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
Is false religion true?
Hmm. That's a tough one. Let me replace religion with different types of bras and put my head on this some more...
If the cup size is right, the styly and type are less important
Have fun with the bras instead of what's in them, Alias.
I came here to aggravate Atheists and Christians but I can't find any that are any fun tonight.
maybe you ain't that smart
It isnt' me, all I can get is comments from stupid people.
There was no Christmas Mass coverage. All you heard was that idiot woman asking idiot question to idiot people who had nothing to do with the mass. What is happening to CNN?
If there really was a god, we wouldn't need church leaders of any kind.
Just because there are tons of church leaders it doesn't mean we need them.
CNNs coverage of the Popes Mass is disgusting. All you could hear was the CNN talking HEADS. Shame
CNN's coverage of the Pope's Christmas Mass is so disappointing! I want to hear HIM SPEAK- not with constant overlay of CNN commentary. The interpreter's voice is fine, but I cannot hear with your ridiculous interruptions of comment!! That should be saved for later, to clarify and summarize. I am not even Catholic, but am interested in witnessing the Pope's first Christmas Mass! All I can do is change channels, and maybe someone will post where I can see this without constant interruptions and comments!
Compared to that stodgy humorless ugly jihadi Ayatollah Khomeini Francis is okay
The pope is the man!
Statistics, like love, is in the eye of the beholder. Experience tells how easily people fall in and out of love. Or, as the saying goes: "Love is blind".
I must admit that I love this Pope, as I did all the others, because, simply, he is the Vicar of Christ.
For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many. Matthew 24:5
"Vicar of Christ"
Was very happy to hear him on the day of his election and deeply touched bu his Humanity and simplicity.
But was utterly dissapointed in the Christmas Eve Mass that He celebrated. All in Latin. I thought he was going to open the windows of the Chuirch like Pope John XXIII.
Perhaps the Vatican Kremlin has his hands tied.
Being to popular may not be a good thing for the leader of a religion. It's not suppose to be a popularity contest!
Google " peter romanus"
I've lived to see it .the deadly wound has been healed (rev 13:3) since it was inflicted in 1798 by the french – and it has been healed by the nation from the earth (rev 11 – 12) . for years i've seen it healing ,now it has reach it's maximum .we truly are living in the time of the end . study daniel 7,8 and 12. and study revelation 13 . time is winding down folks .
The end is only the beginning.
I pray it comes in a flash and is over quickly. Lord of Lords be merciful.
i pray you stick to the bible and bible only .
The head wound to the Beast. Pertains to the promise that Christ fulfilled causing enmity between Satan and the bride of Christ. The bride being his chosen ones who will be washed clean in the blood of the Lamb and reign with Christ for a thousand years... before returning the kingdom to God.
Don't you think waiting 2000 years is pretty stupid?
People have been saying the end is near for the past 2000 years and will be I suspect for the next 2000
in the days of noah people didthe same thing . but eventually the flood came . and took quite a while for it to come too . but it DID come . once you study the prophecies you'll see we're living in "the time of the end" . meaning we are living in the final phases . who am i to say this will last for 10, 50 , 100 or even 150 years. all i know is everything ive studied and matched with history has come to pass .
Do you have specific examples of a biblical prophesy that has come true?
Cool... can I have your stuff then? Your not going to need it right?
SO PINK CHISTSMAX.
BUT POLITICS AND CHILDS KILLING PEOPLE.
AND UNDER YOUR CHRISTMAS TREE WITH A HUMAN CASE FOR THE YEAR BIENE GANANEN MONEY TO GIVE CHILDREN A SHOPPING?.
POLITICS IN LATIN AMERICA SELLING YOUR MOTHER FOR STUDIES OF THE HUMAN RACE.
MAKE THEM IN THE CHRISTMAS radiate cauterized SPURS MAKE THEM IN D$DEXUAL AREAS.
Get back to us after you take your medication
He is still brainwashing his sheep with biblical fairy tales to be taken as fact. Let's be realistic, Jesus is dead and has been dead for over 2000 years and is not coming back.- no matter how many times you fill your pastor or priests collection pot to tell you otherwise. He is not the son of God, nor was his mother a virgin.
There are no men, boys or women with wings on flying around blowing horns.
If you don't believe it, go do something more productive with your life. You're still a slave to religion, clearly.
He's using people's faith in God to his own benefit. And angels? There are plenty of them around... and, you're right, they aren't men, women or children.
It is too bad that you have not been able to heal from your experience with Religion. You are not going to teach anyone anything on this site
Changes at the Vatican bank?
Yep, BIG changes as they are under investigation for laundering money for the mob (Mafia)
And we love him...
You're right...no religious insti.tutions have ever been been investigated before....
It seems that you are unaware that investigating the Vatican Bank is a good thing.
Keith: Keep up... you're falling behind. Read between the lines and leave some room for sarcasm. I think it's a good thing... Absolute power corrupts, absolutely. Remember?
Thanks, I didnt' understand you meant that.
The Pope is obviously a very compassionate man, but still very backward in his prevention of marriage for his pedohile, rapist priests who have destroyed of so many young bioys and their parents all over the world.
I'll be impresses when there are female and Gay Catholic Priests and Bishops. 'Til then it's all PR. hype.
Quite a few gay priests already. Most aren't open about it.
The priesthood is nothing but kweers...where have YOU been???
That is patently untrue.
They already have plenty of gay priests, who do you think are buggering all those alter boys?
He's Daniel's favorite 'subject.
We'll see how he treats the refugees in Italy. So far, not a word.
He runs Italy?
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.