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.
(CNN) The Catholic Archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis has been accused of inappropriately touching a boy and will take a voluntary leave of absence during an investigation of the incident, the archdiocese announced on Tuesday.
Archbishop John Nienstedt learned this weekend that a young man says the Catholic leader "inappropriately touched his buttocks" during a public photo session after a church ceremony, the archdiocese said. The accuser, who is a male minor, says the incident happened in 2009, according to the archdiocese.
"I do not know the individual involved; he has not been made known to me," Niendstedt said in a statement posted on the website of his archdiocese.
By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Co-editor
(CNN) - Retired Pope Benedict XVI says he never tried to cover up the sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests, breaking his post-retirement silence to address one of the greatest threats to his legacy as a church leader.
In a lengthy letter published in La Repubblica, an Italian newspaper, the former pope answered theological and moral arguments from Piergiorgio Odifreddi, an Italian atheist and mathematician who had written about Benedict in 2011.
Earlier this month, La Repubblica also published a letter to its atheist editor from Pope Francis, Benedict's successor.
Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic (CNN) - Prosecutors began a criminal investigation Wednesday into the Vatican's former ambassador to the Dominican Republic, a day after a local church representative said the pope had recalled the envoy because of child abuse allegations.
"We have formally opened an investigation," Dominican Attorney General Francisco Dominguez Brito told reporters.
"Here we have to work with two legal aspects, first national laws and also international laws in his status as a diplomat, which implies other mechanisms of investigation and judgment."
The Vatican confirmed Wednesday that Jozef Wesolowski had been removed from his post and that an investigation is under way but did not say what allegations were made.
Wesolowski had been an apostolic nuncio, the Vatican's official representative in the Dominican Republic.
But the pope pulled him from the post last month after an internal church report connected him with child abuse and pedophilia, according to Monsignor Agripino Nunez Collado, the rector of a Catholic university and spokesman for the church in the country.
By Josh Levs, CNN
(CNN) – A cardinal at the center of an international scandal over alleged sexual abuse reversed course Sunday, acknowledging wrongdoing.
"I wish to take this opportunity to admit that there have been times that my sexual conduct has fallen below the standards expected of me as a priest, archbishop and cardinal," Cardinal Keith O'Brien said in a statement.
Until days ago, O'Brien was the archbishop of Scotland.
O'Brien has been dogged by allegations he abused four men studying to be priests in the 1980s.
"In recent days certain allegations which have been made against me have become public. Initially, their anonymous and non-specific nature led me to contest them," O'Brien said.
By Matt Smith, CNN
(CNN)–New York's Cardinal Timothy Dolan sat for questions from lawyers for victims of sexual abuse by priests in Milwaukee while he was that city's Roman Catholic leader, his office disclosed Wednesday.
"Today Cardinal Dolan had the long-awaited opportunity to talk about his decision nine years ago in Milwaukee to publicize the names of priests who had abused children and how he responded to the tragedy of past clergy sexual abuse of minors, during the time he was privileged to serve as archbishop of Milwaukee," Joseph Zwilling, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of New York, said in a written statement.
"He has indicated over the past two years that he was eager to cooperate in whatever way he could, and he was looking forward to talking about the good work and progress that took place to ensure the protection of children and pastoral outreach to victims."
CNN's Max Foster talks about controversies the next pope will face, including sex abuse allegations within the church.
By Ben Brumfield, CNN
A California judge has forced the Archdiocese of Los Angeles to release some 12,000 pages of church documents revealing how it handled allegations of priest sexual abuse.
There were many - 192 priests and bishops were named in litigation, the archdiocese said.
"The cases span decades," Archbishop Jose H. Gomez said in a statement Thursday. Some go back to the 1930s.
By Rande Iaboni and Marina Carver, CNN
NEW YORK (CNN) - New York police have arrested a man for throwing a chemical, believed to be bleach, on a rabbi who advocates for sexual abuse victims.
Meilech Schnitzler, 36, turned himself in to police Wednesday and was charged with assault, menacing, criminal mischief, and criminal possession of a weapon.
He is accused of attacking Rabbi Nuchem Rosenberg in Brooklyn's tightknit Orthodox Jewish neighborhood of Williamsburg on Tuesday.
Schnitzler allegedly threw a chemical on Rosenberg's face, causing his eyes and face to burn.
Rosenberg runs a website and telephone call-in line that publicizes claims of sexual abuse in the Hasidic community, and he believes this attack was an attempt to "silence" him, according to Abe George, the rabbi's attorney.
By Rande Iaboni, CNN
New York (CNN) – An outspoken advocate for child sexual abuse victims in a tightknit Orthodox Jewish neighborhood was assaulted this week when a chemical he believes to be bleach was thrown in his face, according to his attorney.
Rabbi Nuchem Rosenberg was walking the streets of his Brooklyn neighborhood of Williamsburg on Tuesday when a man threw the chemical on his face, causing his eyes and face to burn, said Abe George, the rabbi's attorney.
The assault happened a day after the conviction of Nechemya Weberman, a prominent community member in the conservative Satmar Hasidic community, was found guilty of sexually abusing a girl over a period of three years.
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.