- The Washington Times - Friday, April 12, 2024

Three-fourths of American Catholics say they approve of Pope Francis, but his poll numbers are slipping as political polarization grows, the Pew Research Center found.

Francis’ approval rating, combining 49% who hold a “mostly favorable” view with 26% saying they’re “very favorable” toward the first pope from South America, has dropped 8 percentage points from September 2021 and is his lowest rating yet, the survey found.

Among all U.S. adults, Francis gets a 57% favorable rating with 29% viewing him unfavorably.

Pew said a “large partisan divide” now exists in U.S. Catholics’ views about the pope. While 89% of Catholics who say they’re Democrats or “lean Democratic” approve of Francis’ performance, that percentage drops to 63% of Republican Catholics or those who lean toward the GOP.

Just 7% of Democratic-aligned Catholics hold an unfavorable view of the pope, down 8 points from 2018, Pew said. By contrast, Republican-affiliated Catholic unfavorables climbed from 28% seven years ago to 35% this year.

“The partisan gap in views of Pope Francis is now as large as it’s ever been in our surveys,” the Pew report stated.

The survey also revealed a disconnect between many U.S. Catholics and the church’s teachings. Survey respondents, at 83%, said the church should allow Catholics to use birth control, while 75% said unmarried Catholics living together should be allowed Communion.

Permitting priests to marry was favored by 69% of American Catholics, Pew said, while 64% supported allowing women to serve as priests. A majority of those surveyed, 54%, said the church should “recognize the marriages of gay and lesbian couples.”

Those numbers were boosted by Catholics who were largely Democrats or lean Democratic (57%), with 56% of those in favor of progressive changes saying they seldom or never attend Mass, Pew said.

The survey was conducted Feb. 13-25, before this week’s Vatican statement that condemns sex-change surgery and surrogate parenting. But the poll came after a December pronouncement allowing priests to bless same-sex and cohabiting couples, a move that provoked pushback from some U.S. Catholics.

The late Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI was viewed slightly less favorably at the time of his unexpected resignation than Francis is now. The German-born pontiff had a combined 74% favorability score, 1 point lower than his successor.

Neither leader, at his apex, hit the 91% to 93% rankings given Pope John Paul II, who is now canonized as a saint. Francis’ highest score was 90% in February 2015, while Benedict XVI’s 83% in April 2008 was the height of his popularity in the U.S.

Pew said it received survey responses from its American Trends Panel of 12,693 U.S. adults, including 2,019 Catholics who formed the basis for the Friday survey. The margin of error for the full sample is plus or minus 1.5 percentage points.

• Mark A. Kellner can be reached at mkellner@washingtontimes.com.

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