Pope Francis showing people ‘a different way to be Catholic’

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Pope Francis’ historic visit to the United States drew millions of people to Washington D.C., New York and Philadelphia. Gary Adler, assistant professor of sociology, says the pope is showing people “a different way to be Catholic.”  

Adler has researched and written extensively about religious change and Catholicism in particular. He was also a consultant on the recently released Pew Research project on American Catholics.

Adler says Pope Francis hasn’t formally changed any church doctrine, and he doesn’t expect the pope to do so, but he does say that Pope Francis is changing the tone of the church to one that is more accepting. This change in tone goes along with a shift in Catholics’ opinions. According to the recent Pew data, for which Adler was a consultant, Catholics are more tolerant than ever of non-traditional family models — like divorced, separated and same-sex families.

“That reflects big changes that have happened to the family and American life since Vatican II and the post-World War era,” Adler said. “Catholics are embracing those family forms, not just tolerating them, but saying these are legitimate ways to live your life and raise children.”

He says the papal visit is like a spiritual high to American Catholics, and Pope Francis in particular excites people.

“This pope, in case you didn’t notice it, you can see right as he gets out of the plane — he has a sense of joy,” says Adler, who notes that this may have a long-running effect on Pennsylvanians and Americans — Catholic or not. “It’s that kind of sense of having that relative that you rarely get to see, but you love it when they show up.”