03 April 2020, The Tablet

Pope viewed more favourably, report finds

by Mark Pattison, CNS

Pope viewed more favourably, report finds

Pope Francis celebrates a mass in Saint Marta at the Vatican.
VATICAN MEDIA /CPP / IPA/IPA MilestoneMedia/PA Images

Pope Francis' favourability ratings among Americans of virtually all stripes are up from their low in 2018, according to a report today by the Pew Research Centre.

Among Catholics themselves, 77 per cent have a "very" or "mostly" favourable opinion of the pope, based on responses by 270 Catholics during Pew telephone surveying in January.

That's five percentage points up from his low of 72 per cent in September 2018, when the US church had been buffeted by revelations of sexual misconduct by then-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and the issuance of a Pennsylvania grand jury report that detailed sex abuse by more than 300 priests and other church workers in six of the state's dioceses over a 70-year period starting in 1947.

In all, 1,504 U.S. adults were surveyed.

Pope Francis' favourability numbers are up among Catholics who are, or lean, Democratic, as well as those who are, or lean, Republican.

He registered 87 per cent approval among Catholic Democrats but 71 per cent among Catholic Republicans, indicating a partisan divide within the church that Pew has found deepening in its recent polling on the question.

He also registered gains among non-Catholics.

While Pope Francis had enjoyed majority support among white evangelical Christians in the past, a plurality of 43 per cent now view him favourably, while 39 per cent view him unfavourably. In the September 2018 survey, more evangelicals saw the pope unfavourably, 34 per cent up from 32 per cent

White non-evangelical Protestants' favourability jumped from 48 per cent in 2018 to 62 per cent in January.

Americans who consider themselves unaffiliated with any denomination gave the pope a 58 per cent favourability mark, up from 52 per cent.

Because of the relatively small number of Catholics surveyed, no breakdowns are available on such demographic characteristics like age, race and language, according to Claire Gecewicz, a Pew researcher and co-author of the report.

By comparison, Pew asked the "favourability" question of about St John Paul II three times between 1987 and 1996. His net favourability rating was between 91 per cent-93 per cent. Pew asked the question five times during Pope Benedict XVI's 2005-13 pontificate, ranging from a low of 67 per cent shortly after his election as pontiff to 83 per cent during his 2008 pastoral visit to the U.S. The other three times he achieved 74 per cent.

The same question has been asked about Pope Francis 10 times during his seven years as pope. His highest mark was 90 per cent in February 2015.

Prior to the two most recent polls, his previous low was 79 per cent in September 2013, six months after he became pope. Otherwise, he has reached 81 per cent-87 per cent in polling.

The margin of error for the January survey is 3.0 percentage points for all respondents, 7.0 percentage points for Catholics, 11.5 percentage points for those who said they go to Mass weekly, and 8.8 percentage points for Catholics who said they go to Mass less often.

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