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Pope Francis

Two-thirds of U.S. Catholics unaware of pope’s new restrictions on traditional Latin Mass

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Pope Francis’ decision to impose new restrictions on the traditional Latin Mass in July drew a strong reaction from Catholics in the United States. While some Catholics welcomed the news, others criticized the pontiff, saying the revival of the Latin Mass in recent years has been key to rejuvenating the faith of younger Catholics.

Despite the controversy, most U.S. Catholics are unaware of Pope Francis’ recent actions, with roughly two-thirds saying they have heard “nothing at all” about the new restrictions, according to a Pew Research Center survey of adults conducted Sept. 20-26. But there are pockets of opposition to the new rules, with weekly Mass-goers and Catholic Republicans expressing higher levels of disapproval than those who do not go to Mass regularly and Catholic Democrats. Nevertheless, Francis remains a very popular figure among American Catholics, with about eight-in-ten continuing to express a favorable view of the pope, little changed since March.

Most Catholics around the world attend Masses conducted in the vernacular (or local language), but some prefer the traditional Latin version that was used for centuries prior to the Second Vatican Council. In 2007, Francis’ predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, expanded access to the traditional Latin Mass by allowing priests to use the older form “without any further permission from the Vatican” or their bishop, according to Catholic News Service. Francis said in July that the new limitations, which reverse Benedict’s move, are designed to promote unity within the Church.

Francis’ decision requires priests currently using the traditional Latin rite to “request authorization from their bishop to continue doing so,” according to Catholic News Service. The new rules also require bishops to “determine if the current groups of faithful attached to the old Mass accept Vatican II,” and forbid bishops from authorizing “the formation of any new pro-Latin Mass groups in their dioceses,” The Associated Press reported.

Overall, 65 percent of U.S. Catholics say they have heard “nothing at all” about the pope’s decision to impose new limits on the use of the traditional Latin Mass. About three-in-ten of those surveyed (28 percent) have heard “a little” about the change, and 7 percent say they have heard “a lot” about it.

All the survey respondents who indicated they have heard at least a little about the new limitations received a follow-up question asking whether they approve or disapprove of the pope’s decision. Their opinions are divided about evenly between those who approve (9 percent of all Catholics) and those who disapprove (12 percent of all Catholics) of Francis’ actions. An additional 14 percent of U.S. Catholics say they have heard at least a little about the change, but either have no opinion on it or declined to give their opinion.

Catholics who attend Mass weekly are both more likely to be aware of the new restrictions and more inclined to oppose them than Catholics who attend less frequently, the survey finds.

Nearly six-in-ten Catholics who attend Mass weekly or more often have heard at least a little about the new restrictions, and roughly three-in-ten say they disapprove of them. By contrast, just 7 percent of Catholics who attend Mass once or twice a month or a few times a year disapprove of the pope’s decision, as do 6 percent of Catholics who rarely or never go to church. Majorities in both of these groups say they have not even heard about the new rules.

Political affiliation also is tied to views about the new Mass guidelines. Catholics who identify with or lean toward the Republican Party are roughly three times as likely as Catholic Democrats or Catholics who lean toward the Democratic Party to oppose the new rules (20 percent vs. 6 percent), though majorities in both groups say they are unfamiliar with the issue.

There is little difference on these questions by age, although Catholics ages 50 and older are slightly more likely than younger Catholics to have heard about the issue, and to say they have no opinion about it.  

Meanwhile, views of Pope Francis have remained fairly steady among U.S. Catholics recently, even within segments of the Catholic community that express higher-than-average disapproval of the new rules about the traditional Latin Mass.

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