Public Religion Research Institute just released a survey of Catholics. The survey covers devout Catholics, ‘Christmas-and-Easter’ Catholics and (for reasons I don’t quite get) former Catholics. It attempts to quantify the effect that the so-called “Francis Effect” has on the Church’s own.
How does the much-vaunted power of Pope Francis’ open-hearted approach to the papacy play with American Catholics? It turns out that it plays very well. The numbers reflect an almost universal love affair with this black-shoed, old-car-driving, selfie-taking man who is Peter.
American Catholics are happy their pope. Fully 90% have a favorable view of the Holy Father, and 89% also have a positive view of the Catholic Church. Those are power numbers that any world leader would envy. They don’t just reflect popularity. They speak of the sheer political power of the Church, of our ability to reconvert Western Culture, if we will just do it.
Any politician will tell you that their single most important demographic is their base. Most of the time, if your base turns on you, you are dead in the water. That is why it’s so hard to get an elected official to change their position on barn-burning issues such as abortion. A move like that is a little bit like jumping from one horse to the next in the middle of the Kentucky Derby. Chances are, both the jockey and horse are going down.
The Catholic Church may very well end up as the last lone soldier in the fight to re-convert Western civilization to traditional Christianity. This survey provides good news concerning that task. Our base is solid, if confused.
90% of Catholics are happy with the pope and 89% of Catholics are happy with their Church. The only problem with this delightful scenario is that actual fidelity to Church teaching falls off rapidly from there. Perhaps the most troubling is the confusion that the people in the pews are experiencing regarding gay “marriage.” 38% of American Catholics believe that Pope Francis supports gay “marriage.”
Just to be clear — and the fact that I need to clarify says it all — the Pope does not favor gay marriage. He said earlier this year that “growing efforts on the part of some to redefine the very institution of marriage” threaten the family, calling it “ideological colonization” that “threatens to disfigure God’s plan for creation.” As Cardinal Bergoglio, he said that gay marriage was “not a mere legislative project, but rather a “move” of the “father of lies,” who “intends to destroy the image of God: man and woman, who receive the mandate to grow, multiply and conquer the earth.”
I think it’s reasonable to assume that when the Vicar of Christ says that something is inspired by satan to destroy the very image of God that is man and woman, he’s not in favor of it. So … why is such a large number of Catholics confused by his meaning?
There are three primary reasons. First, popular culture is running strong for gay marriage. It takes guts in today’s world to be against it. Misunderstanding the pope allows Catholics to be in sync with the world around them and not suffer the cognitive dissonance of being out of sync with their faith. Second, Pope Francis himself has muddied the waters by speaking off-the-cuff in an open-ended fashion. Third, the media has seized on his comments, such as the famous “who am I to judge.” The media took this comment and others out of context, and ran them through the high-powered washer of deliberate obfuscation. They then used this deliberately misinterpreted version of what the Pope did not, in fact, say to buttress their own position.
This is dishonest. But it’s how today’s media works.
I am not surprised that many Catholics are confused by all this. They haven’t had much teaching about the true purpose of marriage from behind the altar, so they’ve been forced to figure it out for themselves.
The good news — and it is very good news — is that the Church’s base among American Catholics is solid. We can convert this culture. All we need is leadership from our bishops, patient persistence among the lay people in upholding the truth, and a renewed mission of evangelization.
Photo: Taken by Ed Pfueller – 8/30/12