Nowhere is feeling the ‘Francis effect’ more than the Vatican

Vatican guards salute Pope Francis as he leaves St Peter's Basilica (AP)

Have you felt the “Francis effect”? According to an Italian study published this morning 51 per cent of Italian parish priests have. They have reported an increase in Mass attendance since the election of Pope Francis.

Though the report did not specify the reasons for the increase (and there are questions about causation and correlation) one can safely assume that, with both this study and the palpably larger crowds present at papal events, there is something in the Roman air.

What does the “Francis effect” consist of? It’s partly due to Francis’s informality and determination to demystify what often seems an enigmatic office. Some fear this new approach will lead to doctrinal slackness. But this is not a valid worry if one takes into account Francis’s writings and episcopal appointments. The real effect is that the Vatican, that hauntingly complex curial closet of secrets, becoming like a model diocese, abbey or parish.

A friend who had recently met the Pope told me she was astonished that he took time to greet the 500-plus guests individually. The incident illustrated Francis’s paradoxical strength: in being unassuming and familiar he attracts more attention than if he were more remote and august. That way he prompts a perhaps unprecedented amount of reflection on who this man is and what the institution he represents has to say.