SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) - It's just his first day as pontiff, but will Pope Francis be able to help the Roman Catholic Church as a new poll shows strong Catholic identity is at a four-decade low in the U.S.?
The new Pew Research Center analysis shows only about one quarter of American Catholics called themselves "strong" Catholics last year. That's down more than 15 points since the mid 1980's. It is some of the lowest levels seen since religious identity was first measured.
With the excitement of a new Pope, religious leaders hope this will reinvigorate the faithful.
"I think it's just a sign of the good things to come with this pope, and we just hope and pray he will be with us for a long time and to lead our church," said Fr. Gary Dailey, a priest in the Diocese of Springfield.
Still, others are skeptical that much will change under the new pontiff, at least not right away.
"I think they're really not going to change their ways too much. It's going to take a long progress to get it done, but I think eventually they're going to see the right way and probably start making changes that will bring more people into the church," Michael Breault of Palmer said.
Another poll by Pew found that over the past century, the number of Catholics around the globe has more than tripled to 1.1 billion. In addition to conversions, however, the increase comes during a time when the world's overall population rose rapidly as well.
There were an estimated 75 million Catholics in the U.S. in 2010.