According to the numbers published by Vatican Radio on July 15, 2017, Pope Francis has over 35 million followers on the social network Twitter, whose @Pontifex account exists in nine different languages. The account was opened by Benedict XVI in December 2012. Today, according to the Vatican, it is one of the most followed and most retweeted accounts in the world. As the press agency cath.ch pointed out on July 16, 2017, it has more followers than President of the United States Donald Trump’s account (33 million), the Dalai Lama’s, or any other political or religious leader.
In the list of the 100 most followed Twitter accounts, Pope Francis is number 28. The Argentinian pope’s largest group of followers are Spanish speaking with 13 million followers. Since the beginning of his pontificate in March 2013, the pope has sent some 1,250 Tweets. On Instagram, the Holy Father has more than four million followers for his account @Franciscus.
Paradoxically, the announcement of his growing popularity online coincides with that of the constant drop in the number of faithful who attend the audiences in St. Peter’s Square, announced by Il Tempo on July 2, 2017, in an article by Valentina Conti: “If you look at the numbers given by the Prefecture of the Papal Household, ever since 2015, ‘a slow but constant hemorrhage that in a little over two years has taken on worrisome proportions,’ you’ll read online. In 2013, the first year of Francis’ pontificate, 1,548,500 faithful were present for a total of 30 audiences; in 2014, 1,199,000 faithful assisted at the 43 audiences presided over by the pope; for 2016, the total was barely over 400,000. If you look at the details, the papal audiences were followed by an overage of 51,617 people in 2013, 27,883 faithful in 2014, and 14,818 in 2015. The trends seem to point at a further decrease in the future....
“Journalist Antonio Socci penned the article Disastrous numbers show the decrease in the number of faithful coming to audiences with Bergoglio about a year ago. Indeed, the Vatican is growing more and more worried because for the past two years now, people have been literally fleeing Bergoglio, and there is talk of ‘terrible numbers’. His colleague, Sandro Magister from L'espresso, spoke of ‘disastrous data on the decrease in the number of faithful at the audiences with Bergoglio’.” (The Roman Vaticanists customarily call the pope by their family names: Papa Roncalli for John XXIII, for example. — Ed. Note)
In the Corriere della Sera on July 4, Massimo Franco observed, not without irony: “Since a couple months ago, a slight but significant innovation has been noticed, in the restaurant of the Domus Sanctae Marthae, the papal residence inside Vatican walls. Francis’ table is no longer in the center of the room like it used to be. It is in a corner now, and Bergoglio eats with a small number of select guests, with his back turned to the rest of the room.”
Several Roman observers have tried to explain Pope Francis’ isolation. Thus, on July 13, Vaticanist Sandro Magister mentioned the commentary made by the progressivist Pierfrancesco Stagi, professor of moral philosophy at the University of Turin, on the latest book by his friend Gian Enrico Rusconi, also a progressive, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Turin, and author of La teologia narativa di papa Francesco, published this year by Laterza Editions, in which he evokes “a narrative that sows dubia”:
“Francis no longer teaches the way Professor Ratzinger did, but he recounts, he narrates episodes and comments on them. A ‘narrative theology,’ according to Rusconi’s pregnant definition: ‘Bergoglio intends to revitalize, through a narrative theology, the biblical and evangelical events, setting them forth as if they were everyday happenings of the present.’ Such a hermeneutic, however, which is based on poetic and allusive discourses, on continual semantic throwaways, according to which it is rare for one and the same term to define a precise and stable frame of reference, (We are the ones emphasizing this. — Ed. Note) creates not a few dubia, which not only cardinals as stubborn as they are zealous but also secular philosophers of religion like Rusconi (and the undersigned) cannot fail to emphasize, because they threaten to undermine Bergoglio’s project of reform at its foundation. There is the risk that he may leave the field open for improvisers of the word, who open and sow more dubia than they clarify.”
Thus this magisterium that others before Professor Rusconi have called “floating” or even “liquid”, is supposedly the cause behind a lack of doctrinal visibility and a loss of interest for Pope Francis, even on the part of progressives who approve his reformism.
A fortiori, this criticism is all the more severe coming from conservatives like philosopher and politician Marcello Pera, former president of the Italian Senate, who did not hesitate to declare that the pope is playing politics while there is a schism going on in the Church and he is not concerning himself with it. His statement in Il Mattino in Naples was reported by Niccolo Magnani on the website ilussidiario.net on July 10: “Pope Francis does more than just play politics, but Pera, in an interview with Il Mattino, says that ‘a hidden schism is going on in the Catholic world and that it is being pursued by Bergoglio with obstinacy and determination’. According to the former president of the Senate, who is a close follower of the theology and magisterium of Benedict XVI and John Paul II, the ‘new course’ Francis is taking absolutely does not convince him; and he puts forward a very strong comparison: ‘Vatican Council II has finally exploded with all its revolutionary radicalism’ (We are the ones emphasizing this. — Ed. Note). According to Marcello Pera, the ideas leading to the suicide of the Church and that gave birth to Bergoglio’s magisterium are actually to be found in the Council summoned by John XXIII. ‘This aggiornamento of Christianity secularized the Church and launched a change that was very profound, even if, as it was likely to lead to a schism, it was kept under control in the following years.’” This judgment is not far from that made by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre in I Accuse the Council, in 1976.
Despite these attempts to explain the pope’s constant isolation among conservatives and progressivists alike, the battle of numbers continues, and at the Vatican, they are trying to reassure themselves by saying, as the above-mentioned article from Il Tempo reports: “The Bergoglio effect on the ‘revolution’ of the Church is easy to see. Look at the good opinion that remains as high as ever as time goes on, with his repeated walks through the crowds in the Eternal City and during his travels, and the welcome worthy of a pop star that greets him everywhere he goes”.
Perhaps to come closer to the truth, we should take a look at a country where the bishops fervently support Pope Francis’ reforms: Germany. An article published on the website riposte-catholique.fr on July 26, under the title Germany: Catholicism on the Decline…, offers an alarming picture: “Even though the influence of the German cardinals and bishops is on the rise in the Vatican ever since the election of Pope Francis, the weight of Catholicism is on the decline in Germany. All the indicators are in the red according to the statistics broadcasted on July 21 by the country’s episcopal conference.
“In 2016, 162,083 Catholics left the Church (slightly fewer than the 181,925 in 2015…). There are now 23,582,000 Catholics, which is 28.5% of the population. In 1996, there were 27,533,000 (almost 4 million less in 20 years).
“537 parishes were closed in 2016. In twenty years, 3,000 have disappeared. The number of parishes is now at 10,280. Germany had 10,280 priests in 2016 (there were still 13,329 in 2015: minus 3,000!). The rate of participation in Sunday Mass has dropped from 10.4% in 2015 to 10.2% in 2016.
“The number of baptisms was 259,313 in 1996, and has dropped to 172,531 in 2016 (even if there was a slight relative increase in the number of baptisms in 2015 and 2016 compared to the preceding years).
In twenty years, the number of First Communions has dropped by 100,000, going from 291,317 in 1996, to 176,297 in 2016. The same for funerals: 243,323 in 2016, compared to 286,772 in 1996.” And the conclusion: “The Rhine flows into the Tiber, but the great German river is running dry…”