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No rise in Mass attendance for American Catholics, despite pope's popularity

Pope Francis takes part in his inaugural mass in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican, March 19, 2013. REUTERS/Paul Hanna
Pope Francis takes part in his inaugural mass in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican, March 19, 2013. REUTERS/Paul Hanna

By Laila Kearney

(Reuters) - The popularity of Pope Francis, who became pontiff in March, has failed to draw more U.S. Catholics to attend Mass, according to a Pew Research Center poll released on Monday.

While media reports indicate a significant rise in church attendance in some European countries in recent months, the United States saw a slight decrease in Mass attendance since April compared with last year, the survey found.

Since April, 39 percent of U.S. Catholics report attending mass at least once a week, compared with 40 percent of American Catholics who reported that level of attendance last year, according to the Pew Research Center survey.

In the first eight months of Francis' pontificate, 22 percent of Americans identified as Catholic — the same figure from the corresponding months the year before, the poll said.

The Pew Research Center said its sample size for the survey on church attendance was 7,506.

Francis was elected pontiff in March, succeeding Benedict XVI to become the first non-European pope in 1,300 years and the first ever from Latin America.

In September, Francis said the Catholic Church must shake off an obsession with teachings on abortion, contraception and homosexuality, which won him support among liberal Catholics and some outside the church. He also has emphasized greater humility and more concern for the poor.

Francis' Twitter following grew to 10 million in October, a milestone in the Vatican's drive to spread the gospel through social media.

(Editing by Alex Dobuzinskis and Lisa Shumaker)

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