28 April 2014, The Tablet

Francis' emphasis on social justice ‘could alienate’

The recent alliance between conservative Catholics and white evangelical Protestants might be undermined by the innovations of Pope Francis, according to new research.

Robert P. Jones, President of the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), writing in The Atlantic, stated that “The Pope’s call for economic justice complicates the relationship, because it calls both Catholics and evangelicals to cooperation beyond a narrow band of cultural politics”.

“Today, on a range of prominent cultural issues and in Republican primary politics, we often see an ironic result—there is more support for official Roman Catholic Church positions among white evangelical Protestants than among Catholics,” Jones wrote. “For example, 69 per cent of white evangelical Protestants oppose same-sex marriage, compared to only 37 per cent of rank-and-file Catholics. Moreover, 78 per cent of white evangelical Protestants believe sex between two adults of the same gender is sinful, compared to 49 per cent of lay Catholics.”

Jones found the same pattern even on an issue like abortion. Nearly two-thirds (65 per cent) of white evangelical Protestants say abortion should be illegal in all or most cases, compared to 47 per cent of Catholics.

Jones reports that in the 2012 Republican primaries, Catholic candidate Senator Rick Santorum consistently out-polled eventual nominee Mitt Romney among white evangelicals, while Romney, a Mormon, did better among Catholics.

“What remains to be seen is how this evangelical flock will respond to Pope Francis’ pivot to economic justice and social solidarity - a move that strikes a natural chord among Catholics but may seem dissonant to many evangelicals who intertwine Protestant individualism and free-market capitalism,” Jones wrote.

In March, Pope Francis sent a video message to a meeting of evangelicals organised by Revd Kenneth Copeland, encouraging them in their work and praying for the unity of all Christians.

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