Five years in, Americans’ love of Pope Francis remains strong

 03.05.2018  Pope Francis greets people during an audience with Italian nurses in Paul VI hall at the Vatican March 3. (CNS photo/Vatican Media) Pope Francis greets people during an audience with Italian nurses in Paul VI hall at the Vatican March 3. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

American Catholics still love Pope Francis as he approaches the fifth anniversary of his election next week—though Catholic Republicans increasingly describe him as “too liberal” and less than half of U.S. Catholics believe he is adequately handling clerical sexual abuse.

According to a new Pew Research Center poll released on Tuesday, 84 percent of U.S. Catholics hold a “favorable” view of Pope Francis, a number nearly unchanged from the early days of his pontificate. Huge majorities of U.S. Catholics also agree that the pope is humble (91 percent) and compassionate (94 percent).


The percentage of U.S. Catholics who rate Pope Francis favorably has been consistently about five to 10 points higher than in similar polls taken during the reign of Pope Benedict XVI, who retired in 2013. Pope John Paul II regularly received higher favorable ratings than both of his successors, with more than nine in 10 U.S. Catholics rating him favorably. (Pew notes in its report, however, that its polls during John Paul’s papacy were conducted before widespread reporting about sexual abuse by Catholic priests.)

According to a new Pew Research Center poll, 84 percent of U.S. Catholics hold a “favorable” view of Pope Francis.

But the political polarization rampant in U.S. culture also affects the church, with some differences in how Catholic Democrats and Republicans view the pope.

More than half of Catholic Republicans (55 percent) say Pope Francis is “too liberal,” up 32 points from 2015. Roughly a third of Catholic Republicans say Pope Francis is “naive.” Still, 79 percent of Catholic Republicans give Francis a favorable rating, compared with 89 percent of Catholic Democrats.

And the share of Catholics who believe Francis is changing the church for the better has fallen.

More than half of Catholic Republicans (55 percent) say Pope Francis is “too liberal.”

Fifty-eight percent of U.S. Catholics say Pope Francis represents a change “for the better,” down 10 points from 2014. The share of U.S. Catholics who say he represents a change “for the worse” grew 5 points to 7 percent over the same time.

Some of the pope’s critics have taken issue with his teaching on family issues, many of which are contained in his 2016 pastoral letter “Amoris Laetitia.”

The Pew poll did not ask about the letter specifically, but it found that 26 percent of U.S. Catholics believe Pope Francis has done “a lot” to make the church more accepting of divorce and remarriage and 33 percent believe he has done “a lot” to make the church more accepting of homosexuality.

The share of American Catholics who say Pope Francis is “excellent” or “good” on how he handles the church’s struggle to address sexual abuse by clergy has fallen 10 points from 2015 to 45 percent. It is possible that number could drop further, as the poll was conducted prior to the pope’s visit to Chile, which raised questions about his handling of clergy sexual abuse. There, victim advocates accused the pope of siding with a bishop accused of covering up sexual abuse by a notorious priest. After public outcry, the pope agreed to send an envoy to investigate claims.

The report says there is no evidence of a “Francis effect.”

The report says there is no evidence of a “Francis effect,” at least in terms of Mass attendance or growth in the percentage of the population that identifies as Catholic. And trends in the U.S. church that began before Pope Francis continue, the report found. The church here is increasingly Hispanic (36 percent) and Mass attendance remains about the same as reported by Pew in 2012. The number of U.S. Catholics who say they attend Mass “weekly or more” is 38 percent, according to the report, significantly higher than studies by other polling organizations that place that number at about 25 percent. On social issues, the number of Catholics who support same-sex marriage continues to grow, up to 67 percent in 2018 compared to 54 percent in 2012, while U.S. Catholics remain about split on abortion, with 53 percent believing it should be legal in “all or most cases.”

And while the number of U.S. Catholics who believe Francis represents a major change in the church has fallen since his elevation as pope, many U.S. Catholics praise his influence in making the church more welcoming to L.G.B.T. people, highlighting threats to the environment and reaching out to divorced and remarried Catholics.

Most U.S. Catholics (58 percent) praise the men the pope has chosen to serve as bishops and cardinals during his pontificate. Francis has created more than 60 cardinals during his five years as pope, including three Americans: Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago, Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark and Cardinal Kevin Farrell, the former bishop of Dallas who now heads the Vatican’s family and laity office.

Americans who are not Catholic also continue to admire Pope Francis.

Majorities of white evangelicals (52 percent), white mainline Protestants (67 percent), black Protestants (53 percent) and unaffiliated Americans (58 percent) view the pope favorably. White evangelicals increasingly are skeptical of the pope, with those viewing him unfavorably up from 9 percent in 2013 to 28 percent in 2018. The group where Francis has seen the biggest gains is unaffiliated Americans. Fifty-eight percent of them rank the pope favorably, up from 39 percent in 2013—though a drop-off from the January 2017 high when 71 percent ranked the pope favorably.

The poll was conducted in mid-January and included the views of 1,503 adults, including 316 Catholics, with a margin of error among Catholics of 6.4 percentage points.

Anne Danielson
1 week 5 days ago

We can know through both Faith and reason that if it were true that "americans love for pope francis remains strong", then certainly one of those who claim to Love Francis, would have informed him that this public statement, denies the self evident truth that God declares what is Good.
(Page 117, of the pope's book, On Heaven and Earth, in regards to same-sex unions)
“If there is a union of a PRIVATE NATURE, THERE IS NEITHER A THIRD PARTY NOR IS SOCIETY AFFECTED. Now, if this union is given the category of marriage and they are given adoption rights, there could be children affected. Every person needs a male father and female mother that can help them shape their identity. - Jorge Mario Bergoglio
Approval of same-sex sexual unions is approval of same-sex sexual acts.
Prior to being elected pope, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, by condoning same-sex sexual acts in relationships that he referred to as private, did not include children, and were not called marriage, denied the Sanctity of the marital act. To deny the Sanctity of the marital act, is to deny that God, The Most Holy And Undivided Blessed Trinity, Is The Author of Love, of Life, and of Marriage, and thus deny Salvational Love, God's Gift of Grace and Mercy. To deny The Divinity of The Blessed Trinity, is an act of apostasy.

Anne Danielson
1 week 5 days ago

The erroneous notion that private morality and public morality can serve in opposition to one another and are not complementary, has led to grievous error in both Faith and reason, that has reached even into the hierarchy of Christ's One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, causing physical, psychological, emotional, and spiritual harm. God, The Ordered Communion Of Perfect Complementary Love, The Most Holy And Undivided Blessed Trinity, Declares what is Good.

Tim Donovan
1 week 5 days ago

As a gay Catholic who some years ago had sex with men, I regretted my behavior, and received forgiveness and consolation through the Sacrament of Reconciliation with a compassionate priest. I believe that Pope Francis, who has shown compassion towards gay people and others on the "margins" would be disappointed that while most Republicans think he is doing a good job, many Republicans describe him as being "too liberal." As my late Dad observed, "liberal" and "conservative" are political terms. Pope Francis, in my view, is a holy, caring man who has presented Church teaching on human life, marriage, and family in an authentic but compassionate manner. As Rev. Martin Luther King said, "Morality cannot be legislated, but behavior can be regulated." While many political issues have a moral dimension, our primary goal in life should be follow Jesus' teachings as proclaimed by the Church, and spend eternal life with God.

Anne Danielson
1 week 4 days ago

Dear Tim,

I fear your desire to identify yourself according to a sexual desire/inclination/orientation, has become a stumbling block for you.
“If you say that LGBT sexual orientation is merely differently ordered, you have actually not only changed the catechism in this specific case of the Roman Catholic Church, you have changed the Catholic Church’s understanding of the doctrines of creation, of humanity, of sin, of redemption, of the church. It is an entire re-orientation of the Catholic faith,” Doctor Albert Mohler

Although all of us have disordered inclinations of various type and degree, God desires that we desire to overcome our disordered inclinations, so that we are not led into temptation but become transformed through Salvational Love, God's Gift of Grace and Mercy. Our call to Holiness, is a call to be chaste in our thoughts, in our words, and in our deeds; Love, which is rightly ordered, is devoid of lust.

We Love you, and because we Love you, we desire that you will always be treated with, and will always treat others with Dignity and respect in private as well as in public. We will not tolerate the engaging in or condoning of any behavior, including any sexual behavior that does not reflect the upmost respect for the human person.

Please know that I will keep you in my thoughts and Prayers, with the Hope that soon you will see yourself as God sees you, and Created you to be, a beloved son, worthy of being treated with Dignity and respect, in private as well as in public.…

ron chandonia
1 week 5 days ago

The report indicates that few American Catholics go to mass anymore, and the majority of them no longer agree with Catholic teaching on marriage and respect for life . . . oh, and they like the current pope because they figure he agrees with them. This is not a ringing endorsement, people!

jenny cloud
1 week 5 days ago

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Mike Theman
1 week 4 days ago

Leftists have politicized morality so it's no wonder that politically left Catholics support the Pope based on the media's spinning of his public statements. Devoted Catholics love the Pope because he is the Pope, the successor to Saint Peter. And if you take the media spin out of his ambiguous statements, he is not a leftist Catholic, just a Catholic.

Let the leftists celebrate this Pope's seeming approval of their sinful inclinations, much as they celebrated Hillary's impending victory in 2016.. Faith in faith in God, faith in Christ, and faith in the Holy Spirit, my friends. That's all you need.

arthur mccaffrey
1 week 4 days ago

please note that this poll was taken before the Pope's visit to Chile, and his renunciation of abuse victims. Francis has Obama's eloquence but he also has Obama's inaction, so from an abuse victim's perspective--NO CHANGE!


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