- Trying to square the circle
The opening days of the Synod on the Family have revealed distinct differences of opinion between the participants. How can their commitment to church teaching be matched with compassion for those who struggle with it?
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How did Catholics rate Francis’ first year as pope and what do they want to see from him next? That’s what we asked readers on our website and 1,400 of you got in touch.
First, the positives. Asked what Pope Francis had done well on, an overwhelming majority of respondents (87 per cent) highlighted “communicating Christ and the Gospel” and improving the Church’s image.
Francis was overwhelmingly fêted as a pastor who can connect with people (89 per cent). Mind you, fewer than half rated him as a thinker and theologian (45 per cent).
Of the 1,208 respondents who attend Mass at least once a week, 72 per cent said Francis had made them feel prouder of their faith and almost as many said he had improved non-Catholics’ friends’ view of their faith. Half said Francis had renewed their faith.
Of Catholic clergy and Religious, some 86 per cent said Francis was a more effective Pope than Benedict, and 30 per cent of these said Benedict should have left the Vatican when he stood down.
Three-fifths of clergy and Religious said Francis had renewed their faith and almost four-fifths said Francis had made them feel prouder of their faith.
In short, almost nine out of 10 Catholics (regular and occasional Mass-goers) said they considered Francis a more effective Pope than his predecessor, Benedict XVI. Among non-Catholics, even more – 95 per cent – favoured Pope Francis over Benedict.
And more than a quarter of Catholics said Benedict XVI should have left the Vatican altogether when he resigned last February.
But respondents also had plenty to say when asked what Francis should focus on now. Some 73 per cent said Pope Francis must prioritise developing the role of women, 72 per cent highlighted the need to press ahead with curial reform and 68 per cent said they wanted him to focus on “child protection, the censure of clergy who have abused or covered up abuse, and care for victims”.
Of the 1,208 of the respondents who said they were Mass-going Catholics, almost two-thirds also wanted Pope Francis to prioritise making the Church more transparent. These priorities were closely followed by communicating Christ and the Gospel, involving the laity in decision-making and discussing Communion for remarried divorcees.
Indeed only a third of respondents, 34 per cent, said he had done well on “child protection, the censure of clergy who have abused or covered up abuse, and care for victims”. Less than a quarter, 22 per cent, said Francis had done well on developing the role of women.
Half praised him for welcoming gays and lesbians and reaching out to atheists.
Looking forward, the 299 clergy who took part in the poll listed curial reform as top priority (78 per cent). While 63 per cent highlighted improving the Church’s response to abuse, this priority emerged as seventh, behind developing the role of women, communicating Christ and the Gospel, improving transparency and collegiality and involving the laity more in decision-making.
Some 5 per cent of respondents felt Benedict XVI should not have resigned. Conversely, almost nine out of 10 respondents felt popes should be allowed to resign as a matter of course.
So Francis, you have impressed people with your pastoral touch and made Catholics prouder of their faith. But let your energetic impact on the Catholic Church be deeper than words and gestures – even faithful Catholics say there’s much more to be put right in the wake of the abuse scandal. And your lack of concrete decisions about the ways women can contribute to their Church is beginning to show.
The floor is yours – and if a few years of getting ambitious reforms past the Roman curia prove too exhausting, resigning is regarded as a most acceptable option.
Abigail Frymann is The Tablet's Online Editor