U.S. Catholics have a lot to celebrate.
It’s been at least a decade since they’ve been this happy with their church or pope, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll.
Ninety-two percent of Catholics have a favorable view of Pope Francis and 95 percent feel the same way of the church. That’s an increase of 19 percentage points over the favorability of Pope Benedict XVI, who stepped down in February.
And Wednesday, Time magazine named Pope Francis its Person of the Year.
With the Catholic Church under fire in recent years, the Time announcement arguably marks a turning point for its image.
From a PR perspective, the pope has made great strides in a short period of time, garnering the moniker The People’s Pope.
Most recently, he’s been outspoken in interviews, making groundbreaking statements on abortion, contraception, and homosexuality by saying the Vatican should shake its “obsession” with those issues and become more merciful. “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge,” The New York Times has quoted him as saying. That statement is in direct opposition of the previous pontiff, the Times points out, who said homosexuality was “a strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil.”
Francis’s presence on social media also constitutes a departure from that of the previous pontiff.
Although Pope Benedict XVI was the first pope to create a Twitter account, with which he sent 39 tweets and accrued 1.5 millon English followers, he didn’t attract as many followers as quickly as Pope Francis.
Pope Francis’s @Pontifex account has more than 3.3 million followers. He also chose to launch a Twitter account in a dead language, Latin, which has more than 191,000 followers. Unlike Benedict, he hasn’t limited his social media activity to Twitter. Reports Forbes:
“Though Pope Benedict initiated the Vatican’s use of social media, it is the new Papa that is taking on the mantle of papal influencer,” says Hart Hooton, president of the New York digital media consultancy Marketechnique[RELATED: Join us at Microsoft HQ for our 11th annual Employee Communications, PR and Social Media Summit.].
“Pope Francis has been doing things his own way, especially on social media: we’ve seen the first papal ‘selfie’ go viral, the papal Twitter account @Pontifex has risen by over five million followers in the past six months, the Pope’s tweets are retweeted some 22,000 times on average, he’s put news.va on Facebook FB -2.1%, and, even more incredibly, the first papal promotion has seen the light of day—this summer the Vatican offered ‘indulgences’ for followers of papal social media and events online, this translates into time off in purgatory!”
Pope Francis’ social media efforts and progressive viewpoints seem to have cast a warmer light on the church than it’s seen in recent years. By changing the tone and focus, he’s essentially rebranding the Vatican and bringing it into the current century, and those poll numbers show that most Catholics seem to be on board.
Courtney Gordner is a blogger/journalist with a love for marketing and PR. Read more from her on her blog, Talk Viral.