December 24th, 2013
06:00 AM ET

CNN Poll: Pope's approval rating sky-high

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

- CNN Belief Blog Editor

Filed under: Catholic Church • Christianity • Culture wars • Leaders • Pope Benedict XVI • Pope Francis • Pope John Paul II • Sex abuse • Vatican

soundoff (3,274 Responses)
  1. Chuck Monroe

    Thank God this is the last Pope the world will have to endure.

    December 24, 2013 at 11:39 pm |
    • GRAMMA

      Pope Francis has the entire "Message" in one word: LOVE!

      That's the only solution to all problems: in people, countries... the world: "....LOVE."

      December 25, 2013 at 12:04 am |
      • Reality # 2

        Love requires Truth and Francis fails to tell the Truth about Jesus. Added details are available upon written request.

        December 25, 2013 at 12:14 am |
  2. theostein

    What do you expect? He came to deceive the world. (2 Thessalonians 2:1-12

    December 24, 2013 at 10:59 pm |
    • Goobz

      Exactly, the pope is a satanist and pos

      December 25, 2013 at 9:21 am |
  3. Owl Creek Observer

    If the pope is at 88%, where is God?

    December 24, 2013 at 9:49 pm |
  4. Bootyfunk

    the pope gets a lot of credit for not doing anything. he said some nice, if ambiguous, words about various groups - but he hasn't changed dogma or doctrine. he's made no actual changes.

    the pope said about g.ays, "who am i to judge?" he needs to say a lot more if he wants to stop h.omophobic violence justified by the bible. check out Uganda, a christian nation on the brink of rounding up and hanging g.ays.

    the pope said about atheists, all who do good work can go to heaven, even atheists. a nice statement, especially since the bible says atheists go to hell. doesn't really change anything, but it's nice. i do like that he was brave enough to go against the words of jesus who said the only way to heaven is through accepting Him. obviously the pope thinks jesus was wrong here.

    the pope said about child molestation that the vatican is really gonna go after them this time - which is pretty much what all popes say. . but he hasn't released the list of names of priests they already know to be offenders. he didn't say the church policy has changed and priests will immediately go to the police and help prosecute these monsters instead of protecting them. the church has hidden molester priests in their ranks for hundreds of years. the pope says the chuch is really gonna get those molesters now - i'll believe it when i see it. so far they've done nothing.

    the pope confirmed that women are not worthy to be leaders in the male-dominated church. he says women are very important, though. isn't that nice? you're important, but not important enough to ever have a position of leadership in the church. the pope confirmed women are second class citizens according to the bible.

    the pope said about unfettered capitalism, "a new tyranny." this is very jesus-like. jesus was a total commie, giving out free health care and feeding the poor for free.... i like that the pope is following jesus' views, but i notice he doesn't tell poor people not to give at church, to keep their money for themselves.

    aside from some flowery words, what action has the pope taken? why is he time's 'man of the year' without having actually done anything?

    December 24, 2013 at 9:09 pm |
    • vickster339

      The pope along with every other human on this planet will soon be tested. All demagogues of untruth will fall, one truth will remain, and all will know what real fear is. Or, the universe is inherently irrational to sapient lifeforms.

      December 24, 2013 at 9:52 pm |
      • Alias

        or you sre not nearly as smart as you think you are

        December 24, 2013 at 10:03 pm |
    • naksuthin

      The Evangelical version of the Bible is so opposed to the truth of the Bible it's a wonder anyone can go to an Evangelical church and still come out not understanding the truth of the scripture.
      Christ never had anything at all to say about abortion or gays. Yet that's all you hear from Evangelicals today.
      What Christ did say was that divorce is a moral sin and an affront to God's plan. How many times did Christ exhort his followers not to divorce...or be in danger of commuting adultery?? How about 4 times. 4 times Christ said
      "But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery."

      Yet, pray tell why are 30% of evangelical Christians DIVORCED? When do you ever hear Christians condemn divorce the way Christ condemned it?

      No....Christians don't want to call attention to their own shortcomings and sins. They just want to harp on perceived sins not even mentioned by Christ.

      Physician....heal theyself....bigots!!!

      December 25, 2013 at 12:12 am |
  5. fmblog

    Better to be right for the wrong reasons than wrong for the wrong reasons as were his predecessors. Surely, better still would be to be right for the right reasons?

    December 24, 2013 at 8:38 pm |
  6. Alan

    “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light” (Is 9:1).

    This prophecy of Isaiah never ceases to touch us, especially when we hear it proclaimed in the liturgy of Christmas Night. This is not simply an emotional or sentimental matter. It moves us because it states the deep reality of what we are: a people who walk, and all around us – and within us as well – there is darkness and light. In this night, as the spirit of darkness enfolds the world, there takes place anew the event which always amazes and surprises us: the people who walk see a great light. A light which makes us reflect on this mystery: the mystery of walking and seeing.

    Walking. This verb makes us reflect on the course of history, that long journey which is the history of salvation, starting with Abraham, our father in faith, whom the Lord called one day to set out, to go forth from his country towards the land which he would show him. From that time on, our ident/ty as believers has been that of a people making its pilgrim way towards the promised land. This history has always been accompanied by the Lord! He is ever faithful to his covenant and to his promises. “God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all” (1 Jn 1:5). Yet on the part of the people there are times of both light and darkness, fidelity and infidelity, obedience, and rebellion; times of being a pilgrim people and times of being a people adrift.

    In our personal history too, there are both bright and dark moments, lights and shadows. If we love God and our brothers and sisters, we walk in the light; but if our heart is closed, if we are dominated by pride, deceit, self-seeking, then darkness falls within us and around us. “Whoever hates his brother – writes the Apostle John – is in the darkness; he walks in the darkness, and does not know the way to go, because the darkness has blinded his eyes” (1 Jn 2:11).

    On this night, like a burst of brilliant light, there rings out the proclamation of the Apostle: “God's grace has been revealed, and it has made salvation possible for the whole human race” (t/t 2:11).

    The grace which was revealed in our world is Jesus, born of the Virgin Mary, true man and true God. He has entered our history; he has shared our journey. He came to free us from darkness and to grant us light. In him was revealed the grace, the mercy, and the tender love of the Father: Jesus is Love incarnate. He is not simply a teacher of wisdom, he is not an ideal for which we strive while knowing that we are hopelessly distant from it. He is the meaning of life and history, who has pitched his tent in our midst.

    The shepherds were the first to see this “tent”, to receive the news of Jesus’ birth. They were the first because they were among the last, the outcast. And they were the first because they were awake, keeping watch in the night, guarding their flocks. Together with them, let us pause before the Child, let us pause in silence. Together with them, let us thank the Lord for having given Jesus to us, and with them let us raise from the depths of our hearts the praises of his fidelity: We bless you, Lord God most high, who lowered yourself for our sake. You are immense, and you made yourself small; you are rich and you made yourself poor; you are all powerful and you made yourself vulnerable.

    On this night let us share the joy of the Gospel: God loves us, he so loves us that he gave us his Son to be our brother, to be light in our darkness. To us the Lord repeats: “Do not be afraid!” (Lk 2:10). And I too repeat: Do not be afraid! Our Father is patient, he loves us, he gives us Jesus to guide us on the way which leads to the promised land. Jesus is the light who brightens the darkness. He is our peace. Amen.

    ~Pope Francis, Christmas Mass.

    December 24, 2013 at 8:35 pm |
    • Justice

      Alan: Thank you. I give him a 10. With this mass and the one this morning, he nailed it!

      Praying for the power of prayer,

      December 25, 2013 at 5:56 pm |
  7. Dyslexic doG

    Hosana hosana! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the lord!

    A week later they rejected barrabas and demanded they execute Jesus! Popularity is for celebrities and others who idolize what others think of them.

    December 24, 2013 at 8:12 pm |
  8. Pete

    We all know how much the Vatican cares about American polls!! (NOT)

    December 24, 2013 at 8:04 pm |
  9. Tom, Tom, the Other One

    Is false religion true?

    December 24, 2013 at 7:13 pm |
    • Billy

      Hmm. That's a tough one. Let me replace religion with different types of bras and put my head on this some more...

      December 24, 2013 at 8:10 pm |
      • Alias

        If the cup size is right, the styly and type are less important

        December 24, 2013 at 10:07 pm |
        • Counterpoint

          Have fun with the bras instead of what's in them, Alias.

          December 24, 2013 at 10:40 pm |
  10. Keith

    I came here to aggravate Atheists and Christians but I can't find any that are any fun tonight.

    December 24, 2013 at 7:12 pm |
    • Half a christian

      maybe you ain't that smart

      December 24, 2013 at 8:20 pm |
      • Keith

        It isnt' me, all I can get is comments from stupid people.

        December 24, 2013 at 9:27 pm |
        • Two drums and a cymbal

          Bah doom...chhhh

          December 25, 2013 at 5:16 am |
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About this blog

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.