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March 13, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – A newly-released Pew Research survey indicates that American Catholics’ Mass attendance has dropped during the Francis pontificate, and that roughly three-quarters of U.S. Catholics think Pope Francis has made the Church more accepting of homosexuality.

Seven in ten American Catholics said they thought Pope Francis has made the Church more accepting of divorce and remarriage.

The year before the pontificate of Pope Francis began – during Pope Benedict XVI’s papacy – 41 percent of Catholics in the U.S. attended Mass weekly. Now, only 38 percent of respondents said they attend Mass every week.

Michael Hichborn, President of the Lepanto Institute, told LifeSiteNews he finds it interesting that “all of those numbers” indicating support for the Pope’s bishop appointments, environmental advocacy, and help for homosexuality “are concomitant with those who do not attend Mass on a weekly basis.”

Some of the ways in which the data were presented were “really misleading,” said Hichborn.

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The survey “talks about 62 percent not attending Mass, which means 38 percent are attending Mass,” he explained. “And then it says Catholics who attend Mass are more positive about Pope Francis’ performance than those who attend church less frequently. That’s incredibly misleading. Because the percentage of those who are attending Mass” is just 38 percent of all the Catholics polled.

So that statistic really means “78 percent of 38 percent of all those polled,” said Hichborn, which is “really misleading.”

“The survey also finds signs of growing polarization along partisan lines in Catholics’ views of Francis,” Pew reported, with the number of Republican or Republican-leaning Catholics who think the pope is too liberal more than doubling since 2015 – up from 23 percent to 55 percent.

During the first year of this pontificate, “there was no discernible difference between the share of Catholic Republicans (90%) and Democrats (87%) who expressed a favorable view of Francis,” Pew noted. But now, “the pope’s favorability rating is 10 points higher among Catholic Democrats (89%) than among Catholic Republicans (79%)” and “the share of Catholic Republicans who say Francis represents a major, positive change for the Catholic Church has declined from 60% to 37%.”

Below are some other key findings on this pontificate and life and family issues, as reported by Pew:

  • Roughly half of Catholics (55%) say the priests at their parish are “very supportive” of Pope Francis, and an additional 23% say their priests are “somewhat supportive” of the pontiff. Roughly one-in-five self-identified Catholics decline to answer the question or else volunteer that they do not attend church often enough to assess the level of support for Francis among their parish priests. Just 2% say their priests are “not too” or “not at all” supportive of the pontiff.
  • Roughly six-in-ten Catholics (58%) say Francis is doing an “excellent” or “good” job appointing new bishops and cardinals, and 55% say he is doing an “excellent” or “good” job addressing environmental issues.
  • Among U.S. Catholics as a whole, roughly three-quarters say the pontiff has done “a lot” (33%) or “a little” (41%) to make the Catholic Church more accepting of homosexuality. And seven-in-ten U.S. Catholics say Pope Francis has done “a lot” (26%) or “a little” (43%) to make the church more accepting of divorce and remarriage.
  • The survey shows, furthermore, that most Catholics seem to approve of Francis’ actions in these areas. Six-in-ten Catholics (63%) say Francis has done at least a little to promote acceptance of homosexuality, and also say he has done “about the right amount” or that they would like to see him “do more” on this issue. Similarly, 64% of Catholics say the pope has done at least a little to increase acceptance of divorce and remarriage, and that he has done “the right amount” or that they would like him to “do more.”

Despite the overwhelming perception of Pope Francis as loosening the Church’s attitude toward behaviors it has always labeled immoral, “seven-in-ten U.S. Catholics say Pope Francis is doing a good or an excellent job spreading the Catholic faith and standing up for traditional moral values.” (But 62 percent of U.S. Catholics don’t go to Sunday Mass.)

The poll “shows an extremely poor catechesis within the Catholic Church,” said Hichborn. “The bishops who are very supportive of Pope Francis have played into the propaganda machine that is pushing a hard-left agenda. And they’re pushing it within the parishes…The only useful thing that this poll gives is the sad state of affairs within the Church.”