Decline in pope’s popularity rating isn’t all bad news

Categories: Editorial

Joe Towalski

Pope Francis’ words can make you feel uncomfortable at times — and this is good news for all of us


Joe Towalski, Editor, The Visitor

According to a recent Gallup poll, Pope Francis’ popularity has recently taken a hit. About 59 percent of U.S. respondents to a July query indicated they had a positive view of the pope, down from 76 percent earlier this year.

While one should be cautious about reading too much into such surveys, the change has some people asking: Why the drop?

Gallup said the decline might be attributable to those who object to the message of the pope’s recent encyclical on climate change and environmental stewardship as well as his ongoing criticism of economies that too often put profits above people and dismiss the needs of the poor. For other sectors of U.S. society, the pope’s unflagging commitment to church teaching on topics like traditional marriage has been something of a disappointment.

The poll numbers, however, might simply reflect this: Whether you agree or disagree with what he says, Pope Francis’ words can make you feel uncomfortable at times. And this, it must be noted, is actually a good thing.

Jesus had the same effect on people. Christ, who embodied the love of God and who comforted the afflicted, also afflicted the comfortable. Jesus challenged his followers to go beyond their comfort zones and do more to reach out to the poor, show love for their neighbor, extend a hand of forgiveness and mercy even when it was difficult — in short, to be more like him.

Pope Francis does this, too. We hear it in his speeches and homilies, calling for respect for the unborn, for the poor, for family life, for immigrants and refugees, and for the planet we all share. But we also see it when he reaches out with a gentle touch to caress the face of a child or disabled person, in his choice to live as simply as possible, and in his dedication to prayer.

The call to be more Christ-like can make us uncomfortable. It requires us to acknowledge that we often fall short and can do better. We might have to change our habits to practice better stewardship of the natural resources God blessed us with. We might have to reassess our lifestyles and the public policies we support in light of what Christ teaches us about the value of every human life and the need to be our brother’s and sister’s keeper.

It might require individuals to go beyond their comfort zones to reach out more directly to the poor, the marginalized and the vulnerable. Or challenge themselves to think more closely with the mind of the church on issues they might have a hard time understanding.

More often than not, changing our thinking or our lifestyles isn’t easy. And, the person challenging us to make those changes isn’t likely to win popularity contests.

Despite the recent dip in his favorability ratings, Pope Francis remains very popular and beloved. But he clearly shows no signs of letting up. He will continue to encourage and challenge us — whether we like it or not. And that is good news for everyone.