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
In the 4th century CE, Christianity imported the pagan Saturnalia festival hoping to recruit the pagan masses in with it. Christian leaders succeeded in converting to Christianity large numbers of pagans by promising them that they could continue to celebrate the Saturnalia as Christians.
The problem was that there was nothing intrinsically Christian about Saturnalia. To remedy this, these Christian leaders named Saturnalia’s concluding day, December 25th, to be Jesus’ birthday.
The New Testament gives NO date or year for Jesus’ birth. The earliest gospel – St. Mark’s, written about 65 CE – begins with the baptism of an adult Jesus. This suggests that the earliest Christians lacked interest in or knowledge of Jesus’ birthdate.
the date was picked just to have a date.
but on the other hand the reason had to do with the prophecy, the star, and king Herod's desire to kill the First Born of God.
there had to be some secrecy for Jesus.
Internal evidence suggests the birth would have been in the spring. Historically, shepherds are only with their flocks constantly during the lambing season in the spring.
Helping Pagans convert is wrong because?.....
And celebrating Jesus' b-day is wrong because?......
Please help us.
"Helping Pagans convert is wrong because?....."
Becasue you do not respect that their beliefs have the same validity as yours. WHy do you think they need "converting"?
Dyslexic doG- "In the 4th century CE, Christianity imported the pagan Saturnalia festival hoping to recruit the pagan masses in with it."
What a hypocrite. Not shred of proof to back this up...NONE.
He embraces a disfigured man and the collective hearts of the world all melt as though it means anything. There's billions of dollars worth of potential charity locked up in the safes of the Vatican and until Pope Francis literally 'practices what he preaches' you can color me unimpressed. He may not drive the nice cars but they're still parked in the garage.
a good PR campaign with lots of photo ops.
thankfully there are REAL people who do good deeds without the need for $$ and glory, doctors without borders are one. And they actually do something.
Pope Francis (and the Catholic Church) have done more "real" giving to the poor then you can ever imagine.
There does not exist a bigger charitable organization than the Catholic Chuurch...
They are also high up on the list for property holdings.
The Catholic Church is by far the largest charitable organization in the world. Haters gonna hate no matter how many people they help. Merry Christmas!
Think of how many more could be helped of they did as Christ advised and sold their possessions to give to the poor? Surely the catholic church does not need to hoarde millions, if not billions, of dollars in art and treasures. Christ promised them treasure in heaven. Is that not enough?
How would you know how much charitable giving atheists do? Unlike the church, they don't wave their flag when they give. Also, the church seems to pay themselves first before anyone else. Their property holdings are vast. Have you ever seen the Vatican ?
criticism is not hate.
disagreement is not hate.
Stop using the word hate when it does not apply.
Christians getting slaughtered over the Middle East??!!?? What are you talking about, pete?? Or do you know what you're talking about, Pete? Lol, you sound like one of those illiterate Republicans. No facts, all bs and blow.
please don't label all of us republicans as the same. Yes, Palin and the tea party, for starters, are an insult to our intelligence.
Most of us are slowly moving to the middle to avoid the likes of them/
back on topic: If the catholic church were a national day care center.. It'd be shut down and the popes, bishops and cardinals would be sitting in jails today
The only church that Christ founded is the Catholic. 2000 years. The bible is 100% catholic. Simple like that.
The church of the Roman bishop, your "catholics", split off of the true Church in 1054.
peddle your lies somewhere else.
It's comforting that religions in the USA are accountable to our laws first.
The Pope may not even realize that he is evil and the Antichrist. But there are signs and portents. The Bat-Signal is on.
Are you 12?
Thats kind of an insult to 12 years old around the world isn't it :+)
I wonder if he goes fishing with satan ?
Church rules mean nothing now that is why American Catholics like him. They threw those rules out decades ago.
Church rules are treated in the same light as kids tree house rules. No difference. In fact religions must adhere to our laws, their laws are meaningless.
Christians getting slaughtered over in the Middle East and a not a peep out of the Pope.
Too b usy with the gays and the Godless media...
Christians getting slaughtered over in the Middle East and not a peep from this Pope..God help u s all...
But are they catholics? In Egypt, the Copts are not. Not sure about Syria.
Anyway it's not as though christians haven't done their share of religious-based killing.
christians have been slaughtering non-christians all over the world for centuries....and with the support of MANY popes...to bad christians are now getting a tatse of their own medicine.
Pete, the pope has said plenty about Christians in the MIddle East and has even called for full religious freedom within the region...
what are they doing there? Silly.
Then again, we can thank secular society for taming religions in the USA. Hadn't they, it'd be like the middle east here, except with christians.
By both muslims and jews!
Hey has publicly condemned the Syrian Civil war numerous times.
People in Africa, including children, being accused of witchcraft by christians, then tortured or killed, and not a peep from the pope. And not a peep from any other christians as far as I've heard. I guess they're too busy defending hatred against minorities to care.
ya and they kill gays too in some places.
tallulah, you should wake up. does this change who Jesus is ? nothing that ingnorant people do will change who Jesus is. Religios people are a problem, but Jesus is Lord.
Galatians 2:17 But if, while seeking to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have also been found sinners, is Christ then a minister of sin? May it never be
I get it Austin. You're yet another christian who doesn't care about what your fellow believers are up to. It's all about you. Yeah. I get it.
If god revealed his word for all to unequivocally follow, why do Catholics and evangelicals seem to disagree on so many Christian related issues issues ?
And in America, we could and should not give a **** about you.
Simple. There ISN'T any god. Never has been. There is no "word",They just make up whatever pleases them.
One word "Interpretation"
Well then, he did a poor job letting humanity know that he exists and what his intentions are.
There are not thousands of interpretations among scientists about the existence and properties of the sun.
This whole pope thing reminds me of the nonsense when Obama got the Nobel Prize right after he was elected. I voted for the guy and I and everyone I knew was aware of how absurd it was, just as all those in the know are aware of how silly this pope frenzy is. Being a shiny new toy surrounded by an ignorant populace is the surest root to popularity.
"You can fool some of the people all of the time" especially when you have the best PR department and a willing media to print the good and overlook the bad.
Whine whine whine, go back under your rock teabag.
Popes approval rate? Such an idiotic Americanism! He is not a democratically elected politician, he is supposed to be the successor of St. Peter; nobody in the rest of the world (yes, there is a huge world out there), where most of the Catholics are, cares about US approval rates
correct, the vatican is a dictatorship. Sad that Americans live in a free country but some thrive to be owned
Free country? I don't know if you have bend reading the news lately, it used to be. He is a spiritual leader, you are free to follow him or not
Problem is the Peter that started the shebang was the sorcerer.
People are free to have their own beliefs, for me believing that all that you see happen for no reason would be as strange as believing that peter
Yet he has a higher approval rating than probably every elected official in America.
I am not at all excited about Pope Francis. He has been sending mixed messages regarding church doctrine, and he has been making overtones that extend into the political arena. He is a Argentinean socialist/communist, and his political and economic statements are a manifestation of his beliefs.
he also continues the destruction to children's lost lives due to the cover ups
Concerned about mixed messages ? The bible is full of them. And the 35,000 different Christian denominations obviously don't speak with one voice.
He personally denounced Marxism. Do some fact checking before you blindly accuse people of something Jesus in fact was.
Thank you Pope Francis for defending faith, life and the family as defined in the Bible.
One man and one woman, together in one marriage.
Fortunately the bible DOESN"T define marriage...it has A definition, but not the one we go with.
Also, is it family values to continue with the child abuse cover up, as this pope seems to be embracing?
Do you also want this pope to come down on divorce again, like it was in the past century, where you have a LOT of very unhappy people who stayed married because your silly bible said that they have to stay in a miserable relationship?
"family values to continue with the child abuse cover up, as this pope seems to be embracing".. point well made
“2 Sarai said to Abram, "See now, Yahweh has restrained me from bearing. Please go in to my handmaid. It may be that I will obtain children by her." Abram listened to the voice of Sarai.
3 Sarai, Abram's wife, took Hagar the Egyptian, her handmaid, after Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, and gave her to Abram her husband to be his wife.”
Where does it say one man just one woman, lots of examples of multiple wives? Where in the bible does it say one man zero women? Where in the bible does it say that men were permitted to have s&x with children, thought that was A Greek thing? When do you come out of the closet, Douglas?
God believes that marriage can be FORCED on people who may even hate each other. Read the Bible.
Popular because he does not say what Peter says......Repent.
Yes, you need to repent for your stupidity.
People have always had a love/hate relationship with notorious criminals. Why not the pope too?
hey, crimes against children world wide were orchestrated by the popes, cardinals and bishops. Otherwise they couldn't have been so successful.
This guy continues the destruction to already destroyed lives. He deflects well
Pope's approval sky high, except in the bible belt where he's a communist.
Bible Belt is an ironic name don't you think?
I love this Pope.. Merry Christmas to everyone.
OK priests.. and happy Santa's birthday to you.
Look at meeeeeeeeeee!!! I'mmmmmm HUMBLE!!
Well people will loo to hum either way.. and people like you will attack him no matter what he does.. if he goes to the poor you attack him.. if he goes to the rich you attack him.. another words you just hate no matter what he does..
destruction to children's lives lost through more deflection. Enough said
What hate are you talking about? Where was the hate?
and why not re: approval. For the first time in my adult life, there is a real hope that the church will start to fulfill what it is suppose to be doing, preaching love, forgiveness. compassion, taking care of each other, the exact things that Christ originally preached. Wow imagine a church that actually practices what it preaches, there is hope for the church, a very radical change from the past. I must say thank God.
Yes, and maybe all the priests will start keeping their hands to themselves.
Classic Latin American liberation theologian. Then again, lots of cafeteria Catholics and Marxists in the US, too.
a good catholic would make sure children of lost lives due to the abuse cover ups are destroyed.
Everyone's a cafeteria Christian. EVERYONE!!
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.