The Top Catholic Web Stories of 2017: Pope Francis, ‘Silence’ and Steve Bannon

An interview with Andrew Garfield, pictured here with "Silence" director Martin Scorsese, got the most attention of America readers in 2017. (photo: Paramount Pictures).

Pope Francis’ efforts to bring a Catholic perspective to global debates about migration, racial and religious prejudice and economic inequality inspired some of the most popular stories in America magazine and at americamagazine.org in 2017. But there was an impressively wide range of other topics that got readers’ attention, including reflections on capitalism and philanthropy, a “30 Rock” writer reconnecting with the church through her wedding and evaluations of the music of U2 and Beyoncé.

Some stories had particular appeal for women; some for men. Women showed more interest in pastoral matters (like Pope Francis urging people to give to the homeless) and challenges facing the church (like outreach to millennials); men gravitated more to stories about political conflict, economics and, in one case, the evolution of high school debate rules. Younger readers were drawn to stories about popular culture and political activism, while older readers showed particular interest in liturgical matters and the statements of Pope Francis.

Advertisement
Our culture coverage included Olga Segura’s look at God’s presence in the Beyoncé HBO special "Lemonade."

The most popular story of the year, as measured by the total time that all readers spent on each article (a metric that rewards not only attracting readers, but keeping them engaged), was an interview by Brendan Busse, S.J., with Andrew Garfield, star of the Martin Scorsese film “Silence,” that ran in our Jan. 23 issue. “I have been drawn to stories that are attempting to turn suffering into beauty,” Mr. Garfield said, including his role as a Jesuit priest in 17th-century Japan, a time when Christians were brutally oppressed in that country. In preparation for the film, Mr. Garfield undertook the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola under the guidance of America’s editor at large James Martin, S.J.

Father Martin wrote the second most popular story of the year, an online post commenting on the viral video of a doctor being dragged off an airplane after refusing to give up the seat he had paid for. The incident “helps to reveal how corporate America often puts rules before people and how capitalism often places profits before human dignity,” wrote Father Martin.

To give an idea of the variety of content in America—and the difficulty of predicting exactly what readers will take to—we have calculated the top story for each month from each of our three major sections: Arts & Culture, Faith and Politics & Society (see below). Sometimes readers gravitated toward a Catholic take on current events, like “Five Things Hollywood Could Learn From the Catholic Church,” by Jim McDermott, S.J., after allegations of sexual assaults by Harvey Weinstein and others were brought out into the open, or Michael Redinger’s essay on the tragic case of 15-month-old Charlie Gard, who died after being taken off life support in Britain. Other popular posts seemed to come out of left field, like Haley Stewart’s review of a TV series putting a darker spin on the classic children’s story Anne of Green Gables or Colleen Dulle’s history of the love-it-or-hate-it hymn “Here I Am, Lord.”

Pope Francis' statements on the church and on the world continued to make news in 2017. (CNS photo/Tony Gentile, Reuters)

We have also calculated our most-viewed news stories, which include original reporting by our Vatican correspondent Gerard O’Connell and our national correspondent Michael O’Loughlin. These included Mr. O’Connell’s interview with the Vatican’s top legal expert, who affirmed that Pope Francis was making it possible for Catholics in nonlegitimate unions, including civil remarriage after divorce, to receive the Eucharist under certain conditions. Mr. O’Loughlin made news in the secular press by debunking the rumor that Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch had started a “fascism forever” club at his Jesuit high school and confirming that Sean Spicer, the former White House press secretary, had finally met Pope Francis, after being excluded from a Vatican trip while he was in the employ of President Trump.

On social media, politics got the most interest. Our most shared and most commented-upon stories on Facebook and Twitter tended to involve President Trump, as when he announced he was ending the DACA program that protects undocumented migrants brought to the United States as children or when Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia accused the press of being too harsh on the new chief executive.

Other popular stories involved the former Trump advisor Steve Bannon—a Catholic who has clashed with the church on immigration policy and who has credited St. Ignatius for his abstention from alcohol. The most retweets, however, went to “White supremacy is the opposite of Jesus’ message,” posted by James Martin, S.J., in response to a violent far-right rally in Charlottesville, Va., in August.

From “The Catholic Church in China: A Short Documentary”

America Media’s growing film division received considerable attention in 2017, with documentaries about the largest Catholic parish in the United States (in Charlotte, N.C.) and the Catholic Church in China among our most-watched YouTube videos. Our most-shared videos on Facebook were both filmed in Louisiana. One told the story of a priest who converted an old ambulance into a mobile confessional, and another followed a eucharistic boat procession in Cajun country.

Some stories from prior years continued to do well. Some dealt with natural disasters (a hurricane prayer) and intractable social problems (like gun violence), but a continuing favorite was America’s landmark interview with Pope Francis in September 2013, shortly after he began his papacy.

There were also some stories that did not make our lists because of the Nov. 30 cut-off required by our production schedule, but late-rising stars included Eloise Blondiau’s review of the popular film “Lady Bird,” an essay by the actress Patricia Heaton on the abortions of Down syndrome babies in Iceland and Nichole M. Flores’s cover story on Dec. 11 about the legacy of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Whether their popularity this month offers any clues as to what will be popular in 2018, we dare not speculate, but we will surely keep counting.


Popular America Media stories by month

The top story from each of our three major sections (Arts & Culture, Faith and Politics & Society). as measured by the total time that all readers spent on each article.

January

Andrew Garfield played a Jesuit in “Silence,” but he didn't expect to fall in love with Jesus, Brendan Busse, Jan. 23 issue

On migrants and refugees: “I was a stranger and you did not welcome me,” James Martin, S.J., Jan. 27

On Donald Trump: This is not what pro-life leadership looks like, Sam Sawyer, S.J., Jan. 23

February

(Eric Liebowitz/HBO)

Please stop watching John Oliver, Zac Davis, Feb. 10

Pope Francis opens the door to Communion for Catholics in irregular marriages, Gerard O’Connell, March 20 issue

Confessions of a Catholic convert to capitalism, Arthur C. Brooks, Feb. 20 issue

March

A priest and his mom watched the movie “The Shack,” Eric Sundrup, S.J., March 2

Confessions of a porn-addicted priest, anonymous, April 3 issue

Pope Francis says give to the homeless, don't worry about how they spend it, Michael O’Loughlin, Feb. 28

April

What can Beyoncé and Pope Francis teach us about love?, Olga Segura, May 15 issue

A sorta-Catholic’s very Catholic wedding, Tracey Wigfield, May 1 issue

The United Airlines debacle is about the morality of capitalism, James Martin, S.J., April 11

May

Amybeth McNulty as Anne Shirley in "Anne With an E" (photo: Netflix)

Anne of Green Gables” becomes a gothic nightmare, Haley Stewart, June 12 issue

The case for dragging your bored teens (and tired self) to Mass, Karen Park, May 18

Callista Gingrich picked as U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, Michael O’Loughlin, May 15

June

The book Christians should read instead of The Benedict Option, Jason Blakely, June 14

Father James Martin responds to conversation surrounding his L.G.B.T. book, June 19

The case against philanthropy as we know it, Nathan Schneider, June 26 issue

July

Why does U2 irk so many people?, David Dark, Aug. 21 issue

Should we sing patriotic songs at Mass?, James Martin, S.J., July 3

What some pro-lifers have overlooked in the case of Charlie Gard, Michael Redinger, July 5

August

Sex and the Catholic college campus (book review), Charles Camosy, Sept. 18 issue

Pope Francis says: the Vatican II liturgical reform is ‘“irreversible,” Gerard O’Connell, Sept 18 issue

An open letter to Trump voters from a concerned Catholic priest, George Wilson, S.J., Aug. 15

September

The death of Hugh Hefner reminded us that America magazine had its own wry commentary on The Playboy Philosophy back in the 1960s.

How the Jesuits at America responded when Hugh Hefner sent them Playboy, James Keane, Sept. 28

Attacks on Father James Martin expose a cancer within the U.S. Catholic Church, Bishop Robert W. McElroy, Sept. 18

Here’s what Hillary Clinton says about Pope Francis in her new book, Michael OLoughlin, Sept. 14

October

The corrosion of high school debate—and how it mirrors American politics, Jack McCordick, Oct. 30 issue

Yes, millennials like brunch. But that’s not why they’re skipping Mass, Jackie Semmens, Sept. 25

Five things Hollywood could learn from the Catholic Church after Harvey Weinstein, Jim McDermott, Oct. 11

November

(AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo)

Day of the Dead is not “Mexican Halloween,” Gina Franco and Christopher Poore, Nov. 27 issue

A Thanksgiving prayer for nearly everyone, James Martin, S.J., Nov. 22

Margaret Sanger was a eugenicist. Why are we still celebrating her?, John J. Conley, Nov. 27


Other stats on America magazine website content

Note: Data cover the period from Jan. 1 to Nov. 30, 2017. Only stories original to America Media are counted; each story is counted for the month of its highest readership only. Monthly data is based on estimates of total time spent viewing each story by online readers. Some content is posted on the America Media website before it appears in print.

Most viewed Dispatch stories

A homeless man asks for money during blizzard-like conditions Feb. 9 in in Boston (CNS photo/Brian Snyder, Reuters).

1. Pope Francis says give to the homeless, don't worry about how they spend it, Michael O’Loughlin, Feb. 28

2. Pope Francis: Stand with migrants, do not deny climate science, O’Loughlin, Feb. 16

3. No, Neil Gorsuch did not start a “Fascism Forever” club at his Jesuit high school, O’Loughlin, Feb. 2

4. Pope Francis has ordered a review of the new Mass translation rules, Gerard O’Connell, Jan. 26

5. Pope Francis opens the door to Communion for Catholics in irregular marriages, O’Connell, Feb. 22

6. Pope Francis rebukes Cardinal Sarah on liturgy, O’Connell, Oct. 22

7. Sean Spicer finally gets to meet Pope Francis, O’Loughlin, Aug. 29

8. Pope Francis says he consulted a psychoanalyst, O’Connell, Aug. 31

9. Pope Francis says Vatican II liturgical reform is “irreversible,” O’Connell, Aug. 24

10. Pope Francis appoints two laywomen to key positions in Roman Curia, O’Connell, Nov. 7


Classics

The most-viewed stories in 2017 from prior years.

Deacon John Flanigan holds a sign during a vigil outside St. Louis University College Church Jan. 28 ahead the execution of Missouri death-row inmate Herbert Smulls of St. Louis. (CNS photo/Lisa Johnston, St. Louis Review)

1. 10 reasons to oppose the death penalty, Mary Meehan, Nov. 20, 1982

2. A hurricane prayer, James Martin, S.J., Oct. 28, 2012

3. When Muslims and Christians marry, Rita George Tvrtkovic, Sept. 10, 2001

4. A big heart Open to God: an interview with Pope Francis, Antonio Spadaro, S.J., Sept. 30, 2013

5. Gun control is a pro-life issue, James Martin, S.J., Dec, 17, 2012


Most popular YouTube videos

St. Matthew Catholic Church in Charlotte, N.C.

1. The largest Catholic parish in America: St. Matthew in Charlotte, N.C. (Related story: "Lessons on evangelization from the largest parish in the United States," Leah Libresco, May 1 issue)

2. Fr. James Martin: What does the Bible say about refugees, migrants and foreigners?

3. Catholic Sisters at the Women’s March on Washington on Jan. 21

4. The Catholic Church in China: A Short Documentary (Related story: "How the top-heavy Catholic Church is losing the ground game in China," Ian Johnson, Sept. 18 issue)

5. Fr. James Martin on Charlottesville: “White supremacy is the opposite of Jesus’s message.


Stories especially popular with various age groups

18-24: Andrew Garfield played a Jesuit in “Silence,” but he didn't expect to fall in love with Jesus, Brendan Busse, Jan. 23 issue

25-34: Dear Mark Zuckerberg: Democracy is not a Facebook focus group, Nathan Schneider, Feb. 21

35-44: I thought I could “save” gang members. I was wrong, Greg Boyle, S.J., May 15 issue

45-54: Pope Francis opens the door to Communion for Catholics in irregular marriages, Gerard O’Connell, March 20 issue

55-64: Our Take: President Trump’s dangerous nationalism, the America editors, Jan. 20

65+: “Here I Am, Lord”: The little-known story behind a Catholic hit, Colleen Dulle, Oct. 12


Stories read by twice as many women as men

Pope Francis says give to the homeless, don't worry about how they spend it, Michael O’Loughlin, Feb. 28

Yes, millennials like brunch. But that’s not why they’re skipping Mass, Jackie Semmens, Sept. 25

“Here I Am, Lord”: The little-known story behind a Catholic hit, Colleen Dulle, Oct. 12

Stories read by twice as many men as women

Confessions of a Catholic convert to capitalism, Arthur C. Brooks, Feb. 20 issue

Dear Mark Zuckerberg: Democracy is not a Facebook focus group. Nathan Schneider, Feb. 21

The corrosion of high school debate—and how it mirrors American politics, Jack McCordick, Oct. 30 issue


Most retweeted from @AmericaMag

1.

2.

3.

4.

5.


Most shared content on Facebook

The Spiritual Care Unit has kneeler and curtain, holy water and rosaries, Bibles and prayer cards.

1. America video: “Meet the priest who bought an ambulance on eBay and converted it into a mobile confessional.” (Aug. 29)

2. America video: “Louisiana’s Cajun Catholics celebrate the Feast of the Assumption with a one-of-a-kind Eucharistic boat procession on the bayou.” (Aug. 23)

3. Pope Francis says give to the homeless, don't worry about how they spend it, Michael O’Loughlin (Feb. 28)

4. What does Catholic social teaching say about the GOP health care plan?, Robert David Sullivan (March 10)

5. How the top-heavy Catholic Church is losing the ground game in China, Ian Johnson, Sept 18 issue


Stories with the most Facebook comments

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence gestures as he speaks during the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast June 6 in Washington. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

1. Mike Pence tells Catholics at prayer breakfast they have an ally in President Trump, Michael O’Loughlin, June 6

2. How Cajun country, an old ambulance and 1,200 frog legs led me back to the confessional, Sonja Livingston, Aug. 23

3. Philly archbishop says the press is being too hard on President Trump, Michael O’Loughlin, Feb. 13

4. Steve Bannon: St. Ignatius helped me get sober, James T. Keane, Nov. 17

5. Steve Bannon says Catholics "need illegal aliens to fill the churches", Michael O’Loughlin, Sept. 7

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.

Advertisement

The latest from america

Paddy Considine in ‘The Ferryman’ (photo: Joan Marcus)
In the fallen world of “The Ferryman,” conflict and compromise poison everything.
Rob Weinert-KendtOctober 22, 2018
We need to recover and renew in our lives a vision of the church as a pilgrim people, already holy yet still sinful.
Brian P. FlanaganOctober 22, 2018
Rev. Martina Viktorie Kopecká at the Synod on young people (Credit: Vatican Media)
“I was surprised that they even listened to me,” said Rev. Martina Viktorie Kopecká. “I am quite young and a woman. I wore a white stole. They are not pushing me away.”
Luke Hansen, S.J.October 22, 2018
Two questions arise: First, is Dean Koontz to be listed among serious novelists at all? Second, what makes him a Catholic novelist?
Richard M. DoerflingerOctober 22, 2018