One year into his papacy, Pope Francis remains immensely popular among American Catholics and is seen as a force for positive change in the Church, according to a recent Pew Research Center study.
More than 8-in-10 U.S. Catholics have a favorable view of the pontiff, rivaling the number who felt equally positive about Blessed Pope John Paul II in the ‘80s and ‘90s, the study found.
The study, released March 6, also revealed some 71 percent of American Catholics think Pope Francis represents a major change in the direction of the Church. About 56 percent of non-Catholics reported the same.
While Pope Francis’ impact is a cause of celebration, Catholics are pointing out that some media’s depiction of the pontiff could be misleading.
In his Feb. 4 Denver Catholic Register column, Archbishop Samuel Aquila wrote that the media is creating what one journalist has called a “fantasy” Francis, one that is far from the truth of who he is and what he believes.
“But I do believe that his appearance underscores the power of building ‘a culture of encounter’ and bringing ‘tenderness’ to our interactions—two principles that he embodies and promotes,” the archbishop wrote.
The media’s reporting on the pope has rivaled top public officials and other religious leaders. Another Pew study revealed the pope received nearly 50,000 media mentions between his election and the end of January. That’s more than U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Russian President Vladimir Putin and far more than the Dalai Lama.
Global Language Monitor reported that Pope Francis was the most talked about person on the Internet in 2013.
Pope Francis addressed the “Francis mania” in a recent interview with Corriere Della Sera.
“I don’t like ideological interpretations, a certain mythology of Pope Francis,” he reportedly said. “To paint the pope as if he is a sort of Superman, a sort of star, I find offensive. The pope is a man who laughs, cries, sleeps peacefully and has friends like everyone else. He is a normal person.”
The Pew study reported it isn’t clear whether the so-called “Francis effect” is creating a discerning change among faithful’s approach to the faith.
There has been no measureable rise in the percentage of Americans identifying as Catholic, but about 26 percent of Catholics have become “more excited” about their faith over the past year and 4-in-10 also reported praying more often, according to the study.
The study was based on a national sample of 1,821 adults living in the United States, including a large portion of young adults aged 18-33.
Pope Francis: Year One