CARA Pushes Back on Schmitz on Pope Francis in the NYT

You perhaps saw the recent piece in The New York Times from Matthew Schmitz of First Things, “Has Pope Francis Failed?”

It could just as well have been titled “I Really Don’t Like Pope Francis, And I’m Looking for Any Proof That He’s Failed.”

But the data doesn’t prove much. As I’ve said before, we’d need a control group unavailable to us to know how successful the Pope is. Suppose Mass attendance goes down 5% under Pope Francis. (It hasn’t – it’s pretty much stable, about which below). We really can’t know whether that’s a failure or not, because we don’t know what it would have done if Francis weren’t pope. Maybe it would have gone down 8% if Benedict had stayed in – so Francis is highly successful at reducing the loss! Who knows.

And this is assuming that it’s all about numbers, that we evaluate a pope based on sociological data, and that the main influence on church data is the pope.

But I don’t need to pull apart those assumptions and write a response – someone at CARA just did so.

This post says everything I wanted to say, but with a finger on the data that I wouldn’t have. And here’s something I’ve not seen from CARA before – satire poking fun at the misuse of data. Go read it: “Did CARA data reveal Pope Francis Failed?

Here’s a teaser:

Since Pope Francis began to lead the Catholic Church fewer Catholics in the United States have been dying. Pope Francis did the best in 2014 with only 391,131 deaths compared to 403,886 in 2012 (a decline in mortality of 3.2%). You are probably alive today because of Pope Francis. The data above “suggests” that if Pope Francis is able to continue leading the Church through the year 2128, Catholics will essentially be immortal in the U.S.

awr

 

 

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14 comments

  1. The whole point of It (meaning the bigger mission entrusted to us in Matthew 28:19) is that the church no longer needs to wait on Father (be he a celebrity pope or a gung-ho local pastor) to put out into the deep. I suspect Pope Francis would preach it himself (and he probably already has). It’s up to every baptized believer to get out into the hinterlands. If Matthew Schmitz hasn’t done everything in his power to lasso seekers, non-believers, and disgruntled Catholics of all ideologies back into the Church, then the man has missed more than the boat on statistics.

  2. Matthew Schmitz seems to be among the people who think that they get to evaluate the job performance of the Pope (this happens in the press with other world leaders/heads of state as well) based against some set of criteria known only to them.
    I always keep in mind the dictum of an undergrad statistics prof I had, who would refer to anecdotes as the enemies of statistics (sometimes he used the more popular “the plural of anecdote is not data”), and so what I am about to convey falls under the category of anecdotal experience (“anecdotal evidence” being something of an oxymoron).
    Perhaps Matthew Schmitz knows/knew some individuals like the ones I knew who got very late-1960s starry-eyed after the election of Pope Francis. The term “Francis effect” was often on their lips, along with admirably hopeful predictions about how things were going to change. I had several friendships cool considerably when I wouldn’t jump on that bandwagon, but said I’d wait for concrete/systemic change to occur. I understand the sign value (and the importance of sign value in a sacramental religion) of much of what he did – or refused to do – in the early stages of his papacy. For some of these same friends of mine, the early ardor of their enthusiasm for Francis has waned, and they’ve admitted to me that the “Francis effect” as they’d envisioned it early on hasn’t occurred.
    Part of the fruit of the Spirit that Paul describes in Galatians is patience. Mr. Schmitz – and anyone who might look at his three data sets and find him to be correct – needs to bear that in mind. And now I’m going to re-read the truly funny piece from CARA. Kudos for making statistics funny.

    1. @Alan Hommerding:
      Alan – thank you. Your prof’s quote – “……would refer to anecdotes as the enemies of statistics (sometimes he used the more popular “the plural of anecdote is not data”), and so what I am about to convey falls under the category of anecdotal experience (“anecdotal evidence” being something of an oxymoron).” is perfect. Reminds me of much of the multiple posts on not eucharist as sacrament but rather the rabbit hole of ad orientem. Some of the anecdotes offered as data really did remind me of your prof’s quote. So true.

  3. The only problem is that in the real world, if a business goes down by 5% you get a new CEO, control group or none. Furthermore, if nothing has changed in the economy for a while and business is not growing, there will be pressure to get a new CEO.
    Oh yes, and any CEO who insults the customers such as by calling them “Pelagians” would be gone within hours in the real world of business.
    The Holy Father should learn from the real world that there is a lot of competition for the souls of people, and use appropriate methods for the Church.

    1. @Victor Wowczuk:
      Except that PF is calling out those who are self-styled members of the board of directors–you know: the people who want to handle the task of consigning heretics of their own choosing to the outer darkness. Thing is, if a business goes down 5%, it will get spun into good news, some scapegoating will occur farther down the corporate food chain, and it will be bonuses after portions of the company are sold off. A parallel case from American civic religion: if the owner has run a team into the ground, you can bet the coach will get fired; not the guy who signs the paychecks.

  4. Perhaps the reason mass attendance hasn’t risen under Pope Francis is that because too often in the local parish (where people are supposed to be attending mass) his example is not being followed.

    Instead of priests who smell like the sheep, preaching mercy, we have priests more interested in finger wagging, parading around in cassocks, and obsessing over Latin. Many parish priests, it often seems, have chosen to ignore Pope Francis and the example he has set and continue on as if the past 3 1/2 years has never happened.

  5. “The only problem is that in the real world, if a business goes down by 5% you get a new CEO, control group or none. Furthermore, if nothing has changed in the economy for a while and business is not growing, there will be pressure to get a new CEO. …would be gone within hours in the real world of business.”

    And there you have the modern American Church. The problem is that it’s not enough of a real world profit making enterprise. Ayn Rand for Pope!

  6. John Drake : Uh, Norman, Pope Francis wears a cassock. And uses Latin. And has wagged his finger!

    Not in the same manner that goes on in many parishes, and I think most people here know what I was referring to in my post. Pope Francis’ example is being ignored in quite a few places.

  7. And as far as the CEO goes, that CEO might well be “gone within hours” but he would leave with a 20 million dollar golden parachute.

  8. It does seem that Pope Francis has changed something. It has more to do with hearts than numbers. Numbers are easy to make sing. If I remember to the start of 2013, I was sensing a place of despair in the Church addressing people who could not find a home. So many responses would finish with
    “Well here’s the door and please secure it on your way out.” The movement of people who listen to what the Pope now says is greater and CARA can track that with their numbers but, as with statistics and responses with the deep heart…the Church just keeps keeping on. In an institution that moves as slowly as the Roman Catholic Church…statistics today of things like ordinations would show a Benedict bump because of the process.

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