In just six months after assuming the papacy, Pope Francis has broken with tradition in many ways. These include living in more modest dwellings in Vatican City, washing the feet of prisoners, and expressing more lenient views on controversial social issues like abortion and homosexuality. He is being called a reformer.
But how much reform do Catholics actually want?
American Catholics are divided on the issue of reform, according to a Pew survey taken in February this year, about a month before Jorge Mario Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, became the 266th head of the Catholic Church. Just over half (51%) said they wanted the new pope to maintain traditional positions. Catholics who often attend Mass feel more strongly, with 63% saying that the new pope should maintain tradition. There is no difference, however, by age.
In contrast, just under half (46%) of all Americans Catholics wanted to see the church move in new directions. Catholics who do not attend Mass on a weekly basis were more likely to support new directions.
There are lots of new ways the church could go. Pew researchers asked Catholics who wanted new directions to specify which directions they wanted the new pope to take. The results are fascinating, because we can now compare the Pew results with the actions taken by Pope Francis. Here are the top seven most frequently mentioned new directions:
Become more modern (19%)
Get tougher with sex abusers (15%)
Allow priests to marry (14%)
Become more accepting/open in general (14%)
Accept homosexuality/same-sex marriage (9%)
Allow women to be priests (9%)
Accept contraception/birth control (7%)
Homosexuality and contraception make the top-seven list. Where is abortion? “Become less strict about abortion” is way down the list.
If you are Catholic, did you want the next pope to maintain tradition or move in new directions?
If Catholics are so divided when it comes to reform, will the new pope’s actions divide the Church?