I’ve been very openly critical of the Catholic Church in my posts over the years here at Babble, detailing the pedophilia scandal as it manifested in my super-Catholic hometown, criticizing the hypocrisy of the Church as it protected its criminal priests and left innocent victims hung out to dry. As a result of my general distaste for all things Vatican, I haven’t paid much attention to Pope Francis since he got elected after Benedict’s sudden departure, but it’s hard not to notice his name in the media, even if you’re not looking for it. Pope Francis doesn’t judge gay people, The New York Times explained back in July. Pope Francis drives a used car, TIME magazine told us in September. He takes selfies with teenagers! He put on a red clown nose with newlyweds. He held a disfigured man. He acknowledges that sex is a thing humans want to engage in, even priests. He called church leaders narcissists! He says the church “should not focus on issues like abortion, contraception, and gay marriage to the extent that it neglects other aspects of the faith.” Even the nuns like him! This is a big deal. Francis is a big deal. He’s like Jesus, people are saying. Imagine that.
And in Italy, at least, Pope Francis and his “pastoral” approach to the papacy is drawing lapsed Catholics back to mass. According to Slate, “Citing the “Pope Francis effect” Italy’s Center for the Study of New Religions (CESNUR) reports a significant rise in church attendance since Francis was elected as Pope. Researcher Massimo Introvigne, the head of CESNUR, told the Guardian that in a survey of 250 Catholic priests, 51% of them reported a significant rise in churchgoing.”
The “Francis effect” could take hold here in the US, as well. John Gehring writes for CNN’s Belief Blog, “At a time when nearly 1 in 10 Americans are former Catholics, Pope Francis is using a humble style to set a new direction for the church that could reinvigorate the multitude, many of whom are weary of culture-war Christianity. While a rising number of young Americans no longer identify with a particular religion, many seekers still hunger for moral clarity and prophetic voices that challenge the shallow materialism and spiritual alienation of our fractured culture.” He adds, “If the Catholic Church hopes to inspire lapsed Catholics and others to embrace the faith with renewed vigor, it will require a radical return to the essence of Christianity. Gospel means “good news.” A smiling, good-humored pope stands in stark contrast to those dour-faced religious leaders who act as gloomy scolds and spy threats around every corner.”
So far, so good, Francis, on the good-humored thing. I’m liking this production of Godspell that you seem to be starring in. See you next Sunday? I’m thinking about it, anyway.
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