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
He is a war monger in disguise, A true evil doer. Catholic=Pagan false religion.
Non to the sense.
The Jesuits are masters of deception. Pope Francis is the Antichrist. Wolf is sheep clothing.
A Jesuit Priest saved my life. How many Jesuits do you know?
pope is doing a good job hiding the truth about the child abuse cover ups. Seems the the truth and the catholic church don't work well together
Evil in disguise. Antichrist
Amen to that!
He is the Antichrist. Wolf in sheep clothing
Maybe he should run for president.
Great idea. Just what we need, more religion in our secular government.
The 25% of disapproval are the far right Evangelicals in the Republican Party who has turn religion into a political party, that being the Republican/Tea Party and the hate that they put forward. Evangelicals can not say they are Christians when what you hear coming out of their mouths are nothing but hate and lies.
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. John 14:6 NIV
The Pope is a liar, and so are you. The Bible clearly contradicts the Pope. The Pope does not teach what the Bible teaches. The Pope is therefore a false prophet. He hates God. He hates mankind because he lies to them and teaches the way of destruction.
You must be promoting the lies of the Evangelicals and Christian Fundamentalists.
Wow. Couldn't be an honest mistake eh? He HAS to be consciously trying to destroy the world?
Were did the first war begin? YouTube Cosmic conflict, the origin of evil. By Dough Bachelor
This pope is the first ever Jesuit priest. Beware American friends the bible says the whole world will follow after this religious system. Search the web, The Jesuit Oath. Also http://www.amazingfacts.org
But Christianity makes so much sense!
An omnipotent god who created the first man out of dirt and the first woman out of the dirt man’s rib later impregnates a man’s wife/fiance' (something about Thou Shall Not Commit Adultery comes in here) to reproduce itself. After the baby (Jesus) is born it disappears for over 30 years, reappears and sacrifices itself to itself with the aid of the Romans. Before it is killed though it walks on water, turns water into wine, heals lepers and makes a zombie out of a man named Lazarus (funny that there is only one source docu.ment for these spectacular events). Jesus tells us that its death is redemption (loopho.le) for having created imperfect beings (so much for omniscience) and that its crucifixion is better than the previous attempt to rid the world of evil a few thousand years earlier. That effort involved 40 days and nights of rain to drown every single living thing except good fish and that which boarded a large wooden boat and dispersed themselves on island continents thousands of miles from where the boat eventually landed. After Jesus’ death it reawakens three days later and tells its followers that if you telepathically promise that you accept it as your master, symbolically eat its flesh and drink its blood it will accept you and cleanse you of an evil force you inherited from the dirtman who was convinced by a talking snake to eat a fruit from a magic tree.
How can you not believe that?
It makes perfect sense that a senseless religion would complement a senseless world.
Don't we just love metaphysical cynicisms..?
One ought try being malleable to another's extolled suggestive commentaries and being less disingenuous toward one's ever changing constructs within one's hierarchies of regulative malleability proposals...
thanks for straightening things out. Now, open some windows in your parent's basement and let some fresh air in.
Says the dirty, fat, toothless, barefoot, redneck, Colt 45 swilling, gun toting, Bible banging, racist, homophobic, fourth grade dropout Christian.
See how easy it is to respond with a stereotype instead of an intelligent, well thought out comment?
Makes more sense than evolution. And there is so much more evidence for everything you said. ; )
What's wrong with those last 12%?
Their small number. Means the USA will never return to a free country, but will fall deeper into the South American style marxist fever swamp.
Take your meds.
If I had a dime every time I read those words...
The worlds Pope has great approval rating, and the U.S. version, or the worlds Dope is spiraling down the drain
He emphasizes service over doctrine. We shall see if he can change some of the doctrine to be more encompassing.
Why do you think he would want to change doctrine? It's quite likely given his literal reading of the life and actions of Jesus that he also takes quite literally the parts of scripture that lead to some of the doctrine that some might want to change.
The Jesuits are an esoteric order, they do not take the Bible as literal truth. The American Evangelicals and Fundamentalists are the ones that believe that.
Hmmm..interesting. The pope holds the same view as Phil Robertson but he has an 88% approval rating?
I think it may have something to do with the delivery of the message; that, and the Pope had never intimated that being gay "morphs" into bestiality.
That's because at least the Pope looks like a human beng.
How hard is it to post a link to the poll? Nice story, nice pope, but calling it a "recently released poll" without actually releasing the poll (in a way that people can find it) is bad journalism. There are some of us who would actually like to see the questions that were ask and how they were answered so we can attempt to decide for ourselves what should be learned from the poll. In fact, some of us might be better qualified to make that determination than the journalists who are trained to write great stories (but not always to properly analyze data).
This man impresses me more every time I see him, so much humility and goodness and while I am not a religious person, I thank God for giving us this Pope!!! He could be what we've been waiting for, not another savior but a very good spiritual leader to guide us all to the garden of Eden!!!
While he ignores thousands of children who were raped and abused by his priests, bishops and cardinals. No Garden of Eden for them!
CNN likes this pope, so we can safely assume he's a bad guy.
No, Limbaugh and Palin dislike him, so we can safely assume he threatens them in some way.
Why is it suddenly the media is make a celebrity out of Pope Francis? The man can be admired to a degree, yes...and I see a lot of humility in him as well as genuine concern for the poor and disenfranchised. But every time I turn around, there's a new article singing his praises.
He's not Jesus. He's just a servant. It's not his role to be a pinup boy for the church. It's his role to guide it and, if necessary, give his life for his beliefs. Perhaps it's time to take him down off the pedestal that most media outlets seem to be hoisting him upon recently.
No one thinks he is Jesus. He brings Christianity back to its roots and preaches a message that has long been forgotten. Since he became Pope, I have had friends who are agnostic come up and ask to learn more about Christianity. How can that be a bad thing if you believe in spreading the word of Christ?
And who would the media replace him. Miley? Lindsay Lohan? (who are also just servants, BTW). I think it is great to see a decent man with a message of kindness and compassion as the media darling for a change.
Nicely said Joan
He's on the cover of Tiger Beat magazine, too...
He'll be on the cover of Madden 2014.
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.