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Boston College Experts: Pope Francis, First Year



Professor Gaillardetz is the president of the Catholic Theological Society of America, the largest professional association of Catholic theologians in the world. He focuses on issues related to church structures and the exercise of authority, church related issues, Vatican II, the papacy and bishops, proper exercise and limits of church authority.  He is the or co-author of “Prudential Judgment and Catholic Teaching” Chapter in Voting and Holiness: A Catholic's Guide to the Political Process; "Dialogue and Deliberation During Vatican II", America Magazine; Keys to the Council: Unlocking the Teaching of Vatican II (with Catherine Clifford); and “The Theological Reception of ‘Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord’.”

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Fr. Bretzke is a Jesuit priest and professor of moral theology at the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry.  He is the author of 70 articles/reviews and five books including A Morally Complex World: Engaging Contemporary Moral Theology and Consecrated Phrases: A Latin Theological Dictionary. He earned a doctorate at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, where he also taught for three years.  He has also taught for several years in Seoul, Korea at Sogang University and as a Visiting Professor of Moral Theology at the Loyola School of Theology of the Ateneo de Manila, Philippines.  On the weekends, Father Bretzke ministers at St. Michael's Parish in Bedford, Mass.

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Professor Groome is a professor of theology and religious education Boston College's School of Theology and Ministry. His areas of expertise focus on Catholic and religious education and then on the general issues of the Catholic Church and society; religion and politics; the papacy; pastoral ministry, spiritual practices. He is the author of numerous books including Catholic Spiritual Practices; Will There Be Faith? , What Makes Us Catholic: Eight Gifts for LifeEducating for Life, A Spiritual Vision for Every Teacher and ParentChristian Religious Education: Sharing Our Story and VisionLanguage for a "Catholic" Church and Sharing Faith: A Comprehensive Approach to Religious Education and Pastoral Ministry. Professor Groome is also the primary author of various religious education curricula which are widely used in Catholic schools and parishes; his most recent curriculum is The Credo Series for High School age students from Veritas.

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He is one of the most popular Popes in modern history; however, almost a year into his papacy, Pope Francis may be shaping perceptions of Catholics towards the Church, but not their actions. A Pew Research poll being released today shows while Catholics are more excited about their faith, it's not translating into more frequent attendance at church or confession, nor are more people identifying themselves as Catholic.

“It doesn’t surprise me - I think perhaps there’s a naive assumption at work that you would see dramatic changes in behavior because of a pope who’s only been in office for one year,” says Richard Gaillardetz, Joseph Professor of Theology at Boston College and president of the Catholic Theological Society of America, the largest professional association of Catholic theologians in the world. “There’s always a tendency to measure these things in terms of a few easily measurable data points like mass attendance, frequency of confession, Quite frankly, I’m not sure those are the best indicators to understand change in terms of vitality of Catholic life in parishes. There’s just a lot of other things that might reflect different behaviors, different ways on engaging in the Catholic faith that can’t be measured by statistics regarding confession and mass attendance.”

The pontiff, who celebrates his one-year anniversary on March 13th, is the first social media friendly Pope, yet the Twitter traffic he generates with every Tweet has not led to more traffic inside America's cathedrals. But that may come down the road.

“If behavior is going to really change, it has to start with changes of attitude, it has to start there at the top and then trickle down into choices that people will make in their lives,” says Boston College School of Theology and Ministry Professor James Bretzke, S.J., author of five books. “I think if there’s going to be real change in attitudes as opposed to a transitory change in attitudes, then that will take time and I think over a period of some years and not some months we might then be able to track the changes better.” 

A large majority of those sampled indicated Pope Francis is addressing priority issues such as standing for traditional moral values, spreading the Catholic faith, and tending to the needs of the poor. While enthusiasm for the faith is up significantly, "the Francis effect" may well be judged on what Catholics do, not what they say.

“You can’t expect Pope Francis to turn the church around literally a 180 degree turn in a year,” says Thomas Groome, School of Theology and Ministry Professor at Boston College and author of seven books on the Catholic faith including Language for a "Catholic" Church and Sharing Faith: A Comprehensive Approach to Religious Education and Pastoral Ministry. “We had two very different types of popes for the previous 36 years; they were different in style and substance as well. I think the kind of enthusiasm he has generated in just the past year is phenomenal. Pope Francis is going to turn the church around and send it in a whole different direction.”


Media Note: Contact information for additional Boston College faculty sources on a range of subjects is available at: /offices/pubaf/journalist/experts.html


Sean Hennessey
Associate Director
Office of News and Public Affairs
Boston College

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