Jonathon Schuldt, social communications expert and professor of communication at Cornell University, notes that Pope Francis’ recent comments about the focus of the Catholic Church may help warm the public’s perception of the church.
“Pope Francis's comments are fundamentally about shaping perceptions of the Church's priorities through the relative emphasis placed on different issues that the Church cares about. The Pontiff seems to acknowledge that in overemphasizing issues related to sexual morality, the Church has neglected other core values issues – like serving the poor and the disenfranchised – that are less controversial and signal greater inclusivity from Vatican leadership.
“It's important to note that the Pope is not saying that gay marriage, abortion and contraception no longer matter to the Church, but rather that other issues matter as well. By framing his comments in this way, the Pope minimizes the risk of alienating his more right-leaning followers for whom issues related to sexual morality are core issues, and likely creates the perception of a more open and accepting church, on balance.
“At the end of the day, the Catholic Church and its leadership are going to be associated with only a few core issues in the minds of the public, given that so much other information and news competes for our limited attention. The Pope's comments suggest that he understands this, and that by shifting emphasis away from these issues to others like helping the poor, he might be able to shift the public's perception of the Church in a warmer and more inclusive direction. Some of the initial reaction on social media platforms, like Twitter, provide early hints that he might have been successful.”