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
2 Cor 11:13, 14
13 "For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. 14 And no wonder, for Satan himself keeps disguising himself as an angel of light."
See also Matt 7:22, 23 – Here Jesus was speaking to the religious leaders of that day whom thought they had divine favor.
Corinthians – ah yes Chatty Cathy Paul, the Joseph Smith of his day.
I'm totally surprised Obama hasn't compared himself to the Pope, yet...
why would you want to reduce Obama to a child abuser?
Congrats on being so incredibly petty that you have to drag Obama through the mud in an article that has NOTHING to do with him.
The Church has taken many, many steps to eliminate any instance of child abuse. You are ignorant of the facts
Only after they were FORCED to do so by the legal system and by public reproach.
My mistake. My post above attached to another thread
... But NONE to punish proven abusers.
Victims are NOT satisfied with the abusers being judged by an imaginary guy in an imaginary afterlife.
And delaying it all until either the abusers, enablers or victimns die of old age is also not acceptable.
Of course he's popular! Anti gay marriage, anti abortion, a good man. Just surprised to see liberal outlets like CNN broadcast it.
He seems to be more leaning towards the Golden Rule which is surprising and encouraging.
yes, the vatican golden rule,, cover up child abuse. Deny children victims. Quite a rule!
not popular among children victims of abuse and their families,, or those adults who value children's lives.
What did that priest do to you? Wow, he f-ed you up. Get into counselling and get a good attorney, sir. Good luck to you.
You won't see it on Rush's show. Mr. Limbaugh thinks Pope Francis is a "marxist". Not conservative enough for him. Imagine that...the Catholic Church not conservative enough ...lol.
..Thankfully its good people, ,atheist included, who taught religions how to behave and have morals. Too bad religions, as this one, still can't get it right.
Child abuse cover ups,, children suffering today from the cover ups. Had these children received immediate help, many would have continued on a path to potential.
The catholic church's hierarchy from the popes down destroyed small children's lives world wide and now what do we hear? "Look at Meeeeeeeeeee, I'mmmmm HUMBLE"
P.R. is all
This was no more interesting the first time you posted it.
Stop it Tim,, have you gotten out of the closet yet?
The hierarchy didn't abuse children. People did. A hierarchy doesn't do anything; it can't. People can (and do and have).
Wow...who knew that maintaining one's beliefs without behaving like a total bigoted clown might actually be popular? Good for him. Let's hope the Catholic church takes this as a positive lesson when they are selecting the next guy. I'm not betting on it though.
POPE FRANCIS HAS A WARPED VIEW AMERICAN CAPITALISM. THE CHURCH WOULD NOT BE AS RICH WITH MONEY IF IT WERN'T FOR US CAPITALISM. HE IS NO JOHN PAUL11
vatican has gold bars and stocks in companies as bank of America. Vatican also is the largest land holder,, prime property which is tax free.
Also, catholic charities is funded primarily with our tax dollars. Imagine that!! no separation. Everyone pays the catholic church, ALL of AMERICA
fools writes as though he/she is being consumed internally by hatred.
i hope not, because it is hard, if not impossible, to imagine what such hatred does to one's interior life.
fools internal fire of hatred is best exposed by his/her determination to destroy that which he/she does not understand.
that is called irrational hatred.
pray that fools might find the grace of God he/she must have to chase the hatred from his/her heart, the hatred that is destroying him/her.
Thankfully its good people, ,atheist included, who taught religions how to behave and have morals. Too bad religions, as this one, still can't get it right.
We get it. You were abused by a priest. Sue already, settle it, and move on with your life.
throw the popes, cardinals and bishops in the jails they belong in,, crimes against children worldwide
Rush Limbaugh doesn't like the Pope. It's a sign the Pope is doing a good job.
He's still hiding something, otherwise he would be cooperating with civilian authorities investigating child abuse and its coverup.
"Pope's approval rating sky-high"
Clearly, no American christians were counted.
What does God say about not actually BEING the adulterer, but banging one? Just you know, out of curiosity....
Timmy, get a real job already.
God was not above being a fornicator, knocking up some ones wife.
This is nothing but Satan working as a sheep
What has the Pope ever done for me? I was cured by Benny Hinn. I sent a donation to his ministry and this cold sore I had cleared right up and the crabs also went away but I had to use all the ointment. Miracles and healing can still happen if you have faith. Just ask all the Catholics Saints they knew how to perform a couple when they needed them, Hallelujah.
Finally someone who is not power hungry or selfish in a high position. We need a lot more people like him in charge.
Remember that time I beat the Steelers in the playoffs? Dad had my back; I've never thrown that well since.
yeah but god didn't feed the hungry children because he was busy with you
The hungry kids were likely watching the game as well.
god sure has his priorities. And you certainly know that well.
There is no god you freaks, if there was there would not be hunger, dead and all other horrific things in this world. I respect this guy for who he is, god has nothing to do with it, wake up plebs!
Pope Francis is a breath of fresh air to religions and people of all persuasions. He is a compassionate, intelligent and worldly man who will leave a lasting impact on our Church.
The whole flaw with the concept of every orgainzied religion is that it always seems to lack:-
" . . . a breath of fresh air tof a compassionate, intelligent and worldly man who will leave a lasting impact. . . "
Can't imagine why . . .
far more compassionate and good people than this pope,, And those people actually do somethng and don't live in wealth as this pope
yes, and he will continue the cover ups and deny small children abused. But that's OK, the pope is more important than those children losers.
This must be a bitter pill–the Pope's popularity–for Rush Limbaugh and all of the right-wing Catholics in the Senate and House.
Let's hope that the reverse happens to them
comparing that to the children abused and living difficult lives because of the pope, bishops and cardinals lies and deceit?
If something could make me even more atheist... this video would do it...
There is finally a decent person of substance in the Vatican, and the right-wingnutz go off the deep end. How predictable.
yeah, denying children harmed.
Thousand salutations to this great man !. This Pope has perfectly articulated the big picture of life, what spirituality is, and the role of religion in society.
It seems to the rest of us, that he is being praised for his humanity and morality, jot his piety
It seems to the rest of us, that he is being praised for his humanity and morality, not his piety
OK father raj
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.