News / USA

One Year After Papal Election, 'Francis Effect' Negligible in US

One Year After Papal Election, 'Francis Effect' Is Negligible in USi
X
Jerome Socolovsky
March 06, 2014 4:53 PM
Roman Catholic leaders are excited that Pope Francis' actions and words over the past year have reportedly brought some former Catholics back into churches around the world. But surveys show this so-called "Francis effect" is negligible in America. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky went to one parish that is attracting worshippers.
Late last year the British newspaper The Sunday Times reported that Pope Francis had inspired a surge in attendance at churches in Britain and other countries.  The report triggered a debate about whether the new pontiff has been bringing about a change of heart among former Catholics, many of whom lost their faith in the Church after decades of scandals and doctrinal rigidity.

There has been evidence of pews refilling in places like Italy and in the pope’s native Argentina. The so-called “Francis Effect” is credited with a record turnout at last year’s pilgrimage to the Basilica of the Virgin of Lujan, the nation’s patron saint.

Surveys by the Pew Research Center in Washington, however, suggest the effect is negligible in the United States, which has the fifth largest Catholic population in the world, and where ex-Catholics represent 10 percent of the national population. 

The Church of the Nativity in Timonium, a suburb of Baltimore, Maryland, is one of the few that has managed to buck the trend.  It has been attracting worshippers for years with methods that now have the blessing of Francis.

From the outside it looks like an ordinary suburban church, but inside the darkened chapel a seven-piece band accompanies the Mass, which is magnified on large TV screens throughout the church as well as in the café.

The priest, Rev. Michael White, is in demand as a speaker around the country because of a book he wrote called Rebuilt, about his success in bringing parishioners back into the pews.

"Before the book, you know how many invitations I received to speak?  That would be none, ever.  Not once!" he joked during a recent homily.

Switching to a tone of humility he added, “there are plenty of pastors out there who are far better at this than I am.”

If that is the case, then the Church needs them badly.  Surveys show a third of Americans who were born into the Roman Catholic faith have left it.  If America’s 23 million ex-Catholics formed their own denomination, it would be the second largest in the country, after Catholics themselves.

Like Pope Francis, Rev. White does not contradict Vatican teaching, but he has dispensed with the elaborate rituals and ceremony that can be found in many Catholic churches.

Instead, the Church of the Nativity borrows heavily from Evangelical Protestant megachurches, with a kind of worship style where you would be forgiven if you thought you'd stepped into a pop music concert - or a coffee shop.

Tom Corcoran, a lay minister at the church who co-authored the book with White, concedes there has been criticism from traditionally-minded Catholics.

"You hear those whisperings of 'Catholic light,' or -- we have a café here - Our Lady of Mt. Starbucks,” he said. “I think if you want to do anything worth doing, you're going to get criticized."

His church’s new approach predated Francis, with his own emphasis on simplicity and message to Catholics that they should be more outward-looking and adopt methods that have worked for Evangelicals.

"Since we've written our book Rebuilt, people have come up and said, 'Hey, it's like you guys were quoting him even before he was pope,' and all that kind of stuff," Corcoran says.

"We can be so focused on our sanctuary, our buildings, and wait for people to come to us,” says Rev. John Conley, a Jesuit scholar at Loyola University Maryland. "Now decades ago you could be in a religious nation like America - we had so many immigrants, who basically would follow this tradition.  We can no longer do that today."

Although the Church of the Nativity's Mass still hews to basic tradition - and some segments are even conducted in Latin - recent convert Cathy McErlean says she was attracted to the church by the informal style.

"It was a lot less intimidating than a more traditional Catholic environment," she said.

The pope's less-intimidating style, not to mention his emphasis on social justice, has turned him into a virtual rock star even among non-Catholics.  Time magazine named him Person of the Year and even Rolling Stone magazine put him on its cover.  That said, the new pontiff’s style has not undone all the damage of the clerical scandals and doctrinal rigidity that are among the main reasons many American Catholics left in the first place.

Jerome Socolovsky

Jerome Socolovsky is the award-winning religion correspondent for the Voice of America, based in Washington. He reports on the rapidly changing faith landscape of the United States, including interfaith issues, secularization and non-affiliation trends and the growth of immigrant congregations.

You May Like

China May Be Biggest Winner From Ukraine Crisis

Missile sales, oil and gas shipments are among many areas that may drive Beijing and Moscow closer together in coming years More

Obama Faces Chaotic World, Limits of Power

Current foreign policy issues bring into focus challenges for US policymakers who are mindful of Americans' waning appetite for overseas military engagements More

SADC Meeting Lesotho Officials to Resolve Stalemate

Official says regional bloc has been engaged with leaders in Lesotho to resolve political disagreement that led to coup attempt More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015i
X
Carol Pearson
August 30, 2014 7:14 PM
A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015

A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Jewish Ghetto

When the German Nazi army occupied the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered at the Union League Club in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.
Video

Video Cost to Raise Child in US Continues to Rise

The cost of raising a child in the United States continues to rise. In its latest annual report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says middle income families with a child born in 2013 can expect to spend more than $240,000 before that child turns 18. And sending that child to college more than doubles that amount. VOA’s Deborah Block visited with a couple with one child in Alexandria, Virginia, to learn if the report reflects their lifestyle.
Video

Video Chaotic Afghan Vote Recount Threatens Nation’s Future

Afghanistan’s troubled presidential election continues to be rocked by turmoil as an audit of the ballots drags on. The U.N. says the recount will not be completed before September 10. Observers say repeated disputes and delays are threatening the orderly transfer of power and could have dangerous consequences. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Ukraine Battles Pro-Russia Rebel Assault

After NATO concluded an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis in eastern Ukraine, the country is struggling to contain heavy fighting near the strategic port of Mariupol, on the Azov Sea. Separatist rebels are trying to capture the city, allegedly with Russian military help, and Ukraine's defense forces are digging in. VOA's Daniel Schearf spoke with analysts about what lies ahead for Ukraine.
Video

Video Growing Business Offers Paint with a Twist of Wine

Two New Orleans area women started a small business seven years ago with one thing in mind: to help their neighbors relieve the stress of coping with a hurricane's aftermath. Today their business, which pairs painting and a little bit of wine, has become one of the fastest growing franchises across the U.S. VOA’s June Soh met the entrepreneurs at their newest franchise location in the Washington suburbs.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials To Begin Next Week

The National Institutes of Health says it is launching early stage trials of a vaccine to prevent the Ebola virus, which has infected or killed thousands of people across West Africa. The World Health Organization says Ebola could infect more than 20,000 people across the region by the time the outbreak is over. The epidemic has health experts and governments scrambling to prevent more people from becoming infected. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Asian Bacteria Threatens Florida Orange Trees

Florida's citrus fruit industry is facing a serious threat from a bacteria carried by the Asian insect called psyllid. The widespread infestation again highlights the danger of transferring non-native species to American soil. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Aging Will Reduce Economic Growth Worldwide in Coming Decades

The world is getting older, fast. And as more people retire each year, fewer working-age people will be there to replace them. Bond rating agency Moody’s says that will lead to a decline in household savings; reducing global investments - which in turn, will lead to slower economic growth around the world. But experts say it’s not too late to mitigate the economic impact of the world’s aging populations. Mil Arcega has more.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.

AppleAndroid