Sceptical Americans Could Prove Tough Audience For Pope Francis

  • Date: 28/07/15
  • James Politi, Financial Times

Pope Francis’ election in 2013 to lead the Catholic Church stirred hope among American Catholics that his humble style, reformist plans and new world roots might revive the church’s fortunes in the US. But more than two years later, Americans — and especially conservatives — appear to have cooled on the 78-year-old Argentine pontiff ahead of a highly-anticipated September visit.

 A new Gallup poll showed that Pope Francis’ favourability rating among Americans has dropped to 59 per cent, from 76 per cent in February 2014. This is below the levels recorded by Pope John Paul II throughout most of his papacy – although it is still broadly better than his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI.

The apparent disenchantment follows an escalation in recent months in the Pope’s rhetoric against global capitalism.

On a trip to Latin America this month, he called unfettered free markets the “dung of the devil” and a “subtle dictatorship”, and in last month’s encyclical — the highest form of papal teaching — excoriated big business for plundering nature.

The Pope’s call to action on climate change has also proven awkward for Republican politicians who still question the science behind global warming.

“There is no doubt that the US is a particularly tough audience for this Pope’s message,” said John Allen, associate editor of Crux, a Boston-based Catholic website. “In some ways there is a perception that this just isn’t our Pope . . . It’s not just the anti-capitalist stuff — it’s also his drive to lift up the periphery rather than the centre, and by most standards we are the centre.”

One recent image — of the Pope receiving a hammer-and-sickle crucifix as a gift from left-wing populist Bolivian president Evo Morales this month — may have been particularly jarring to the many Americans who are instinctively wary of, if not repulsed by, socialism.[…]

The Catholic Church has been trying to reverse the long-term decline in its US flock. Between 2007 and 2014, it fell by 3m to about 51m — or 20.8 per cent of the population — according to the Pew Research Center.

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