More Than a Popularity Rating: What Pope Francis is Really About

According to a recent Gallup poll, Pope Francis’ approval ratings in the United States have significantly dropped over the past year.

Headlines have swirled since the poll was published Wednesday, speculating about why his numbers have plunged from 76 percent in February 2014 to 59 percent in July of this year.

The drop is seen across the board, lowering to just a 45 percent approval rating among conservative circles, as opposed to 72 percent a year ago. Liberal excitement over the Argentinian Pope has also decreased, dipping an average of 14 points.

With the drop, Francis now sits essentially where he did at the beginning of his pontificate in March 2013.

Why the drop? Has the Pope’s unprecedented rise to popularity been damaged by his bold, direct manner of speaking? Is it his stance on issues, or the lack of clarity about where he stands?

Some say they could have predicted that those who supported Francis’ views on social justice issues would be disappointed when they finally realized that there is no way he’s going to change Church teaching on hot-button topics such as abortion, contraception or gay marriage.

On the other side, Art Swift, a Gallup analyst, wrote Wednesday when the survey was published that the decline could also be attributed “to the pope’s denouncing of ‘the idolatry of money’ and attributing climate change partially to human activity, along with his passionate focus on income inequality — all issues that are at odds with many conservatives’ beliefs.”

Still others in the media sphere have said they simply find the Pope repetitive.

After Francis’ recent trip to Latin America, well-known conservative Catholic blogger Elizabeth Scalia wrote a long entry in which she said she is “frankly just tired of feeling scolded.”

“I love His Holiness Pope Francis, but for a while now, I have been feeling harangued by him, as he’s been harping on us to do more, and ever more, to practice mercy on the world; to welcome the stranger, to clean up the rivers, to bring about justice and peace in our time; to level the playing fields, visit the sick, and so on,” Scalia wrote.

Carl Olson, editor of Catholic World Report, echoed Scalia’s sentiments, complaining that Francis is constantly “haranguing, harping, exhorting, lecturing.”

“It probably doesn’t help,” Olson said, “that Francis obsesses over particular points, to a degree that is, frankly, grating.”

As someone who reads every word that is supposed to have come out of the Pope’s mouth, and listens to every word that actually does, I can sympathize, but I can also say that Francis has a point.

Pope Francis is someone who doesn’t fit into any category that’s been assigned to him. He’s a natural-born leader, and as a South American he can’t be compressed into the “left” and “right” boxes we are so eager to put him in.

Francis is, frankly, a man who marches to the beat of his own drum, which he himself has said is perfectly in tune with that of the Church. In the same conversation as his “Who am I to judge?” comment, the Pope also stressed that “I am a son of the Church.”

He is someone who challenges. He challenges everyone, on all sides, and his challenges make us uncomfortable. They also naturally make some people unhappy.

Although we might get tired of the Pope “harping” on us to promote mercy and justice, to clean up our cities and rivers, and visit the sick, maybe it’s time to consider that he’s doing it because he’s asking more from us than a few meager efforts aimed at feeding our own self-satisfaction.

Maybe what the Pope is asking for is real change, not just a few articles or small initiatives that will make us feel good about ourselves before we either return to our complacency or move on to something else.

I believe he is asking for something more, and he won’t let up until he sees real results starting to happen. And even then, I’m pretty sure he’ll just get more adamant and enthusiastic, because that’s the type of person he is.

As can be seen from his daily rhythm of life, he’s a person that can’t sit still – there will always be more to do and he will always want to do it, and will ask us to do it too, because that’s his job, and it’s ours too if we consider ourselves to be real Christians.

So instead of whining that the Pope is nagging us or that he’s taking sides, I suggest we get over our egos and pay attention to what he’s actually asking us to do: make the world better.

I can guarantee Francis probably doesn’t care much about his approval ratings, but he does care deeply about the Gospel and the Church. He’s a man on a mission, and we can either complain about him, or we can listen, and join him in changing the world.