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December 24th, 2013
06:00 AM ET

CNN Poll: Pope's approval rating sky-high

By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor
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(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

- CNN Religion Editor

Filed under: Catholic Church • Christianity • Culture wars • Leaders • Pope Benedict XVI • Pope Francis • Pope John Paul II • Sex abuse • Vatican

soundoff (3,274 Responses)
  1. Bootyfunk

    "Pope Francis said in July, "If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?”"
    +++ IF they search for the lord? so g.ay atheists still go to hell...?

    December 25, 2013 at 1:36 pm |
    • Augustus Nottingham-Fink

      He was quite frank with what he said. Take from it what you will.

      And who are you to judge.

      December 25, 2013 at 3:46 pm |
  2. The Clergy Project

    Waiting to see CNN publish this story:

    "Atheists, Work With Us for Peace, Pope Says on Christmas."

    December 25, 2013 at 1:28 pm |
    • doobzz

      Don't you have a resume to work on? This time tell the truth.

      December 25, 2013 at 1:42 pm |
  3. Bootyfunk

    aside from a few nice words, what has the pope actually done?
    he hasn't changed church dogma or doctrine.
    he really hasn't done... anything.
    correct me if i'm wrong,
    but so far this pope is all talk,
    no action.

    December 25, 2013 at 1:01 pm |
  4. Sam Yaza

    yeah i'm an anti-christian and i like the guy, now if only he would denounce charlemagne, he really doing sage Frances justice.

    December 25, 2013 at 12:52 pm |
  5. pythagoreanvegancommunity

    How gullible stupid people can be.

    December 25, 2013 at 12:43 pm |
  6. pythagoreanvegancommunity

    How gullible stupid people can be!

    December 25, 2013 at 12:42 pm |
  7. Catholic News Network

    Max out the Pope exposure y'all. Just don't mention that boy abuse thing re those priests. Keep it hidden.

    December 25, 2013 at 12:29 pm |
  8. Catholic News Network

    Gotta keep that dying RC cult alive. Watcha gonna do if the next Pope ain't such a TV personality?

    December 25, 2013 at 12:28 pm |
  9. Noah Fing-Whey

    Obama's sitting in Hawaii with his head in his hand moaning "Noooooooo"!

    December 25, 2013 at 12:15 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Or more likely he's still asleep, and when he wakes up he will celebrate Christmas with his family. But here you are on Christmas morning trolling your political leanings. I think his holiday will be happier than yours.

      December 25, 2013 at 12:17 pm |
    • Augustus Nottingham-Fink

      Merry Christmas, unhappy partisan fool.

      December 25, 2013 at 12:25 pm |
      • tallulah13

        Merry Christmas, name-changing troll.

        December 25, 2013 at 12:27 pm |
        • Augustus Nottingham-Fink

          Wasn't talking to you, talllulah, but Merry Christmas to you, too.

          December 25, 2013 at 3:44 pm |
  10. Gus

    I just believe in God, regardless to human error, I am just proud to be Christian, I respect the entire Catholic community of this planet, I love my enemies including Atheist people, all because life is too short as well for conflit & hatred. obviously, it is much better to live in peace

    December 25, 2013 at 10:53 am |
    • tallulah13

      I am an atheist. How am I your enemy? What have I done to you that is so terrible that you think of me in that light? I simply don't believe that your god exists. In the United States we are allowed to believe or not believe as we chose. I don't think of you as my enemy. Why do you think this of me?

      December 25, 2013 at 10:59 am |
      • devin

        As just one single representative of the Christian faith I will unequivocally state that you, et al, are not my enemies. As much as I vehemently oppose what I perceive to be your misguided ideology, and while I do not particularly appreciate the ad hominem attacks that have come my way, enemies you are not. Ultimately, we are all h o mo sapiens trudging through life on this planet, trying to make sense of it all.

        December 25, 2013 at 1:45 pm |
    • sam stone

      why do you feel atheists are your enemies?

      December 25, 2013 at 11:07 am |
    • KAM

      I think of you as a poor delusional xian. Abused into belief of the myth as a child.

      December 25, 2013 at 11:09 am |
    • Sue

      Gus, you are demonstrating yourself to be a hypocrite by labeling a group an "enemy" while claiming to love them.

      Dishonesty seems a trademark of Christians, I have to say.

      December 25, 2013 at 12:31 pm |
      • derpdogss

        You talk to this guy in a hostile way. Therefore you count as an enemy. However, he said that he loved you anyway. I do not see the contradiction.

        December 25, 2013 at 1:12 pm |
        • doobzz

          And I don't see any hostility in Sue's post. But calling someone your enemy, especially when they have done nothing wrong, is hostile.

          December 25, 2013 at 1:41 pm |
  11. KAM

    Mr. smiley face was put in place specifically to save the reputation of the catholic church. People forget to quickly that he was an apparatchick of the church for many years. The new 'Don' now comes to us in this smiley-face ingratiating way--because it's had to give up so much ground because we know much much more about the way things are than a goat herder in 10 C.E. that believed the absurdities in the bible. Never forget the way the church behaved when it was strong, stealing and murdering its way to power for centuries. Finally the catholic church is coming to the coveted 'last days'. The last hope for power is now South America and other backward countries. Good bye and good riddance.

    December 25, 2013 at 10:35 am |
    • tallulah13

      I agree. This new Pope may be the nicest guy on the planet, but he's just a cosmetic figurehead for a very corrupt organization that has no intention of changing it's ways.

      December 25, 2013 at 10:47 am |
      • KAM

        The pope is a nice guy in the same way Tony Soprano or Al Capone were nice guys.

        December 25, 2013 at 11:10 am |
        • Sue

          Exactly, KAM. It's easy for the guy at the head of the gang to appear to be pleasant.

          December 25, 2013 at 12:33 pm |
  12. sophie

    the most important approval is not of men but of GOD only.

    December 25, 2013 at 10:19 am |
    • sam stone

      yet there is no way you know you have god's approval, until (perhaps) the end

      you may have approval of those who purport to speak for god, but they are generally delusional or corrupt

      December 25, 2013 at 10:33 am |
  13. Yates

    If liberals approve of this guy there must be a catch. Liberals are godless so go figure.

    December 25, 2013 at 9:48 am |
    • In Santa we trust

      Are you really Ann Coulter?

      December 25, 2013 at 10:14 am |
    • sam stone

      suck a 12 gauge, troll

      December 25, 2013 at 10:37 am |
  14. Goobz

    The new name for the Pope , will be The Poop.

    December 25, 2013 at 9:19 am |
    • Goobz

      The man has never read a bible,.,like the jews and their talmud which in a nutshell states Gog loves you the bestest if you have lots of money...the dopey pope uses the authority of the church to interpret and twist God's word into all kinds of satanist and evil,propaganda.

      December 25, 2013 at 9:25 am |
      • In Santa we trust

        How is that different from any of the thousands of other christian sects – each have their own interpretation.

        December 25, 2013 at 9:30 am |
      • Bob

        How is it that your omnipotent creature can't communicate in ways that can't be "twisted"?

        And why can't your "god" do any modern communication whatsoever, such as generating his own website (no, religious shill sites don't count) or pushing some tweets out? Hasn't happened.

        Ask the questions. Break the chains. Join the movement.
        Be free of Christianity and other superstitions.
        http://whywontgodhealamputees.com/

        December 25, 2013 at 12:38 pm |
  15. ImJustAGuy

    When the pope began talking like he was a fellow socialist, the mainstream media fell in love with him and told Americans to fall in love with him too. But when the pope indicated that he was pro life, the media was already cheerleading him and couldn't abruptly stop, so there you have it.

    December 25, 2013 at 8:51 am |
  16. Reality # 2

    Again, Francis will fail unless he addresses the crumbling historical and theological foundations of the RCC to include the Xmas con. (see p. 1 of the commentaries for details)

    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

    December 25, 2013 at 8:26 am |
    • Trey

      Again, you are an atheist, so nothing this, or any Pope does, will make any difference to you.
      I've read your rants. They are as irrelevant as you think religion is.

      December 25, 2013 at 11:42 am |
      • Reality # 2

        Only for the those interested in a religious update:
        1. origin: http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F20E1EFE35540C7A8CDDAA0894DA404482

        “New Torah For Modern Minds

        Abraham, the Jewish patriarch, probably never existed. Nor did Moses. The entire Exodus story as recounted in the Bible probably never occurred. The same is true of the tumbling of the walls of Jericho. And David, far from being the fearless king who built Jerusalem into a mighty capital, was more likely a provincial leader whose reputation was later magnified to provide a rallying point for a fledgling nation.

        Such startling propositions – the product of findings by archaeologists digging in Israel and its environs over the last 25 years – have gained wide acceptance among non-Orthodox rabbis. But there has been no attempt to disseminate these ideas or to discuss them with the laity – until now.

        The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, which represents the 1.5 million Conservative Jews in the United States, has just issued a new Torah and commentary, the first for Conservatives in more than 60 years. Called "Etz Hayim" ("Tree of Life" in Hebrew), it offers an interpretation that incorporates the latest findings from archaeology, philology, anthropology and the study of ancient cultures. To the editors who worked on the book, it represents one of the boldest efforts ever to introduce into the religious mainstream a view of the Bible as a human rather than divine docu-ment. “
        prob•a•bly
        Adverb: Almost certainly; as far as one knows or can tell.

        2. Jesus was an illiterate Jewish peasant/carpenter/simple preacher man who suffered from hallucinations (or “mythicizing” from P, M, M, L and J) and who has been characterized anywhere from the Messiah from Nazareth to a mythical character from mythical Nazareth to a ma-mzer from Nazareth (Professor Bruce Chilton, in his book Rabbi Jesus). An-alyses of Jesus’ life by many contemporary NT scholars (e.g. Professors Ludemann, Crossan, Borg and Fredriksen, ) via the NT and related doc-uments have concluded that only about 30% of Jesus' sayings and ways noted in the NT were authentic. The rest being embellishments (e.g. miracles)/hallucinations made/had by the NT authors to impress various Christian, Jewish and Pagan sects.

        The 30% of the NT that is "authentic Jesus" like everything in life was borrowed/plagiarized and/or improved from those who came before. In Jesus' case, it was the ways and sayings of the Babylonians, Greeks, Persians, Egyptians, Hitt-ites, Canaanites, OT, John the Baptizer and possibly the ways and sayings of traveling Greek Cynics.

        earlychristianwritings.com/

        For added "pizzazz", Catholic theologians divided god the singularity into three persons and invented atonement as an added guilt trip for the "pew people" to go along with this trinity of overseers. By doing so, they made god the padre into god the "filicider".

        Current RCC problems:

        Pedophiliac priests, an all-male, mostly white hierarchy, atonement theology and original sin!!!!

        2 b., Luther, Calvin, Joe Smith, Henry VIII, Wesley, Roger Williams, the Great “Babs” et al, founders of Christian-based religions or combination religions also suffered from the belief in/hallucinations of "pretty wingie thingie" visits and "prophecies" for profits analogous to the myths of Catholicism (resurrections, apparitions, ascensions and immacu-late co-nceptions).

        Current problems:
        Adulterous preachers, pedophiliac clerics, "propheteering/ profiteering" evangelicals and atonement theology,

        3. Mohammed was an illiterate, womanizing, lust and greed-driven, warmongering, hallucinating Arab, who also had embellishing/hallucinating/plagiarizing scribal biographers who not only added "angels" and flying chariots to the koran but also a militaristic agenda to support the plundering and looting of the lands of non-believers.

        This agenda continues as shown by the ma-ssacre in Mumbai, the as-sas-sinations of Bhutto and Theo Van Gogh, the conduct of the seven Muslim doctors in the UK, the 9/11 terrorists, the 24/7 Sunni suicide/roadside/market/mosque bombers, the 24/7 Shiite suicide/roadside/market/mosque bombers, the Islamic bombers of the trains in the UK and Spain, the Bali crazies, the Kenya crazies, the Pakistani “koranics”, the Palestine suicide bombers/rocketeers, the Lebanese nutcases, the Taliban nut jobs, the Ft. Hood follower of the koran, the Filipino “koranics”and the Boston Marthon bombers.

        And who funds this muck and stench of terror? The warmongering, Islamic, Shiite terror and torture theocracy of Iran aka the Third Axis of Evil and also the Sunni "Wannabees" of Saudi Arabia.

        Current crises:

        The Sunni-Shiite blood feud and the warmongering, womanizing (11 wives), hallucinating founder.

        4. Hinduism (from an online Hindu site) – "Hinduism cannot be described as an organized religion. It is not founded by any individual. Hinduism is God centered and therefore one can call Hinduism as founded by God, because the answer to the question ‘Who is behind the eternal principles and who makes them work?’ will have to be ‘Cosmic power, Divine power, God’."

        The caste/laborer system, reincarnation and cow worship/reverence are problems when saying a fair and rational God founded Hinduism."

        Current problems:

        The caste system, reincarnation and cow worship/reverence.

        5. Buddhism- "Buddhism began in India about 500 years before the birth of Christ. The people living at that time had become disillusioned with certain beliefs of Hinduism including the caste system, which had grown extremely complex. The number of outcasts (those who did not belong to any particular caste) was continuing to grow."

        "However, in Buddhism, like so many other religions, fanciful stories arose concerning events in the life of the founder, Siddhartha Gautama (fifth century B.C.):"

        Archaeological discoveries have proved, beyond a doubt, his historical character, but apart from the legends we know very little about the circu-mstances of his life. e.g. Buddha by one legend was supposedly talking when he came out of his mother's womb.

        Bottom line: There are many good ways of living but be aware of the hallucinations, embellishments, lies, and myths surrounding the founders and foundations of said rules of life.

        Then, apply the Five F rule: "First Find the Flaws, then Fix the Foundations". And finally there will be religious peace and religious awareness in the world!!!!!

        December 25, 2013 at 1:00 pm |
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About this blog

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.