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Pope Francis’ US approval rates slump sharply, led by conservative dismay

Pope Francis told an elderly audience he, too, is "a little bit sick" and he's said he doesn't think his pontificate will last more than five years.

Creative Commons image by the Catholic Church (England and Wales)

Pope Francis

(RNS) Growing conservative disaffection with Pope Francis appears to be taking a toll on his once Teflon-grade popularity in the U.S., with a new Gallup poll showing the pontiff’s favorability rating among all Americans dropping to 59 percent from a 76 percent peak early last year.

Among conservatives, the drop-off has been especially sharp: Just 45 percent view Francis favorably today, as opposed to 72 percent a year ago.

“This decline may be attributable to the pope’s denouncing of ‘the idolatry of money’ and attributing climate change partially to human activity, along with his passionate focus on income inequality — all issues that are at odds with many conservatives’ beliefs,” Gallup analyst Art Swift wrote Wednesday (July 22) when the survey was published.

But liberal fervor for the Argentine pope, who was elected to great acclaim in March 2013, has also cooled, dropping an average of 14 points.


READ: Gay priest fired from chaplain job asks Pope Francis to meet LGBT Catholics in US


Some observers have predicted that many who embraced the pope’s candor and his views on a range of social justice issues would temper their ardor as they realized he would not change church teachings on hot-button issues such as abortion or contraception or gay marriage.

Another major factor is that the number of those who expressed “no opinion” about the pope or said they don’t know enough about him rose from 16 percent to 25 percent. That may be linked to fewer magazine cover stories on the pope, or more critical stories.

The poll comes just as American Catholics are set to welcome the pope this September for his first visit to the U.S. It essentially returns Francis to approval levels he had in the first months after his election.

The fall-off appears to be relatively recent: A Pew Research Center survey from February showed Francis’ approval rating among all Americans at 70 percent, and at a remarkable 90 percent among all Catholics.

That number had been steadily increasing, among Republicans and conservatives, as well, despite their concerns that Francis was not stressing issues such as abortion while highlighting social justice themes.

But the Gallup poll, which has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points for results based on the total sample, was conducted earlier this month in the middle of Francis’ visit to three countries in Latin America during which he delivered some of his most powerful remarks on economic justice and environmental protection.

That prompted Western journalists on the papal plane, with a view to Francis’ upcoming U.S. visit, to ask whether he needs to say more about “the middle class, that is, the working people, the people who pay taxes, normal people.”

Francis responded by saying that he needed to address that aspect of his message and would read his critics ahead of the Sept. 22-27 U.S. trip.


READ: 10 US mayors join Pope Francis in pledging to combat climate change, trafficking


Stephen Schneck, head of the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies at Catholic University of America in Washington, blamed pundits on the right and left, like Rush Limbaugh and Rachel Maddow, for “politicizing” the pope’s teachings.

“He’s not a conservative or progressive, not a Democrat or Republican. So stop trying to clobber him with those yardsticks,” Schneck wrote in an email. “How many times do our pundits need to be told that he’s carrying the same message as John Paul II and Benedict XVI?”

Schneck said that as the visit approaches, he expects Francis’ poll numbers “to rebound to his strong, earlier levels — that is, if both the right and the left will stop dragging him into their partisan squabbles.”

Is it too late? Has “Francis fatigue” displaced the “Francis effect”?

After the Latin America trip, popular conservative Catholic blogger Elizabeth Scalia wrote a lengthy post saying she is “frankly just tired of feeling scolded.”

“I love His Holiness Pope Francis, but for a while now, I have been feeling harangued by him, as he’s been harping on us to do more, and ever more, to practice mercy on the world; to welcome the stranger, to clean up the rivers, to bring about justice and peace in our time; to level the playing fields, visit the sick, and so on,” Scalia wrote.

That lament was picked up by other conservatives, such as Carl Olson, editor of Catholic World Report, who complained about what he sees as Francis’ constant “haranguing, harping, exhorting, lecturing.”

“It probably doesn’t help,” Olson added, “that Francis obsesses over particular points, to a degree that is, frankly, grating.”

YS/MG END GIBSON

About the author

David Gibson

David Gibson is a national reporter for RNS and an award-winning religion journalist, author and filmmaker. He has written several books on Catholic topics. His latest book is on biblical artifacts: "Finding Jesus: Faith. Fact. Forgery," which was also the basis of a popular CNN series.

52 Comments

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  • Liberals in the church have been listening to scolding and worse since the death of John XXIII. Conservatives don’t like that change in focus, with their political, economic and environmental positions being scrutinized. Well, after more than 50 years, a little change in perspective doesn’t seem unreasonable to me.

  • Of course. Most U.S. “Christians” are, in fact, Pharisaic Bible-cultists who have little to no interest in actually practicing the faith Jesus Christ preaches in the Gospels.

  • My parents escaped communism which has killed over 90 million people this century and it has persecuted the Church. This pope doesn’t have a problem with that or abortion or gay lifestyle. Two months ago he said the Koran is as valid as the Bible. He constantly criticizes FREE-market economics which has lifted BILLIONS out of poverty. When he talks about topics he doesn’t have any expertise on he sounds emotionally confused. Even Cardinal Burke said the pope shouldn’t talk about things he doesn’t have knowledge on.

    Sorry this guy is not my pope. I am not a blind sheep.

  • As always, Gibson skews his reporting. “The the biggest drop in favourability is among Catholics (the Pope’s rating has fallen from 89% to 71%, an 18% drop) and among Americans who consider themselves political Conservatives (a drop from 72% to 45%, a 27% drop).” http://vaticaninsider.lastampa.it/en/world-news/detail/articolo/francesco-usa-42493/ Obviously, an 18% drop among Catholics may perhaps be the most significant since we are the ones who follow the news about the pope more closely than any other group.
    As someone who has written dozens of blogs trying to bring truth and accuracy about this pontificate to the public, there are days I get paralyzed with frustration and discouragement. This helps a great deal.

  • Betty, you are saying I skewed the reporting (not sure how) and then you praise it. Could you clarify? Thanks. David

  • Wow,Ted…there’s almost 400 million people in the U.S.—when did you take the time to become aquainted with “most of them “? However long it took,obviously it left you with enough time on your hands to level gratuitous insults against them(At least against the “most”you know.) I usually strive mightily to avoid being rude and or insulting on these sites,given as how they WILL block me,so I’ll satisfy myself with this for now: the day has just started for me,but so far your comment is the most asinine I’ve heard yet.I don’t know who you’ve been talking to,but you definitely need to expand your horizons beyond that mythical “most Christians “you claim you know.—PEACE IN CHRIST, ALWAYS!

  • Seems perfectly logical to me. The Holy Father has shown America its sins and America has responded defensively. The rest of the world lives on a dollar a day. Americans continues to use and acquire more than they need and this is a grave sin against God and Humanity. I love people who rationalism unfettered capitalism, through socialism…. The Holy Father is not a socialist. And of course any modern democracy is a mix of both socialism and capitalism. But if we don’t acquire more than we need how will we be able to help the poor countries????? What, well that’s the dumbfounding rationalization America has. America as a country gives less per GDP of any industrialized Nation. WE ARE GREEDY, selfish, people and that is why the world hates us.

  • It is great to have a Pope who can read the scripture and tell it like it is to the world, especially those who have distorted the message of Jesus for their own ends.
    Maybe these conservatives who have perverted the scripture for their own greed would like to start going to Sunday gatherings where the real Gospel is not preached and folks are content to just “play church!”

  • And then there is Francis’ lack of attention to the flawed history and theology of Christianity with the number one in both categories: The Resurrection/Easter Con.

    As noted by Pope John Paul II and St. Aquinas, Heaven is a spirit state i.e. there can be no bones there or bodies to include the theological glorified body. So where are the bones? As per Professor Crossan’s analyses in his many books, the body of Jesus very possibly would have ended up in the mass graves of the crucified, eaten by wild dogs, with lime in a shallow grave, or under a pile of stones.

  • First of all, the Pope’s thoughts on global warming, Capitalism, and the unequal dispersion of wealth are not intended to be binding directions for Catholics to follow. Like Christ, he is encapsulating what is wrong with our world and offering measures to address these issues, thus improving goodness worldwide. He is more than free to advise the world community. He is not seeking popularity.

    Second, does a Pope need to be a chronic denouncer of abortion, contraception, gay marriage, and the wish for women to enter the priesthood? These issues are not debateable, the Catholic answer to each of these issues is well known and rigidly held by the Church eternally. Does the Holy Father need to confront only these hot button issues daily? I think it is refreshing that Francis has opened up a new ” mission” for Catholics to ponder….to look at the good we can produce rather than argue over issues that the Church will never change for they are not for the “greater good”.

  • Say what? Jesus and his mother, Mary, are in Heaven….body and soul. This represents the state we all will be at the End. All bodies will rejoin their departed soul. God created humans as such, and this is the way we will eternally be….albeit perfect, or damned.

  • Bernardo, Jesus rose from the dead, body, soul, and divinity, and his Body is a glorified body: (John 20:19, 26; Luke 24:39, Luke 24:40–43). If you do not believe what Sacred Scripture says, then just say so, but that is also how all Christians will be at the end of time, in glorified bodies that reflect your Love for God and Neighbor (Phil 3:19). That is what differentiates us from the angels.

  • Pope Francis is in reality presenting the whole gospel (360 degrees). In the past, the popes tended to emphasize the errors of the age, such as abortion, and the like, but today, the biggest error is no focus on God at all; most go about their business as if all ends at death, so the Pope must get back to the foundational aspects of the Faith. It is a very sad age that we live in. Most breathe their last, stand in judgment, and then throw themselves into the eternal abyss to hide from our Lord. It is just horrible how the Devil has blinded all of us in so many ways.

  • I love reading the delusions of such “true believers!” Protestants readily dismiss you defenders of the Vatican corporate ego that’s stuck in the Dark Ages, when–alongside horrible despots–they were co-rulers of the masses. Like Islam’s mullahs, they can’t quite grasp how love & faithfulness to Christ can be freely chosen and doesn’t have to be instilled by violence, fear, and the kind of guilt and shame you’re dishing out here for Americans’ material success via hard work, thrift and self-discipline!

    Another alien idea is that of the honest, ethical exchange of fair-value by free people in a free and open market system. Francis could show some intellectual honesty—if not humility, if he read and absorbed the works of Peruvian economist Hernando DeSoto, whose life work is to legitimize the “shadow enterprises” that result from greedy oligarchies dominant in poor countries. Countless micro-business people are lifted from dire poverty via hard work,creativity, thrift and…

  • I stand by my comment. Most in the U.S. who call themselves “christian” idolize a book rather than worship God in Christ. This is particularly so among evangelicals, but plagues most of the denominations. Pastors regularly proof-text to suit their biases: whether justifying greed as “prosperity”, bashing homosexuals, sanctioning anti-Muslim bigotry, or denying women’s right to control their own bodies. The anti-Christ is alive and well in America’s churches, and has weaponized the Bible to drive us from the Gospel of love, by turning it into an instrument of hatred and intolerance.

  • There is a reason for countries. You should take your controlling hate filled propaganda and leave the USA !

  • Imagine spending your entire life studying a topic (theology) that fails to even address the topic (God)..! Add to that the obfuscations of the un-evidenced immaterial and the metaphysical, throw in a few angels and a supposed resurrection of an allegedly dead human for whom there is actually no firm evidence of their existence in the first place, and hey presto! That’s the kind of poor thinking that gives produces religion. What single piece of new knowledge has theology ever brought to the world in say, the last 400 years..? I can’t think of one. Not one. Anybody else…?

  • Imagine spending your entire life in the scientific world, coming up with exciting theories of evolution, the big bang, and developmental science, only to find out when you die that you missed the most important point?

  • I don’t recall Protestant history being nonviolent. Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, Witch trials, the 30 years war, etc. Try to understand history in the time it was being made. Remember, Protestants owe their theology to the Catholics, they simply removed the parts that they could not remain faithful to. Catholicism still thrives, one, true, and Apostolic under the protection of God.

  • Should theologians invent things or discover cures for disease? That is not their job. Theology reminds the world that only God creates. Science merely dips into existing ingredients to develop things, and discovers only what has been hidden from them. Man can create nothing.

  • First, the vituperation against your neighbor. Then “peace in Christ.” Look at the proportion of each. Vituperation wins hands down.

  • except the computer you’re posting with, the car you drive, and a host of other things.

  • It is never easy being forced to look at one’s own life through the eyes of another. The pope does not need to be an economist or a scientist or a lawyer or a husband or father to speak to the truth that is the Word of The Lord. It wasn’t easy for Israel or Judah when confronted by the reality of their injustices, and it wasn’t easy for the “council” to be confronted with the truth by St. Stephen (Acts 7). Likewise we seem content with a “one and done” theology by which we are “saved” or “justified” in an instant (or whatever term we embrace) and then go about our lives as if nothing has happened. THAT, I believe, is what Francis and others before him have been speaking to. That we don’t want to hear it does not make it any less true.

  • “I love His Holiness Pope Francis, but for a while now, I have been feeling harangued by him, as he’s been harping on us to do more, and ever more, to practice mercy on the world; to welcome the stranger, to clean up the rivers, to bring about justice and peace in our time; to level the playing fields, visit the sick, and so on,” Scalia wrote.
    Is that what the Holy Father wants? I think that thats what Jesus Wants!

  • None were created from nothing. That’s my point. Men can only use their brains and the existing materials on earth to make anything.

  • Unlike John Paul II and Benedict, this pope has virtually embraced liberation theology, which is heretical, and he has a primitive understanding of the way economics work. And that understanding is indistinguishable from that of a child.

    One can embrace the cause of the poor and still know what wealth is and how it’s created. Francis doesn’t.

    The Catholic Church needs to free itself from the European idea that wealth and money — as opposed to the love of wealth and money — are the root of evil….and that engaging in business activity is somehow unspiritual and lowly.

    Until it does, it will have little to say to the real world that most people are in each day.

  • Earth to Bernardo:

    The tomb of Jesus was empty and nobody found the body. Had anyone done so, that would’ve shut the lights out on the Gospel before it even made it out of Jerusalem.

  • Protestants miss the catholicity — the universal nature — of the church, but the institution known as the Catholic Church, despite a number of constructive reforms, still has a long way to go in ridding itself of doctrines that contradict the Bible, as well as biases carried over from Roman elites against the strivings of ordinary people to better themselves economically. It needs to stop viewing the normal work that most people do each day as low or unseemly if done for a profit-making enterprise.

  • And it needs to stop seeing people as “the masses” rather than as self-directed individuals.

  • It’s the other way around. Liberals in the church don’t like it when their political and social dogmas are challenged by facts and logic, either within the church or outside of it.

  • I would take exception to your assertion Jack that the CC teaches doctrines contrary to the Bible. Everything the Church teaches can be found in the Bible, maybe not “explicitly” but certainly in there. But as for the rest, yes the Church can and should change its culture to address the times. Oftentimes it does it more slowly than people would like, but it does change, once well understood.

  • I’ve read many of his comments, which balance the anti-capitalism logo he’s been branded with, but those never seem to get reported. He’s more balanced than what makes the headlines.

  • Some of what the pope asks for is good for humanity and the planet, but at the end of the day, he’s still a chubby old man in a silk dress promoting a fairy tale and managing a club around it – an activity that pays his own bills.

  • Hi Jack,
    Always interesting to hear what the true believers consider important.
    “The tomb of Jesus was empty and nobody found the body. ”
    Almost too many objections to list.
    1. It is a lie
    2. It is true, but that doe not mean anything magical/supernatural happened.
    3. …”the Gospel’ (meaning a correspondence from the Emperor) is hardly a matter of objective information.
    Easy to make objections based on rational understandings.
    Belief, however, demands that all reasonable objections be overruled by “faith”.
    By that standard, all manner of superstition/magic is admitted.

  • @ Dominic
    “Man can create nothing.”
    Dominic can create nothing.
    The gods were created by men.
    Silly flat statements of “belief” prove nothing.
    I believe nothing/everything.
    Define create, define belief, and perhaps we could have a discussion.

  • Saving Christians from the Infamous Resurrection Con/

    From that famous passage: In 1 Corinthians 15: 14, Paul reasoned, “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.”

    Even now Catholic/Christian professors (e.g.Notre Dame, Catholic U, Georgetown) of theology are questioning the bodily resurrection of the simple, preacher man aka Jesus.

    To wit;

    From a major Catholic university’s theology professor’s grad school white-board notes:

    “Heaven is a Spirit state or spiritual reality of union with God in love, without earthly – earth bound distractions.
    Jesus and Mary’s bodies are therefore not in Heaven.

    , the physical Resurrection (meaning a resuscitated corpse returning to life), Ascension (of Jesus’ crucified corpse), and Assumption (Mary’s corpse) into heaven did not take place.

    The Ascension symbolizes the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry and the beginning of the Church.

  • Continuing:

    “In three controversial Wednesday Audiences, Pope John Paul II pointed out that the essential characteristic of heaven, hell or purgatory is that they are states of being of a spirit (angel/demon) or human soul, rather than places, as commonly perceived and represented in human language. This language of place is, according to the Pope, inadequate to describe the realities involved, since it is tied to the temporal order in which this world and we exist. In this he is applying the philosophical categories used by the Church in her theology and saying what St. Thomas Aquinas said long before him.”
    http://eternal-word.com/library/PAPALDOC/JP2HEAVN.HTM

  • Continuing:

    “Reimarus (1774-1778) posits that Jesus became sidetracked by embracing a political position, sought to force God’s hand and that he died alone deserted by his disciples. What began as a call for repentance ended up as a misguided attempt to usher in the earthly political kingdom of God. After Jesus’ failure and death, his disciples stole his body and declared his resurrection in order to maintain their financial security and ensure themselves some standing.”

  • The passages cited have been rigorously tested for historic authenticity and found to be historically nil.

    e.g. Luke 24:36-53 The emphatic realism in the recognition scene that begins this appearance story mans “one can hardly avoid seeing this as a thrust against docetism. Evidently in this verse Luke is combating the same challenges to the bodily reality of Jesus as Ignatius, To the Smyrneans 3.2, does at the beginning of the second century.” Luedemann concludes, “The historical yield is nil, both in respect of the real historical event and in connection with
    the visions which were the catalyst for the rise of Christianity.” [Jesus, 413-415]”

  • And the latest astrophysics view of life after death? Tis simply recycling of your body into future bodies and things in a never -ending cycle of birth, death and renewal. No heaven, no hell, no purgatory, no limbo just the beauty of Mother Nature in recycling mode. Here today, gone tomorrow eventually returning as something different, non-animated or animated in the chaotic, stochastic life of the expanding or shrinking universe.

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