Is Pope Francis a failure? Not so fast.

“Take a second and make a guess about how much participation in Lenten rituals has diminished for American Episcopalian or Lutheran millennials over the same period covered by CARA’s research. Ten percentage points? More? Less?

I don’t know the answer, but I would be surprised if it is only Catholics that are falling away at these rates. Millennials are secularizing rapidly. Whether Francis is doing well or poorly, relative to Benedict, a drop in religious practice is not too surprising. Any ‘Francis effect’ winds up drowned out by the larger demographic shift away from organized religion.

What would be a better measurement of the success of a particular papacy? I needed to find an answer to that question three years ago when an atheist friend of mine bet me that Pope Francis would be bad for the American church. We needed to work out some objective way of settling the bet and we wound up agreeing to use the American Episcopalian church as a control group.”

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