Highlights from the week online

Trying to find a Francis effect

Has the Pope failed? Yes, suggests Matthew Schmitz in the New York Times. He thinks Francis’s soft approach has not worked, citing research from Georgetown’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), which found that in 2008, 50 per cent of millennials reported receiving ashes on Ash Wednesday compared with 41 per cent in 2016. But Leah Libresco was not convinced at America magazine, where she responded to Schmitz: “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.”

Meanwhile, CARA’s own research blog retorted: “Anyone can grab three stats and write an opinion piece.” They pointed out that that there have been more diocesan ordinations in the US under Francis than there were under Benedict. They also sardonically highlighted that Catholics in the US were living longer since Francis was elected and that the baby name Francis was also growing in popularity. “Francis effect confirmed! No?” They concluded: “Pope Francis should not be judged a success or a failure with the assistance of a few pieces of survey data that actually show mixed trends in one country.”

How can the Church appoint good bishops?

It’s time to rethink the way the Church elects bishops, Robert Mickens announced in the National Catholic Reporter. Mickens said it was time to end the “incestuous old boys’ network” controlling episcopal appointments with more lay participation in bishops’ appointments rather than opting for a conclave-like democratic procedure as suggested by some. Not so fast, said Fr Alexander Lucie-Smith at CatholicHerald.co.uk. “We certainly need better bishops, but we will never have them until we have better priests,” he said, suggesting that seminaries should be replaced with another method of training men for the priesthood which involves living in the community. “Then, perhaps, we may have a better chance of getting pastors who, as the Pope loves to put it, ‘smell of the sheep’.”

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