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 Pope is pure Propaganda... as have have been done since 2000 years ago, when they invented Christianity.
How could you belive in the guys (Roman Catholic Church) that concealed for 500 years from the poor Mexicans that the original Virgin of Guadalupe was of Extremadura, Spain? As easy was for the RCC to deceive at this as it was for they to fabricate the Story of Jesus.
Jesus never was trhe Son of God because God has no chromosomes, and if "God" would have created some chromosomes , then that THING would be a CREATURE, not a SON.... my good believer : Think !
google: The Story of Jesus was fabricated by the romans
Your stupid dog?
your stupid sister?
Your stupid grammar?
your stupid worng choice of the form of your?
Pope Francis: You Rock!!!
nice to see the catholic clergy posting as atheist, single mom, baptist, former catholic, using muslim names.. and all the other handles.
Then again, they were trained to deceive,
besides saying a few nice words, what has the pope actually done? no change in dogma. no change in doctrine. what has he done?
All you do is troll message boards looking for delusional religious people to hate on. Nobody on here has actually seen you doing anything different or better.
Are you christian?
You must be Muslim if you critique an atheist like that.
I'm a Muslim, so I can say anything I want.
mirror, why don't you like my question?
Eh, you hate on everything that has to do with religion. You give a free pass to trolls who exhibit bad behavior because they, too, attack the religious people hate. You should clean up your side of the street before you start pointing fingers at a pope.
Eh, you hate on everything that has to do with religion.
+++ not everything. i've given credit many times for churches feeding the poor. so you're wrong.
You give a free pass to trolls who exhibit bad behavior because they, too, attack the religious people hate.
+++ what are you're religious beliefs/views? are you religious? you seem to be coming from a victimization stance. someone criticizes religion and you call it bad behavior - because you disagree with the message. YOU are the only one that has attacked here. YOU, not me. i asked a serious question - which you still haven't answered. you often deflect question for which you have no answer?
You should clean up your side of the street before you start pointing fingers at a pope.
+++ you have no idea who i am. you're judging me based on what must be a tiny percentage of my posts. i love all my brothers and sisters and have said it many, many times. did you miss that? and i have every right to criticize the pope for his inaction.
instead of attacking me, why don't you try answering my question.
I'm exhibiting the same kind of debate tactic that 75% of the atheists on here utilize when discussing with theists.
Apparently you guys don't like the taste of your own medicine.
and once again you avoid the question and instead attack me and atheists.
instead of making accusations, just say "i have no answer for your question."
I'm not Cathoilc, religious or now anything about a pope. I just troll atheist trolls who troll pope blogs.
you definitely do troll. but that seems to be all you do. try adding to the discussion instead of just trolling.
You spot it you got it. We are making progress.
then you haven't looked at many of my posts. i don't troll. i'm asking a serious question. you don't like my question, no worries - move on. but don't spaz out calling people trolls because you don't like the question.
If he changed everything you wanted him to, you'd have nothing to complain about.
He would find something else to hate on. Probably would start trolling sports message boards or political ones.
that'd be great. i'd love to see that. i'd love to look at the pope and have nothing to complain about. lol.
I have the feeling you would complain that he believes in God.
you said if the pope changed EVERYthing...
if he changed everything, he would no longer believe in or support God.
so you're wrong - if he changed EVERYthing, we'd agree there is no God,
thus i'd have nothing to complain about.
but that's not at all what i'm talking about.
i'm talking about making it so women can be leaders in the church - pope francis says they cannot.
i'm talking about instead of ambiguous words like, "who am i to judge?" when talking about g.ays, the pope actually changes doctrine, says there is nothing wrong with being g.ay, tries to stop the h.omophobia spread by the bible.
i'm talking about telling people to USE condoms so they don't get HIV/AIDs instead of telling them not to use birth control.
so Oh, why don't you answer my questions. so far, like you're buddy, you've avoided the subject, instead subtlety attacking me. wanna answer the question?
The Pope lost his priesthood authority a long time ago even though they preached some good moral value. Hopefully, they will change their doctrines, so that the Priesthood will be restored to them.
The fact that the far right are calling him a Marxist and he's causing stirrings at the Vatican should be evident enough. Sure, he hasn't rewritten the books, but he's taking progressive steps in a direction that is better for all of mankind, not just the RCC. There are centuries of mistakes and doctrine that needs corrected, so don't expect anything to happen right away.
For the record, I was born and raised Catholic, but am now agnostic and I applaud this new pope.
i love some of the things he's said, but he hasn't actually done anything. no changes to church doctrine or dogma. pretty words are nice, but they only get you so far. what has he done?
Again, Francis will fail unless he addresses the crumbling historical and theological foundations of the RCC to include the Xmas con. (see p. 1 of the comments for added details)
Most happy about his opinion that the Church should express its views and provide guidance on issues like abortion and contraception, but should not dwell on individual issues to the point of ignoring all other issues.
Total reversal from his predecessor.
As a non-believer, I see this as simply the same book with a new cover. However, the new cover is more appealing than the previous one. IMO, it's too early to tell if the appeal is real or just image.
The Pope is a socialist liberal who should be removed from power.
Who does he think he is ?
The Pope ?
Ms. Palin, you are ignorant. do you think the pop should act like your greedy masters.
Now that's funny.
Why to poll pope's rating? A highest member of a church (Catholics) should always be respected irrespective of what he/she says?? I am Hindu, I like all the religious leaders irrespective of all the religions of this beautiful world. They got into highest level due to their hard work and wise thinking... CNN please don't poll any religious leaders.
They're not polling religious leaders; they're polling the followers.
Albino Luciani - FIP
Yes... Fart in Peace.
For those who don't know, this is Pope John Paul I.
God Bless this good man for a Mormon in Utah
Waste of a life...
Yes you are!
I like this Pope...
...I'm not a Catholic, but I have always defended them because of unfair attacks people made on them, especially evangelicals who's Church is 100 times more backwards and dangerous...
...but this Pope has been a bright new shining beacon in a faith that I always knew had IT in it...
He is becoming too popular for his own good. That doesn't sit well with the dinosaurs that plague the Vatican.
Yep, they have whacked others for less.
Albino Luciani - RIP
Roberto Calvi, RIP.
He probably has someone taste his food before every meal.
I'm gay and I'm an atheist. This man, I hope he opens up the eyes of the so many hateful and judgmental people who don the name "Christian" and use the bible to condemn what they fear or do not know. Every time I see an article with his name on it, I know that when I get done reading it I'll be smiling. He's an amazing HUMAN BEING. We could all learn a lesson from him, regardless of religion or lack thereof. Compassion and empathy win over people much better than hate and anger. Pope Francis, please keep continuing down the path that you're on, and maybe, just maybe more people will follow in your footsteps!!!
Same here ! I'll "amen" to your comment.
I find it odd that an atheist would know what a "Christian" believes, let alone being capable of identifying the good ones that are absent of " hateful and judgmental" ways.
While the Lords Prayer "...thy will be done, on earth as is in heaven..." justifies the popes dream of a utopian society, the embracing of statism will be the downfall of the church. Mostly because statists seek to replace God with Govt. It's really quite simple....if your rights come from government, then government can take those rights away.
Because of this, I think the Pope would best serve the Church by embracing positions of Liberty and Justice. Until then, I will pray for him.
We have quite a few mechanisms in place to ensure that our rights are not taken by the government (separation of powers, bill of rights, consti.tution, etc.) but even if those right did originate from "up above" somehow, without these "mortal" checks and balances, the gov could take them aware regardless of their origin.
This Pope appears to be on the right track more then most people in this world. I wish him the best cause he appears to be a rare and sorely lacking breed among humans these days.
Anybody checked Rush Limbaugh's approval rating? I mean the Pope obviously has friends in high places, so no biggie.
Who cares? Limbaugh panders to a low information base of morons.
I would like him even more if he didn't need a deity to teach human compassion....
Absolutely the point that the theists miss.
The problem is for religions, without gods, miracles, and magic they have nothing unique to offer. The existence of a god is the foundation of their business model.
Agreed. In the meantime, thousands of atheist philanthropists quietly go about the business of caring for their fellow man.
God offers something some are missing HOPE
Hope for what ?
You mean to tell me,
that a Jewish zombie can make me live forever,
if I telepathically accept him as my master…
all because a talking snake convinced a woman created by one rib
to eat from a magical tree?
- Rainer Braendlein
religion is so much more then that, its the feeling inside knowing that there is something there to get you through your tough times and a certain peace that can come over you when you're feeling down, its everything good in this world not "magic"
You say all that dumb crap about religion, but then say "educate yourself" That's hilarious...
But isn't the source of that peaceful feeling the belief that no matter what happens in life, you will ultimately live forever in paradise after you die? In fact the foundation of Christianity boils down to if you believe you go to heaven, if you don't, you go to hell. Sure, there are other elements, but those are just accessories to the core doctrine.
Like the man, disbelieve his religion.
He's right about the worship of money, neglect of the poor, and damage done the middle class by out of control capitalism. When you have Rush Limburger for a critic you are doing the right thing for sure:)
To the theist – what kind of theist are you?
Are you the kind who stays quiet while people who don't believe as you do are being jailed by your fellow Christians in other countries?
Are you that kind?
They're Christians in self proclaimed name only.
Pretty hard to take Christians seriously when they can't even decide amongst the sects what a Christian really is. My interpretation of the bullsh!t is more elegant than yours is, so there, you are not a true believer like me. What nonsense.
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.