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
Santa is angry at jesus and his followers. They are not good people.
Correction. They are not perfect people, but they try. They are people that do their best to model themselves after Christ. Love, kindness, joy grace, peace and forgiveness is what comes to mind when I think Christian. There is nothing wrong with those characteristics unless you are evil. They are not perfect as Christ is and they do not claim to be. That is what I think when I think Christian. Far too many make the decision to move away from the Church because of the actions of mankind.
Happy baby Santa's birthday everyone. Santa heals and he won't come back with a rage as the other guy promotes.
The end times will be Santa against Jesus.
If you do not believe then you could at least be nice. When you open a present tomorrow remember it is beacause Christ was born.
The presents I give and receive tomorrow have nothing to do with Jesus. They are because I value those who I am giving to , and they value me.
I see. And if Jesus Christ was not born then you would still pick December 25th to value your friends and they you. Have a Merry Value day!
Snap out of it,
You don't seem to be aware that Winter Solstice gift-giving celebrations were around long before Jesus was allegedly born.
That's three times in a very short span, you made a fool of yourself by posting what you THINK, rather what is.
Try doing some research and get back to us....about a decade should help.
Condemnations from Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh undoubtedly helped drive the Pope to such high approval rankings.
pope and rush are quite the same. Both are con artist and getting more recognition because of the episode.
I agree, but at least the pope has some intelligence and can speak 5 other languages.
Palin is a brain dead zombie who won the cosmic lottery by getting picked by McCain.
So what? It takes an intelligent person to be a con-artist!
Unfortunately too many people do not recognize what a con-artist this pope is. He is a Jesuit and Jesuits still have their agenda: to rule the world.
please POPE I know you have did Zero so far in change at the vatican.
Please may you lift the condom ban on your followers, so maybe the spread of HIV in countries in Africa
can be greatly reduced . I know you depend on death for your cult to survive After all without pain and suffering what good would your church be to anyone,
I know you have a good gig down in Africa with HIV deaths and people finding strength in your book, and turning the weak to god.
But lets get real why not stop the SUFFERING to begin with I know you will not gather new followers who need solace.
But please don't be so well how can I say this EVIL !
Ever follow the Fatima episode? It was the vatican's best con ever.
Mother Theresa was also a good one. Made lots of cash of her. But did you know her mentor was a pedo, fact. And let's not forget "Become catholic and I'll feed you"
Selling of absolutions was also a great marketing campaign that really filled the corporate coffers at the Vatican.
I think they are considering to bring that back, as it was such a windfall the first time.
And the suckers would line up just like they did the first time and fall for the scam just like they did back in the proverbial day!
No wonder the pope likes him
I remember this pope from South America. He use to rectory hop. He always brought fun. He did like being on the bottom a lot.
I'm retired, BTW
A wide receiver.
always wanted to, be he wouldn't let me
Ask, and ye shall receive.
Glad gay is open today,,
That post is almost believable. I remember as a kid, working at a rectory. many priests and bishops use to engage in s-ex with one another. One time there were 4 in a bedroom upstairs.
What church and what were their names?
ok. I had a dream that there i was salking through a forest, it was dark and snowey and i came upon an a frame cabin. i knocked and a lady said i could stay there. and she said she had 2 kids. one was sitting there and the other had died, but the kids spirit was singing in the corner of the room , in a dual tone demonic voice. my body was inverted and levitated in the dream, and as it sang , the cat that had randomly shown up on my porch that day(in real life), ran underneath my inverted body with a big cut down its abdomen and blood gushing out.
i woke up knew this was a demented vision, and i went to the end of the driveway and the cat had been ran over and was flatter than a pancake. the streed is 500 feet from my door.
scientific test time
1.was there a dream first?
2. Was there a dead cat?
Can you replicate this as an experiment?
bacbik 134:23 : "Whoa – only a fool talks about his dreams on a blog."
are you aware of the spiritual supernatural realm? i have a spiritual gift, beyond natural science.
On the previous article by Rachel, I was asking you about these dreams... I guess you didn't see my post (pg. 3)
Do you interpret the dreams as well, or do you have someone else interpret them?
Are you aware that if you go back on your meds those dreams may stop and your special gift will dissipate into reality?
the vatican is the largest prost–itution ring in the world.
I have no idea of who you are. Satan has told me you've been running around telling everyone you know me.
Please stop your lying.
Satan loves it when people pretend to be God. After all, that is his favorite delusion as well.
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.
Don't forget to spread some garlic around, Austin. Halloween is never too far away...
That's just what I would expect the devil to quote to throw us off the scent!
The Pope's approval rating is sky high. I was not aware that he was a candidate for elected office.
the catholic church is a dictatorship. Amazing the number of catholics living in a free world love reporting to a dictator. Or better yet, women are treated as 2nd clsss
Please stop posting videos of these retards...
Hinn is a fake
I have a neighbour who insists on working on the Sabbath.
Exodus 35:2. Clearly states he should be put to death.
Am I morally obligated to kill him myself, or should I ask the police to do it?
Another tough one – better ask the duck man.
Please stop ripping off the West Wing.
Ask the police to do it... I want to see what happens
just give the pope cash,, you'll then be forgiven.
Indulgences and money laundering is the vatican way.
Just get into therapy already.
there was nothing inaccurate about that post.
Let's ask Live4Him. She seems to be the resident expert on who may work on what days.
She is also expert witness to who needs to be stoned to death, why people commit suicide, when someone should go to a church, how often they should have s ex, and just about anything else she wants to stick her nose into other people's lives and tell them how they should live.
You know, just like your average garden variety fundie xtian.
She definitely needs more salt for her pretzel logic. Her thinking is quite twisted. My favorites were the UPC codes are the mark of Satan, and nobody but Christians deserve a day off.
If our country were a theocracy you could. Give this pope time and he will try to make it a theocracy led by the Vatican. Unfortunately too many people do not recognize what a con-artist this pope is. He is a Jesuit and Jesuits still have their agenda: to rule the world. Plan: win the hearts of the people and then take over, with force if necessary for those who resist.
I hope someone at the Vatican will see "fools" posts and help him get the counseling he so desperately needs.
I post names of priest, bishops and cardinals on other sites.
post the filthy ones here. Oh,, it's all of them. They all knew the cover ups and did nothing. This pope included.
hey, if the death penalty were against the law, christianity wouldn't have made it
Jesus stated the true religion was likened to a narrow and cramped road. The way would be difficult and few would find it. So wwho's approval should the Pope really be interested in. From the looks of things he's just playing the popularity contest game.
He's not a politician. It doesn't matter what his approval rating is. There are no re-election campaigns for Pope.
Actually Pope IS a politician, he's the president of the Vatican state.
Imagine how high his ratings would be if he told everyone to actually follow Jeebus' teachings and actually love their fellow man, and give their excess money to help the poor.
Oh wait, if he did that they would string him us just like they did Jeebus, so that ain't gonna happen.
Or maybe he could lead by example and start selling off some of the Vatican's vast wealth to give to the poor and the thousands of children abused by his priests.
Instead, he poses for pretty photos and everyone shits themselves.
That would definitely get his strung up as the various corporate religions will never part with their goodies to aid anyone but themselves.
Of course it would. That wasn't my point.
My point was that he is doing nothing more than catering to the masses and posing for nice pictures. He's a puppet pope, there to quell the tide of outrage against the RCC's conspiracy to cover up child abuse in their ranks.
Until he does something more than make nice sounding speeches and photo ops, there's been no change at the Vatican at all.
If a religious leader is well-liked, he is probably doing something wrong.
Has this Pope been caught molesting children yet? they do a good job of covering it up so you'll probably never know about it , don't let the Pope handle your child he's gay!
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.