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. Sea Otter (Leader Allied Atheist Alliance)

    Stan: Why would God let Kenny die, Chef? Why? Kenny's my f-f-friend. Why can't God take someone else's f-f-friend?
    Chef: Stan, sometime God take those closest to us, because it makes him feel better about Himself. He's a very vengeful God, Stan. He's all pissed off about something we did thousands of years ago. He just can't get over it. So he doesn't care who he takes: children, puppies, it don't matter to him, so long as it makes us sad. Do you understand?
    Stan: Then why does God give us anything to start with?
    Chef: Well, look at it this way: if you want to make a baby cry, first, you give it a lollipop. Then, you take it away. If you never give it a lollipop to begin with, then you would have nothing to cry about. That's like God, who gives us life and love and health, just so that he can tear it all away and make us cry, so he can drink the sweet milk of our tears. You see, it's our tears, Stan, that give God his great power.
    Stan: I think I understand.

    December 26, 2013 at 3:07 pm |
    • Austin

      1 John 1:9 ESV / 31 helpful votes

      If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

      Romans 10:9 ESV / 26 helpful votes

      Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

      John 3:16 ESV / 26 helpful votes

      “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

      1 John 1:8 ESV / 21 helpful votes

      If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.

      December 26, 2013 at 4:45 pm |
      • John

        If you're going to copy/paste, erase the helpful vote bs.

        December 26, 2013 at 5:22 pm |
      • Reality # 2

        And once again:

        John's Gospel is of questionable historic value.

        To wit:

        From Professor Bruce Chilton in his book, Rabbi Jesus,

        "Conventionally, scholarship has accorded priority to the first three gospels in historical work on Jesus, putting progressively less credence in works of late date. John's Gospel for example is routinely dismissed as a source......
        From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gospel_of_John#Authorship

        "Since "the higher criticism" of the 19th century, some historians have largely rejected the gospel of John as a reliable source of information about the historical Jesus.[3][4] "[M]ost commentators regard the work as anonymous,"[5] and date it to 90-100."

        "The authorship has been disputed since at least the second century, with mainstream Christianity believing that the author is John the Apostle, son of Zebedee. Modern experts usually consider the author to be an unknown non-eyewitness, though many apologetic Christian scholars still hold to the conservative Johannine view that ascribes authorship to John the Apostle."

        And from Professor Gerd Ludemann, in his book, Jesus After 2000 Years, p. 416,

        "Anyone looking for the historical Jesus will not find him in the Gospel of John. "
        See also http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/john.html and http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/1john.html

        December 26, 2013 at 5:31 pm |
  2. palintwit

    Well, the idiot Sarah Palin got her holidays mixed up again and decorated her buttplugs to look like Easter eggs.

    December 26, 2013 at 3:01 pm |
    • igaftr

      The only way you would possibly know that would be to have been in her bed chamber.

      December 26, 2013 at 3:15 pm |
      • palintwit

        No, actually she was bragging about it on Facebook.

        December 26, 2013 at 3:28 pm |
  3. Sea Otter (Leader Allied Atheist Alliance)

    Randy Marsh: Sharon, don't you think maybe you should watch something else? You've been watching CNN for about [checks his watch] eight weeks now?

    December 26, 2013 at 2:44 pm |
  4. Justice


    December 26, 2013 at 2:24 pm |

    Pope's approval rating sky-high.............

    As much as I find the whole Catholic organization disgusting.....I gotta say he's a pretty good guy.

    December 26, 2013 at 2:02 pm |
  6. Justice

    Austin: You've gone overboard...

    December 26, 2013 at 12:53 pm |
    • Austin

      No i have not. consulting a medium is a demonic activity. Mary does not have the abilities that God does. We are not supposed to worship angels, and that would include other people who have died.

      December 26, 2013 at 3:48 pm |
      • G to the T

        People who die become angels? So do people who are damned become demons?

        December 27, 2013 at 4:24 pm |
    • sam stone

      people who have gone overboard are not likely to admit as such, as we see by austin's post

      December 26, 2013 at 9:54 pm |
  7. Bootyfunk

    the pope has said a few nice, if ambiguous, things about g.ays and atheists, said the church is really gonna get on that molestation problem, and that women are indeed 2nd class citizens not meant for leadership in the church. he also said unfettered capitalism was a new tyranny.

    but what has the pope actually done? besides a few flowery words, what actions has he taken? what doctrine or dogma has he changed? what has the pope actually accomplished?

    December 26, 2013 at 12:48 pm |
    • Austin

      he looks super good and attracts attention to himself, and then those interested show up, they get involved in pointless works, idolatry, and they pray to mary, when the REAL WAY,
      Jesus' name is THE WAY, and We have His Holy Spirit within us upon request, and then they teach people to pray to Mary, while claiming to posess the Holy Spirit?

      This is a trap. That is a false God. No one should ever pray to false God. The Catholic church is a trick.
      Why would you ever treat the Holy Spirit as if if was not our only mediator?

      ◄ 1 Timothy 2:5 ►

      For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus,

      even the Lords Prayer, when briefed in Matthew, says avoid vain repet.tions, repet.itions being the noun and subject, and then instead of praying to the Father, as in structed, they have their prayers to Mary 30 times per time?

      They kiss a graven image of a "baby Jesus"? This is blatant sacreligous specticle.

      Did anyone pray to Enoch or Elijah? This Peterine dynasty is hardly Christian. Satan has hijacked these poor people with idolatry. You can not mess around with works salvation and idolatry. What a distraction for people who seek God!

      I garuntee you that Mary is disgusted with Catholics. because a pure gospel was not enough for their blinging hearts.

      December 26, 2013 at 3:39 pm |
  8. Sea Otter (Leader Allied Atheist Alliance)

    Sexual Harassment Panda Song:

    Who lives in the east 'neath the willow tree?
    Sexual Harassment… Panda!
    Who explains sexual harassment to you and me?
    Sexual Harassment… Panda!
    Don't say that, don't touch there…
    Don't be nasty says the silly bear!
    He's come to tell you what's right and wrong…
    Sexual Harassment… Panda!

    December 26, 2013 at 12:43 pm |
  9. Austin

    Did anyone i the old testament EVER, pray to anyone aside from God the father? No.

    The Angel of The Lord, in the OT. The Angel here is not one of the creatures of God, but the Son of God, our Savior, in his mediatorial, priestly office. Here we see the Lord Jesus Christ performing his work as our great High Priest and Intercessor before God (Ex. 30:1-10). At this moment, he stands before God as our Representative. He has in his hand a golden censer full of incense (the merits of his blood and righteousness). The fragrance of that sweet incense makes the prayers which we offer up to God acceptable and well-pleasing in his sight. This symbolic picture is intended to teach us that our prayers and sacrifices are acceptable to God only through the merits of Christ. God's saints, those who have been redeemed and regenerated, even those who are already in heaven, are accepted by God only through the blood and righteousness of Christ (Eph. 1:6; John 14:6). Yet, this is the believer's confidence and encouragement – We are accepted by God for Christ's sake (Eph. 2:13-18).

    THE LORD JESUS CHRIST IS OUR ONLY INTERCESSOR. All believers are priests unto God. We do business with God ourselves in the Person of Christ. We do not need Aaron, Levi, or their sons. We have Christ. "There is one God, and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus" (I Tim. 2:5). We know that the Angel mentioned in Revelation 8:3 is Christ, because he is the only Mediator between God and men.

    now, as you know that we are baptised BY THE HOLY SPIRIT.. How then can you turn around and pray to mary? YOU ALLREADY POSESS GOD WITHIN YOU.


    December 26, 2013 at 11:57 am |
    • Bender Bending Rodriguez

      A Catholic doesn't pray to Mary as oppose to praying to Jesus. Can't you do some research on your own before repeating arguments you probably heard from someone who didn't know what they were talking about?

      December 26, 2013 at 12:10 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      you should begin your story with "Once upon a time..." then it makes perfect sense.

      December 26, 2013 at 12:49 pm |
    • Maddy

      Mario bashing Christians, Austin.

      By your premise, you don't pray to Jesus, right?

      Do you think that He would sanction your bashing Christians?

      December 26, 2013 at 1:09 pm |
      • Maddy

        Mario? Don't know where that came from.

        *Stop bashing Christians, Austin.

        December 26, 2013 at 1:15 pm |
        • Austin

          maddy, is a hail mary a prayer? and who is it directed too? can you explain how hyper adoration can explain praying to a human being and not God?

          exhortation, and rebuke, are needed here according to my bible, you treat Mary as God-like. and this is not a once in a month deal, people constantly pray to mary. It is completely wrong, can you justify doing so with scripture? the angels hailed her while she was alive, and there is no example ever in the bible of praying to a dead person. This falls under devotion to a medium . The old testament rips this type of activity as something deserving of punishment for demonic worship .

          December 26, 2013 at 3:55 pm |
        • Bender Bending Rodriguez

          One would be praying to God if they are saying the Hail Mary. Get your facts straight before promoting ignorance.

          December 26, 2013 at 6:18 pm |
        • Austin

          ya right rodriguez, that's insane.

          December 26, 2013 at 6:40 pm |
  10. Bender Bending Rodriguez

    The pope is the man!!!

    December 26, 2013 at 10:30 am |
    • Bootyfunk

      i'm curious - why do you say so?

      December 26, 2013 at 12:50 pm |
      • Bender Bending Rodriguez

        I liked it how he said that everyone can go to heaven if they live a good life.

        December 26, 2013 at 1:49 pm |
        • igaftr

          He's wrong...
          you cannot get into Valhalla unless you die in glorious battle....
          You will get a special view from Mt Olympus if you please Zeus...
          You can reach enlightenment if you give up earthly desires and lead a good life...
          You will be re -incarnated as a "higher" animal if you do good and lead a good life, a lesser if you don not...

          and so many more unfounded beliefs.

          December 26, 2013 at 2:34 pm |
    • doobzz

      I love this game! I'll start:

      The pope is the man who:

      Posed for some nice pictures but refused to respond to the UN when he was asked to provide "detailed information on all cases of child sexual abuse committed by members of the clergy, brothers or nuns" since the Holy See last reported to it some 15 years ago".


      December 26, 2013 at 12:53 pm |
      • Bootyfunk

        heh, exactly. "we're really gonna get those child molesters this time..." i'll believe it when i see it.

        December 26, 2013 at 1:05 pm |
      • Bender Bending Rodriguez

        That doesn't mean he isn't doing anything about it.

        December 26, 2013 at 1:54 pm |
        • doobzz

          That's exactly what it means. If he was actually doing something, it would have been reported as more than, "Well, we're gonna form a committee and look into it."

          His refusal to respond to the UN indicates that there probably is still much that the RCC wants to remain hidden.

          December 26, 2013 at 1:59 pm |
  11. Makes you wonder

    Me and all my friends
    We're all misunderstood
    They say we stand for nothing
    And there's no way we ever could

    Now we see everything that's going wrong
    With the world and those who lead it
    We just feel like we don't have the means
    To rise above and beat it

    So we keep waiting
    Waiting on the world to change
    We keep on waiting
    Waiting on the world to change

    December 26, 2013 at 7:57 am |
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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.