Popularity and the Pope

Journalists are understandably fond of conflict—after all, it gives them something to talk about. Media coverage and commentary relating to a drop in Pope Francis’ popularity rating in a recent Gallup poll was an illustration of that.

Gallup found the Pope with a favorable rating of 59% now, compared with 76% in early 2014. The new unfavorable number was 16%, against 9% last year, while “no opinion” rose from 16% to 25%. Among Catholics, 71% view Francis favorably now as against 89% in 2014.

Religion News Service voiced a common reading of those numbers among journalists in declaring the Pope’s “once Teflon-grade popularity” had been taking a beating.

What the media didn’t say—but what the numbers show—is that Francis remains enormously popular in the U.S.

Yes, the Pope has irked various groups. Among these climate change skeptics, ideological defenders of free market capitalism, gay rights advocates who think he hasn’t done enough for them, social conservatives who think he’s done too much for gay rights, unrelenting anti-Castro Cuban-Americans, and probably a few others.

In a way, the negative reactions aren’t surprising. Francis is a notably free-swinging pontiff. On the eve of his September 22-27 U.S. visit, though, the obvious question is: what difference does this make to the success of his trip? The answer: probably not much.

The crowds will still be huge and enthusiastic. There will be moving public gestures like a visit to a Philadelphia prison and a Catholic Charities center in Washington, D.C. There will be impressive liturgies and dramatic pomp and circumstance events as the Pope meets with President Obama at the White House, addresses Congress, and speaks to the world via the United Nations.

And at the center of it all will be the same charismatic white-clad figure who has shown himself to be one of the most crowd-pleasing world leaders in a very long time.

What will the Pope say during his visit? Certain themes are obvious: protecting the environment and taking urgent action on climate change, world peace, helping the poor and marginalized including immigrants, the multiple evils of consumerism and a culture that values technology over concern for the person, the need to protect and cherish marriage and family life.

Probably, too, Francis will speak about the growing persecution of Christians in the Middle East, parts of Africa and Asia, and other places. That is it should be. But persecution, more subtle but no less real, also is on the rise in the United States. Here’s

hoping the Pope speaks out strongly against that as well.

This will be Francis’ first time in the United States. Like many people from other nations, he may well share the historic image of America as a bastion of religious freedom and tolerance. For so it has been, and so for the most part it remains even today.

Yet alongside religious freedom and respect for others’ conscience-based values and beliefs, a new spirit of intolerance is currently abroad in the U.S. Driven by secular ideology, it is directed against religious institutions and individuals with the intention of forcing them to fall in line with public policies and practices that conflict with the deeply-held values of their faith traditions.

Strong papal words on this subject might not sit well with yet another group—the  secularist true believers who are so prominent in the American media. But even if that should end up costing Francis a couple more points in the next Gallup popularity poll, it would be well worth it.

image: softdelusion66 / Shutterstock.com

Russell Shaw


Russell Shaw is a freelance writer from Washington, D.C. You can email him at RShaw10290@aol.com.

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  • Tati305

    I am shocked at your article. Climate change legislation is geared toward taxation of the population .. So a very few will get rich.. There have been ice ages where no SUV have been present.
    Why would your speak of Cuban Americans.??? Because they know first hand of communist rule? The church over centuries has been corrupted by aligning themselves with the government. The churches duties is to spread the word…. Invite people to the Catholic Church. I find the pope using the spread the wealth theme disturbing because it should be an appeal to individuals not the government. The government will take from the people and do as they please. More power to individuals always leads to more freedom versus more control by government leads to less freedom. As history has shown over and over again… He is aligned with a socialist view of the world.. And yes it disturbs many faithful…I want to be wrong about this. I pray over this….!! however the dismissive way you describe the people who are skeptical does not further conversation and divides us.

  • Bill Guentner

    I assume you vote Republican.

  • JMC

    Pope Francis is well aware of the fact that the “science” backing anthrogenic global warming is questionable, and of the sometimes vitriolic controversy surrounding it, as evidenced by that simple phrase, “to the extent…” that man is the cause of it. Yes, cycles of global warming and cooling have been occurring since even before the dinosaurs (so much for the “dino flatulence” theory. ;D), so man is probably not responsible in any way for climate change. But we ARE responsible for many other forms of pollution, and climate change is not the only thing he addressed in “Laudato Si’.” The fact that the things he has supposedly said have cause such a polemic reaction is due to one thing, and one thing only: The way the media have reported it. They continue to take his statements out of context, editing them so that, while any given statement was actually said by him, it’s meaning is vastly altered. The public has been whipped up to such a frenzy by this tactic that they fail to see the truth behind the little bits they are given…it doesn’t help that the quality of education in this country has been declining since at least the mid- to late 1980s, evidenced by articles like “Why can’t Johnny read,” which I remember seeing as early as 1980. (The military actually had remedial reading classes for new recruits during that decade!) People no longer know how to think for themselves; they have enough trouble just reading the lines, never mind reading between them. ;D

  • Anthony Mastroianni

    agree with you 100 percent. I too hope I am wrong

  • Anthony Mastroianni

    As any real Catholic should.

  • Tati305


  • Cooky642

    Bill, I wonder from the way you phrased your question if you vote Democrat? My parents both worked for the state and voted for whichever party held the state government at the time. I learned to listen to the candidates–to what they said as well as what they Didn’t say. I learned quickly that I’m a conservative, and that’s how I vote. I DO, however, listen to Democrats. I listened during the last cycle and heard them “boo” God out of their meeting. I listened to them once and heard them decide that abortion and euthanasia were valid ways to handle the problem of ‘people’. And I listened when they threw great words around that essentially meant they were going to keep the blacks under their thumb so that they would have to lean on the government rather than develop their own talents. After all these years of listening, I couldn’t vote for a Democrat if I wanted to! Does that help?

  • Bill Guentner

    Does that help? Absolutely. I had been a life long Democrat, but recently I find that I can no longer vote for them for the reasons you state. Now having said that, I wish I could vote democratic because I find the the Republicans too beholding to big business. They cannot, for example, vote to raise the minimum wage, which is a starvation wage. They continue to use the same argument against it–it will put too many people out of work. That is wrong, they know it, but they continue to use it. Now, only for some clarification if it is need, I have a MBA degree, have studied economics and have a reasonable knowledge of history, and worked in industry for some 33 years. All this to say that most Republican Congressmen support only the wealthy. For a country as wealthy as ours not to have universal health care, free, or almost free education, maternity leave, etc, like the European countries is sinful. To call these benefits socialism is a sin against justice. Oh, how I wish I could vote democratic for the people, but I am force to vote Republican and for the wealthy because the Democrats favor abortion. God help me.

  • Cooky642

    I feel your pain, Bill. Seriously. There are times (many) when I wish I could vote Democrat. They have wonderful ideas, and I’d like to see (some)(most) put into practice. But how can I vote for free medical care, free education, free training for a GOOD job, free elder-care when their primary objective is to end life before it begins? We’ve already lost a generation-and-a-half of people who would grow up to support us in our old age! And, how many Beethovens, Hawkings, Kennedys, have we lost? We will never know because they did not survive to become what God created them to be! Dear heart, if God doesn’t help us, we’re worse off than even we know! Blessings on you.