014 to 2017.
- American Catholics between the ages of 50 and 59 saw the sharpest decline in Mass attendance between the pontificates of Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis, falling from 46% to 31%, or a drop of 15%.
- Those aged 30 to 39 is the only age group that experienced a rise in church attendance between the pontificates of Benedict and Francis, from 40% to 43%.
The 6% drop cannot attributed to a decline in religiosity of all U.S. Christians, but is unique to the Catholic Church because weekly church attendance has remained steady among Protestants.
The Francis papacy is continuing the trend of a decline in Catholic weekly church attendance which began in the 1950s, plunging 21% from 75% in 1955 to 54% by 1975, with the sharpest decrease during the period of the Second Vatican Council and its aftermath (1962-65). It then fell an average of 4% per decade through the mid-1990s before stabilizing in the mid-2000s. Since then, the downward trend has resumed, with the percentage attending in the past week falling another 6% in the past decade.
In contrast, Protestant church attendance has been stable through the years, from 42% in 1955 to 45% by 2017.
Thomas D. Williams, Ph.D., of Breitbart observes that it is unlikely that Pope Francis’ “continual deemphasizing of the importance of obedience to church rules such as regular Mass attendance and adherence to Catholic doctrine has not had an appreciable effect on Catholic practice.” Williams points to a recent study by the Pew Research Center which found “signs of growing discontent” with Francis are emerging among American Catholics. While the general view of most U.S. Catholics toward Pope Francis is still positive, the unmistakable trend is toward greater disapproval of Francis, with increasing numbers saying they view the pope unfavorably because he is “too liberal and naïve”:
- The percentage of Catholics who say they disapprove of the pope has more than doubled in the last four years, from 4% in 2014 to 9% in 2018.
- The number of American Catholics who believe that Pope Francis represents a “major change for the worse” has more than doubled from 2015 to 2018, from just 3% in 2015 to 7% at present.
- The share of U.S. Catholics who consider Francis “too liberal” has risen sharply from 19% in 2015 to 34% in 2018, while the number who consider him to be “naïve” has risen from 15% to 24% in the same period.
H/t John Molloy