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Survey: Despite partisan divides, pope retains high marks among US Catholics

Catholic Republicans are far more likely than Democrats of the faith to say the pope is ‘too liberal.'

Pope Francis delivers his blessing as he recites the Angelus noon prayer from the window of his studio overlooking St. Peter's Square, at the Vatican, Sept. 5, 2021. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

(RNS) — A new survey finds that Pope Francis retains high levels of support among U.S. Catholics across the board, and most church members either aren’t aware of or have no opinion about recent controversial changes the pope has made to rules about the Latin Mass.

But researchers pointed to persistent partisan divides in how the U.S. faithful view the pontiff, another signal Catholicism is not immune to domestic polarization trends.

According to a poll conducted by the Pew Research Center last month (Sept. 20-26), the vast majority of Catholics (83%) hold a favorable view of Francis, compared with just 14% who view him unfavorably. Those views are virtually unchanged since March, when 82% viewed the pope favorably.


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In fact, Francis’ current favorability rating among Catholics is almost identical to when Pew first polled on the subject in March 2013 (84%), although, researchers were careful to note, Pew shifted to an online surveying method in 2020 — a departure from their accustomed telephone calls.

Americans overall rate Francis somewhat lower, though still favorably: 60% view him favorably, down slightly from 64% earlier this year. Around a quarter of the country — 28% — views him unfavorably, and 11% did not respond to the question.

No recent change in share of U.S. Catholics who view Pope Francis favorably. Graphic courtesy of Pew Research Center

No recent change in share of U.S. Catholics who view Pope Francis favorably. Graphic courtesy of Pew Research Center

There are partisan differences, however. While 71% of Catholic Republicans view Francis favorably, Catholic Democrats are 20 percentage points more likely to say the same. Catholic Republicans are also far more likely to say the pope is “too liberal” (49%) than are Democrats (16%). In addition, GOP Catholics are more likely to cast Francis as “naive” (34%) than Catholic Democrats (16%).


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There are also slight differences regarding how Catholics view the health of the pontiff, who recently underwent surgery. Most Democrats (57%) say the pope is “in good physical health,” whereas fewer than half of Republicans (45%) say the same.

And when asked about Francis’ recent decision to reverse a move by his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, and reimpose restrictions on Mass conducted in Latin, Republican Catholics were more likely to say they disagreed with the shift (20%) than Democrats in the faith (6%).

Two-thirds of U.S. Catholics have heard 'nothing at all' about pope's new restrictions on traditional Latin Mass. Graphic courtesy of Pew Research Center

Two-thirds of U.S. Catholics have heard ‘nothing at all’ about pope’s new restrictions on traditional Latin Mass. Graphic courtesy of Pew Research Center

But among Catholics overall, a sizable majority (65%) said they had not even heard about the restrictions, and an additional 14% said they had no opinion on the matter. Catholics who attend Mass at least weekly were the only subgroup where a majority had heard about the issue: 29% said they disapproved, 11% said they approved, and 17% had no opinion.

The poll had a margin of error of 1.9 percentage points overall, and 4.3 percentage points for Catholic respondents.