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. One one

    So, what are the concerns of the 12% of Catholics who don't approve of him ?

    December 24, 2013 at 8:47 am |
    • mike

      Well, technically they are sinners, since the Pope is supposed to be infallible. Funny how that changes when the guy says something they don't like...LOL.

      December 24, 2013 at 11:35 am |
      • Jake

        As a Catholic, I find much of what the current Pope says to be a bit unsettling. The Pope is "infallible" when speaking on faith and morals only. It is not a sin not to agree with the Pope. To hold the Pope higher than a pastor or servant of God is Ultramontanism a heresy defined long ago. I think that this Pope just wants to be popular. The Catholic Church did not grow under him as a Bishop, it floundered and lost membership. His acts of "humility" like living outside the papal apartment but maintaining it and using it anyway is just for show in my opinion. It is not a sin to have an opinion.

        December 24, 2013 at 1:28 pm |
        • Evangelarry

          No one on earth is infallible. The Bible says; that he who has no sin is a liar and the truth is not in him.

          December 24, 2013 at 5:52 pm |
  2. kevin kevins

    "Don’t set out to raze all shrines—you’ll frighten men. Enshrine mediocrity, and the shrines are razed.

    December 24, 2013 at 8:47 am |
  3. JLXvsElvis

    I think Pope Francis is awesome! His approval ratings are high and that makes rush limbaugh seethe with anger. Makes it all worth it! I'd love to see limbaughs head explode. Behind a glass wall of course.

    December 24, 2013 at 8:45 am |
    • fools

      OK priest

      December 24, 2013 at 8:54 am |
  4. Read101

    Does the bible say to celebrate it

    December 24, 2013 at 8:43 am |
  5. Ricky Gibson

    It's been done before.

    Everything he is saying is old. About 2000 years old to be exact.

    December 24, 2013 at 8:43 am |
  6. Lula

    I love this Pope and everything he is doing to bring Christ to the needy and world..

    December 24, 2013 at 8:41 am |
    • fools

      yes, deny the children a bused and suffering today. he deflects well

      December 24, 2013 at 8:55 am |
  7. magnum12

    Best way to increase ratings and revenues is to say that there is no more sins. Way to go Francis. You may just saved the church fron oblivion.

    December 24, 2013 at 8:39 am |
    • Newnews

      If the Pope did not believe in sin , he would not encourage us to go to confession. He would not refer to "sinners". Please read what he says instead of relying on media "takes" on what he said.

      December 24, 2013 at 11:50 am |
    • Blackm

      AMEN! I am an evangelical Christian and have MANY issues with the Catholic Church and its teachings, however Pope John Paul II was a kind man and a good leader and stuck by Biblical principles. This pope is almost just a politician and trying to make ppl happy, probably couldn't quote one scripture off the top of his head. But, having a crooked pope would not be the first time, the majority of them have been in their history. That is why it is important to read scriptures for ourselves and discern for ourselves what these "experts" are saying that probably don't even have a clue themselves.

      December 24, 2013 at 8:52 am |
      • Joan

        Very important point. I am sure when we get to heaven only those who can quote scripture off the top of their head will be allowed in. Someone like this lowly Pope who appears to confine himself to merely living the scriptures would certainly never make it.

        Just a thought, since you say it is important to read the scripture and discern for yourself, what makes you think that the error on discernment is on his part and not yours. Heck you could both be wrong.

        December 24, 2013 at 3:52 pm |
      • Ray

        Funny you accuse him of not knowing scripture. He's actually living the message of Jesus, unlike most Christians I know. The reason you have so many issues with him is because you're an evangelical. Without getting too technical, evangelicalism is more of an amalgamation of American patriotism and the Apostle Paul's teachings than an actual Christ-based philosophy.

        December 24, 2013 at 12:14 pm |
      • Frank

        I highly doubt the leader of the Roman Catholic Church is not familiar with scripture. He is not a politician. He is a kind, compassionate leader and for the first time in a while is actually trying to follow the words of Jesus. Jesus was about love, not condemning other people and their lifestyle.

        December 24, 2013 at 9:01 am |
        • fools

          as caring for the least of the children? Those abused with struggling lives are the least. many are mentally ill today. The pope deflects

          December 24, 2013 at 9:09 am |
    • lol??

      That's a HAHA doctrine. Call the Harvard chaplain if ya don't believe it.

      December 24, 2013 at 8:50 am |
  8. tony

    I want to wish the Pope a very Merry Christmas and the same to everyone else..

    December 24, 2013 at 8:38 am |
  9. Mark

    Ironic story: The masses 'approving' the Pope. If 'approval' is the goal of the Pope, wrong man for the job. He has a lot to learn in order to be more like Jesus as simply shown by his derogatory and prejudicial remark about how 'pagans' act. Only Gods approval and judgement of this man matters. Good fortune to him...good fortune to us all in our endeavor to live a meaningful life.
    Good fortune to all this wonderful day and season and bless you all in the way you feel comfort and good will personally and l toward others. From that place that ties us all together beyond how we view the world and believe it to be, my best to you all. May we move forward in ways that support each other and this includes the Pope.

    December 24, 2013 at 8:38 am |
  10. James

    CNN says herein: "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" (and I might add, the World) ... The answer: 7 years.

    December 24, 2013 at 8:27 am |
    • MoodyMoody

      He's 77. Francis may not live that long, and probably won't if the Vatican hard-liners have their way.

      December 24, 2013 at 3:12 pm |
    • lol??

      Honeymoon is pagan. Boids and bees are everywhere, except for popes. Naughty CNN prophet.

      December 24, 2013 at 8:48 am |
  11. ItSoNlYmE

    So the Pope is essentially espousing socialism on a grand scale and his approval ratings are sky high.

    Obama espouses policies that simply try to help the needy and make things better for everyone by making sure we all have health insurance, and his poll numbers are in the toilet and he's the devil.

    I love America...

    December 24, 2013 at 8:23 am |
    • will

      so in the end its all about you and your money

      December 24, 2013 at 8:45 am |
    • Nick

      Catholic economic teaching is heavily against socialism, communism, and any other system where the government is in control of people's assets. What the pope was saying in that interview is that "trickle-down" (that's a mistranslation, by the way) economics relies too heavily on the goodness and charity of the people at the top who are constantly tempted by greed and power. They have to step outside themselves in order to help those below them, and they often don't. Capitalism is better, imo, than a lot of economic systems out there, but it's naive to think that it is perfect. A criticism of it is not necessarily an endorsement of any other particular system, as I would like to explain to Rush Limbaugh if I had a chance.

      December 24, 2013 at 8:37 am |
  12. Name*jiuuu

    Its hard not to like him.

    December 24, 2013 at 8:22 am |
  13. trollol

    LOL! Enough said.

    December 24, 2013 at 8:10 am |
    • mark

      You're an ass!

      December 24, 2013 at 8:39 am |
  14. maddiemae

    I don't trust him.

    December 24, 2013 at 8:07 am |
  15. Fred

    As an atheist, I fully approve of Pope Francis. Don't get me wrong, Pope John Paul II wasn't a bad guy either but Pope Benedict was truly awful. Pope Francis makes religion seem less offensive.

    December 24, 2013 at 8:06 am |
  16. Chatm Quark

    Well I admire the performance of the Popes Francis as a compassionate person, his approval rate in America has been heavily skewed by his PR department. Massive press coverage of his acts of humility and his words of kindness and reconciliation, of course it is not hard to look better than Ratzinger. In Europe the people get more media coverage of the ugly side of the RCC. Much more coverage of the Vatican banking scandal, the opulence of the Cardinals and Bishops, and of course the s&x abuse scandals from around the world. For example, within days of refusing to hand over doc uments to the UN Committee on Rights of the Child, they cover the story by announcing their in house commission to all of a help the victims, clever way to deflect bad press with a good news story. Frankie is OK his PR department is what is excellent.

    December 24, 2013 at 8:01 am |
    • Chatm Quark

      Poor proofreading.... to all, for help for the victims....

      December 24, 2013 at 8:05 am |
  17. Edward Boothe

    Why am I not surprised.

    December 24, 2013 at 8:00 am |
  18. Elena

    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.

    December 24, 2013 at 7:49 am |
    • Honey Hush

      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.

      December 24, 2013 at 8:16 am |
      • Alex

        I guess it's better to judge people by "insane Pagan standards," instead, like you're doing... right, Honey? Hush.

        December 24, 2013 at 12:50 pm |
      • Xenophone

        You sound pretty crazed with pride and anger yourself. i wish you a better day tomorrow. Amazing how personally spiteful folks like you get.

        December 25, 2013 at 3:45 am |
    • Bernard Webb

      That is one really long sentence. Is it a code?

      December 24, 2013 at 7:56 am |
    • ArrogantSteve

      grammer = trap! :) :)

      December 30, 2013 at 9:40 pm |
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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.