Pope Francis brings thousands of lapsed Catholics back to church

'Francis effect' sees thousands of lapsed Italian Catholics celebrate mass anew

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 November, 2013, 5:13am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 12 November, 2013, 2:33pm

Hundreds of thousands of Italian Catholics have flocked back to church since the election of Pope Francis.

More than half of 250 priests interviewed (51 per cent) reported a significant rise in church attendance since the election of the former Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio in March.

Researcher Massimo Introvigne, a sociologist and head of Italy’s Centre for the Study of New Religions, credited the “Francis effect” for the boost in congregations.

“If we project those results nationally, and if only half the parishes and communities in Italy have been touched by the Francis effect, then we’re talking about hundreds of thousands of people who are returning,” he said.

He said he first discovered evidence of a surge in attendance at mass in a survey he carried out soon after Francis became pope.

He then conducted a bigger poll to see if observance had since returned to its previous level.

“It might have been attributable to the novelty of having a new pope and the emotions stirred by the resignation of Pope Benedict. But after six months I got more or less the same result,” he said.

According to two of Italy’s most senior clerics, Francis is making his biggest impact on long-lapsed Catholics.

Cardinal Giuseppe Betori, the archbishop of Florence, said: “So many are returning to the sacraments, some after decades.”

His account was borne out by the auxiliary bishop of L’Aquila, Giovanni D’Ercole, who said in an interview with La Stampa newspaper that, “Francis makes headway above all among those who had distanced themselves from Christian life”.

Introvigne cautioned that the persistence of the Francis effect would depend on how parish priests dealt with those who had previously abandoned their faith, “whether they are made to feel welcome” and whether they were given a proper reintroduction to Catholicism.

Pope Francis, who was noted for his simple lifestyle while archbishop of Buenos Aires, has refused the opulent trappings of the papacy and repeatedly advocated a simpler, poorer and less bureaucratic church.

Some of his initiatives have also suggested he intends to decentralise the administration of the world’s biggest Christian denomination.