By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor
(CNN) – As Pope Francis prepares to celebrate his first Christmas at the Vatican, Americans' opinions of the pontiff appear to be as high as the dome on St. Peter's Basilica, according to a new survey.
A CNN/ORC International poll released Tuesday found that 88% of American Catholics approve of how Francis is handling his role as head of the 1.2 billion-member church.
The popular pontiff has also made a positive impression among Americans in general: Nearly three in four view Francis favorably. The new survey suggests that the Pope is arguably the most well-regarded religious figure among the American public today, said CNN Polling Director Keating Holland.
Nine months into his papacy, the Argentine-born Francis has captured attention with crowd-pleasing acts of compassion, from embracing a severely disfigured man, to washing the feet of juvenile delinquents, to hosting homeless men at his birthday Mass this month.
The Pope has also shown a common touch rare for such a lofty religious leader. He has eschewed the trappings of the papacy in favor of humbler digs, simpler vestments and a cheaper car. He worked as a bar bouncer and a janitor before he was a priest, and is not shy about telling people.
Pope: I was once a bar bouncer
According to one study, Pope Francis was the most talked about person on the Internet this year, and even atheists have professed appreciation for the 77-year-old pontiff.
The breadth of Francis' popularity was on display at American newsstands this month: he was named person of the year by both Time magazine and The Advocate, a gay and lesbian publication.
"While 2013 will be remembered for the work of hundreds in advancing marriage equality, it will also be remembered for the example of one man," The Advocate said. In remarks that rippled across the globe, Pope Francis said in July, "If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?”
Pope Francis on gays: 'Who am I to judge?'
While the Pope has not changed church doctrine, he has urged Catholics to shift their focus from culture war issues to caring for people on society's margins, especially the poor.
"I see the church as a field hospital after battle," Francis said in September.
American Catholics appear to like the new course the Pope has set for their church. Nearly two-thirds agree with him about the amount of attention that should be paid to issues such as abortion and homosexuality, according to the CNN/ORC poll.
More than 85% of American Catholics say Francis is neither too liberal nor too conservative, and 86% say he's in touch with the modern world. By comparison, more than half of American Catholics said Pope John Paul II was out of step with the times in 2003, near the end of his 26-year-long papacy.
But Francis has been a fierce critic of the status quo, especially what calls the "idolatry of money" present in modern-day capitalism. In a papal statement last month, for example, the Pope blasted the theory of trickle-down economics, calling it "crude and naïve."
Conservative critics such as Rush Limbaugh pounced on the Pope's remarks, calling him a closet Marxist. But nearly two in three American Catholics agree with the Pope about capitalism and the free market's effects on the poor, according to the CNN/ORC poll.
Pope: Marxist ideology is 'wrong'
On other key issues for Catholics – the role of women in the church and the sexual abuse crises – Francis gets similarly high ratings from his American flock.
More than six in 10 American Catholics agree with Francis' comments about women in the church, according to the CNN/ORC poll. The Pope has said that women should have a larger role in church governance but cannot be ordained as priests.
Similarly, more than six in 10 American Catholics say Francis is doing a good job handling fallout from the church's sexual abuse scandal, even as most (64%) also say the church overall has done a poor job on the issue.
This month, the Vatican announced the creation of a new commission to care for victims of clergy sexual abuse and to prevent future crimes.
American Catholics had given especially low marks on the sexual abuse scandal to Francis' predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, with just 36% saying in 2010 that he had handled the issue well.
CNN's Holland said it's difficult to ascertain exactly how Francis' popularity stacks up against his predecessors, however. "It's a tough question since polling on Popes is pretty sparse," he said.
What's more, like political polling, approval ratings shift depending on the public mood and perception of a Pope's performance.
For example, three-quarters of American Catholics approved of how John Paul was leading the church in 1994; that number rose to 84% in 1999 and dipped to 64% in 2003, at the height of the church's sexual abuse crisis.
It remains to be seen how long the honeymoon will last for Francis, and how long he can continue to build goodwill among American Catholics.
The poll was conducted for CNN by ORC International on December 16 through Thursday, with 1,035 adults nationwide, including 191 Catholics, questioned by telephone. The survey's overall sampling error is plus or minus three percentage points.
Pope Francis' greatest hits of 2013
The mystery of god are great but the pope is a sinner like you and me to become one good pope he must cleanse himself everyday to try to do the perfect will of god, god loves us but sin separate us from god we can point fingers on who's good or bad for no one is good only gods himself is good is through Jesus our savior we become one with him only by his grace we are safe god created man and woman thats how the world became to be one man and one woman shall unite in one and make a baby no such thing of being lesbian or gay because we were all born out of a woman, fact the pope meant love your brother and sister because we all created in the image of god and we all gods children as i said god love the person but not they sin sin separate us from god we have free will and he is a respecter of our choices but they are consequences of our own choices we make the devil is a liar and he hates you and god god came to safe the world from going to hell because the world needed to be safe from going to hell thats why Jesus the mighty king of Israel came as a baby by the power of the holy spirit by the vigin womb of Mary that through him we have a chance to be accepted in gods kingdom forever to die is to be present with god but to die without salvation through Christ is to be lost in darkness forever hell and heaven is real catholic is the most persecuted but because makes mistake does NOT mean god not forgive because true forgiveness comes from the heart so Christ teaches us forgive as your god in heaven forgives.
That is one really long sentence. Is it a code?
Quit judging other people by your insane Christian standards it is offensive to those that do not believe as you do. You maybe and probably are a desp!cable sinner that needs the crutch a saviour along with someone to reach you about punctuation. I obey the laws of the land, enough with your "sin" guilt trip, keep it to yourself.
I guess it's better to judge people by "insane Pagan standards," instead, like you're doing... right, Honey? Hush.
You sound pretty crazed with pride and anger yourself. i wish you a better day tomorrow. Amazing how personally spiteful folks like you get.
grammer = trap! :) :)
Homeless men-what does that tell you?
a wealthy empire.. gold, stocks,,
That you're an ass too!!!
Yet when Jesus preached...they killed him. Hmmmm
By they killed him, you mean on god the father's orders they him killed, god put out the hit, the ultimate abusive father. Such an unbelievable story, Happy Winter Solstice and Happy Holidays.
Charm, not sure where you get the idea that Jesus was killed on God's orders. Not the case at all. Happy merry everything (I'm raised Christian but I know damn well the vast majority of Christmas traditions have nothing to do with Christianity).
Mr. Quark and Mr. Hobbit,
Jesus was not killed, He sacrificed Himself to expiate our (yours and mine) sins once and forever. The Romans and their henchman were just unwitting pawns. He even forgave them as He died. Kindness and Forgiveness go much farther than hate and recrimination as many at this site should remember.
So you agree that Judas and the Jews were blameless? After all, they were just ensuring that god's will would come to pass correct?
The religious elite killed him, not the masses. The people loved him. So your comparison fails.
The crowd called for Barabus, not Jesus. Doesn't sound like he was that popular at with "the people" after all.
Well according to the Harris Poll the pope /god is what ?
Americans' Belief in God, Miracles and Heaven Declines
Belief in Darwin's theory of evolution rises
Careful on the describing a group. The Catholic Church isn't like the Protestant Church. It allows for the belief in Evolution. In fact a priest Fr. LeMitre proposed the foundation of what we know as the Big Bang theory. The Church doesn't define how God made us... Just that he made us. Not to interested in how.
Arrogant tools like you always give a good laugh, lol. Thanks for that.
I'm not saying I agree or disagree with anything in this article. However, statistics can be horribly misused. 191 Catholics were polled and therefore 88% of American Catholics approve of Pope Francis? Really? Here in my office I polled both my co-worker and myself and Pope Francis only had a 50% approval rating.
and 50% is high among the delusional who ignore the children abused
And where do you get that anyone is ignoring child abuse?
It took COURT ORDERS for the names of the pedo – priests the RCC has been moving around the planet for years !
Strange... considering we continue to have faith in other community leaders (teachers, for example) who are just as likely to abuse...
Yeah, but the schools call the cops, where as the church just shipped the priests all over the country so that they could continue their crimes. There is a difference.
Depends on where you live, if you live on either coast those numbers would be lower which would be expected. Other areas of the country those numbers are probably pretty accurate
wonder why there has never been a black pope, since jesus was black.
shhhhh,, the white supremacist, nazi's, tea party and KKK don't know that
Its not the right time of year for you to be spreading you liberal agenda of hate. Save it for next year.
I'm a conservative. I'm among the group that wants our party back and have been insulted with the likes of the tea party
Well the Pope isn't supposed to be a copy of Jesus.
Where do you get he was black? He was Hebrew so he would look like someone from Israel.
his roots were in northern africa,, he was very dark.
Fools doesn't know what color he was...neither does anyone else...and who cares anyway.
I was taught to judge people by their character, not their skin color. It's a shame you apparently didn't get the same lesson.
There's a lot to like about this man. Although the Pope and I are never going to come to agreement on a lot of things, I admire and respect him. He walks the walk.
He shall do the will of God.
I am not Catholic, but I really like this new Pope. He is much more engaged with the public than the last Pope was. He reminds me of John Paul II, out with the people and bringing people together. I hope he remains the Pope for a very long time. This world needs a good example and he's doing a good job as one!
The nay sayers will be ignored because the mans actions out weigh words. Now, using this example we can really win by electing politicians based on actions not words.
Before this Pope, when I thought of the catholic church the first thing came to mind was the abuse scandal. Now the first thing that comes to mind is that they have a pretty reasonable and likable leader. It probably helps that this Pope doesn't have a German accent. German accents automatically make me think of the Nazi's.
Gee, a Pope who seems to be following the teachings of Jesus. What's up with that?
Jesus was a Jew
Who said he wasn't??
Moderate fhis tucker
The First Amendment doesn't apply to private property, like this website. Why so socialist?
The Pope is kind of cool. Nothing wrong with that.
There are a few of us atheists out here that are liking this pope as well. Especially the part where he has been speaking out against excessive income inequality and the evils of worshiping money.
This atheist knows income inequality is irrelevant. We want lots of rich people. The problem worded in a non politically biased way, is what can we do to make the poor and middle class better off.
Im not a Catholic but this guy has brought out the evils we bring upon ourselves with the income in-equality going on today. Point out the fact that the divide between the very rich and the poor is getting bigger everyday. Politicians should be pointing this out but they are caught up in the greed themselves.
The German Bishop that spent $41 million to tart up his digs while the diocese could only raise a few thousand for the Philippine disaster, shows where the priorities of the princes of the church actually are. Frankie has a lot of work to do to change the mindset of the corrupt leaders of the RCC.
..............If the Tea Party followed this POPE............................................They would be Democrats.............
Good for him! I don't know what good it's doing the world, but better to be liked than hated I suppose.
He has over twice the approval that Obama has. Maybe Obama should take lessons from this man.
Or maybe Obama should take the easier job that is being the Pope
Merry Christmas, Pope Francis and to everyone!
Merry Christmas to you Dave!
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.