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
The pope is just a mortal leading sheeple who believe there is a god. Believe in Santa, he brings presents.
He's leading more effectively than Obama, so it's a nice start.
The pope doesn't have a congress set on prevention.
Isn't a sheeple what they call an android fanboy?
God said that He was the same yesterday, today and forever. To bad the pope is not on the same page as God.
Myths can't actually speak, sir.
Why don't you ask Him
I have. "He" never called back.
Good luck with that idiocy
you would just be talking to yourself and attibuting it to god
I'm sure you got an answer but you didn't listen
What page is God on? I'd really like to know once you come down from that mountain top.
To bad that you old folks are having a learn about what God is really about, not your old bigotry and hatred.
As a lifelong Catholic I am not a fan of this Pope. Cant put my finger on it but when the Media loves him there is something that people like me cannot trust about him.
I'm a Jew and I can tell you this man is more of an example of what I read about your Jesus than the majority of Christians – including yourself.
Why not nail yourself on a cross for a change accepting your own faults rather than always looking for someone to save you from yourself.
Adjust your tinfoil hat, sir. He's been a better ambassador to your hokey religion than anyone in the last half century.
So basically he is preaching socialism and is loved by Americans.
You are confusing politics with spiritualism
News flash, Jesus was a socialist.
I REALLY like this Pope. He represents all that's good in the Christian trdition. I think he's good for organized religion as a whole, and exactly what this world needs in terms of being a somewhat more modernized religious leader. However, there's still no skygod, and religion at the end of the day is still based on myths. But if this guy motivates people to be forces for good in this world, excellent!
Very well put. I am with you 100%.
I like this pope, and I'm not even catholic. Anyone Rush Limbaugh hates is OK in my book, Limbaugh a total Dbag
Hell, why don't you Novus Ordos make him a saint now? Why wait till the man dies?
Oh pleeese news media, what has he done to earn such high praise?? He gave a couple good speeches and said some comments that liberals love. This is how Obama started, lots of praise and hoopla from the media without an ounce of delivery or any substance and a Nobel prize that wasn't earned.
Obama didn't "start" by getting a Nobel Prize. It took many years of work to get to that point. I agree, he was far less qualified than others, but no one starts at Nobel prize.
CNN and Obama...the "masters" of propaganda. Now latching onto the Pope to sell their politics. Nothing good can ever come from having Religion in Politics. Religion is a private matter, get it out of Politics and Keep it Out!!!
Nice thought, as if it made any sense at all.
If I saw a little girl being raped, I would try to help stop it. That's the different between me and your God.
The bible teaches you that the ra.pist need only give her father 50 sheckles of silver and marry her, and it will make it OK.
This pope has managed to explicitly demonstrate the good that can come from faith in a higher power and a brighter future. One doesn't need to buy into the doctrines of the RCC or other religions to hear the greater message. One doesn't even need belief in a personal God to give an approving nod to his goals.
Many have powerful beliefs (and some may be right) about our purpose here – but no one knows. Whatever the driving force, the dream that we can and will do better has a lot to be said for it.
Maybe thats because he is actually speaking about love and acceptance????
No, he's preaching feel good/do whatever you want religion, not the Word of God.
The highest form of ignorance... is one dumbass Christian telling another dumbass Christian that they are not really Christian... because (insert whatever dumbass thing they believe differentiates them from each other)…
That was what the Word said. Have you ever actually read It?
Why doesn't CNN poll what mankind's approval rating of GOD is? Give us some more useless information.
Very well respected and is the right person to lead the Church with his humbleness & down to earth every day acts.
The reporting is bizarre, it's as if we are to abandon the cultural issues and focus only on social issues. The decline of culture has led to a lot off the social issues. The focus is "both and" not "either, or".
I'm an atheist and think all of this is hokum, but will still support this guy if he can make genuine change....and at the same time anger the entire tea party!
Since he can't raise taxes the Taxed Enough Already (TEA) party is probably good with him.
Actually, a small, but growing percentage of the Tea Party don't like him, he's a "marxist" and all. But, really, who cares what the Tea Party thinks, their power is waning considerably.
No, they're Protestants, so they hate him.
Rush Limbaugh (the fat turd) doesn't like the Poop... so that means all the rest of the redneck hillbilly Tea-Partiers don't like him either...
@Burke – Actually, I am not... I am a Freethinker Libertarian
"the redneck hillbilly Tea-Partiers"
Yeah, that isn't the words of a bigot at all.
Stating facts isn't bigotry... I'm sorry if my comments have butthurt you :(
Not sky-high in my book. The new pope is theologically liberal, socially liberal, and fiscally liberal. He is embracing the world, not God and His Word.
Not God and His Word huh? Why is it that you're crowd so skillfully ignore the actual Word? Here are some of Jesus' greatest hits that you guys dislike:
"Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” Matthew 19:24
“A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35
I am always stunned at the sheer volume of text people will ignore in order to justify their own lack of kindness, decency, and compassion. Merry Christmas everyone!
I am always stunned that SO MANY people need a book to tell them how to be decent people, and they very often do not follow their own book.
The more I read and see of Pope Francis, the more convinced I become that he is the "real deal"–That is, his heart and soul, and his mind as well, all work for the same Person to the same end. At last, the Shepherd of Rome has decided to lead us all to the realization that the very prayer that Christians share in common, The Lord's Prayer, clearly calls upon each one of us to do all we can to create a world of healing and forgiveness, of generosity and humility that, once established, will surely respond to the heart of the prayer–"Thy Kingdom Come...on earth as in Heaven..." Unfortunately, he has made many powerful enemies along the way. I pray he will survive the power of their wrath.
Please stop. Religion is BS. Just be glad this guy represents your faith well and is challenging people to make a positive difference in this world.
That is the smartest damn thing I've seen posted on here in a long time...
Hey, I see the "moderator" is censoring comments again!
Maybe... or maybe you've run into the automatic word filter. Google "CNN Belief Blog WordPress filter hints" and find a list of the word fragments that set off the filter.
As an atheist I just love someone who confirms that I do not have to believe in anything. Just by being good I will be in the same place of all those with some kind of faith. Thanks Francis
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.