The Pope Bump: Is Francis Luring Lapsed Catholics Back to Mass?

The Slatest
Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Nov. 11 2013 5:51 PM

The Pope Bump: Is Francis Luring Lapsed Catholics Back to Mass?

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Pope Francis kisses a baby as he arrives for his general audience in St Peter's square at the Vatican.

Photo by VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images

In politics, the top-of-the-ticket matters. Ask any operative, from either party, and they’ll tell you having a popular presidential candidate’s name headlining the ballot on Election Day helps motivate the party faithful to head to the polls, lifting the fortunes of lesser-known candidates running for lesser-known offices. Apparently, the same trickle down principle holds when it comes to religion.

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. Introvigne said that there was evidence of a surge in attendance immediately after the new Pope was announced. To see if enthusiasm had waned, he conducted a more extensive poll to see if those numbers had returned to previous levels. "It might have been attributable to the novelty of having a new pope and the emotions stirred by the resignation of pope Benedict. But after six months I got more or less the same result," he told the Guardian.

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Pope Francis’ sometimes freewheeling and unconventional papal style has made him popular figure, but has also rubbed some the church’s conservatives the wrong way. But, for the casual catholic, Francis has been a motivator to get back to mass. Italy's most senior clerics, the Guardian reports, said that the biggest impact that Francis has made is on “long-lapsed Catholics.” Cardinal Giuseppe Betori, the archbishop of Florence, told the Guardian: "So many are returning to the sacraments, in some cases after decades."

Elliot Hannon is a writer in Washington, D.C. Follow him on Twitter.