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Most U.S. Catholics approve of Pope Francis, Pew says

Data shows divide in papal approval between two major political parties in U.S.

Published: April 22, 2024   
Pope Francis greets children from the popemobile as he leaves St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican after his weekly general audience March 20. A new report shows most U.S. Catholics approve of Pope Francis. (CNS photo/Lola Gomez)

A new report shows most U.S. Catholics approve of Pope Francis, but his ratings have slipped in the past few years, marked by political divides.

The findings were released by the Pew Research Center April 12 from a study that surveyed close to 12,700 respondents, 2,019 of whom self-identified as Catholic. The data showed that 75 percent of U.S. Catholics regarded the pope favorably, compared to 83 percent in 2021 and 90 percent in early 2015.

By comparison, Pope Francis has generally earned higher marks among the nation's Catholics than Pope Benedict XVI, although neither pope has enjoyed the popularity of St. John Paul II, who, according to Pew, enjoyed approval ratings ranging from 91 percent to 93 percent in polls conducted in 1987, 1990 and 1996.

At the same time, Pew research associate Patricia Tevington, one of three primary researchers for the report, noted that data's methodology shifted within that period from random-dial telephone surveys (conducted January 2020 and prior) to online surveys from the center's American Trends Panel.

Tevington also told OSV News that "the most striking thing" to her and her colleagues in the report were "the political divides in terms of favorability towards Francis."

The report said that 89 percent of U.S. Catholics who are Democrats approve of the pope, while just 7 percent disapprove of him. In contrast, 63 percent of U.S. Catholics who are Republican give the pope a thumbs-up, while 35 percent view him unfavorably.

"The partisan gap in views of Pope Francis is now as large as it's ever been in our surveys," said the report.

"There was a point at which there wasn't too much of a difference in terms of people's opinions towards Pope Francis, regardless of … whether or not they were a Democrat or Democrat-leaning Catholics or Republican or Republican-leaning Catholics," Teverington told OSV News. "And we still see kind of the overall majority of Catholics see him mostly or very favorably, but there is this kind of increasing divide where about a third of Republican or Republican-leaning Catholics view him mostly or very unfavorably, but only just 7 percent of Democrat or Democrat-leaning Catholics (do so)."

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