.- As the Feb. 28 resignation of Pope Benedict XVI approaches, the vast majority of U.S. Catholics have a favorable view of the pontiff, and the majority support traditional Catholic teaching as well.
According to a recent survey by Pew Research Center, 74 percent of U.S. Catholics “express a favorable view of the pope.”
This rating is similar to that March 2008, when about three in four Catholics held a “very” or “mostly” favorable opinion of the Pope shortly before his visit to the U.S.
Pope Benedict has been regarded favorably throughout his entire papacy, with approval ratings among U.S. Catholics ranging from 67-83 percent.
Pope Benedict’s predecessor, Pope John Paul II, also enjoyed a high favorability rating over the course of his papacy. The Pew Forum’s polling in the 1980s and 1990s found that more than 90 percent of Americans had a positive opinion of Pope John Paul II.
The Pew survey this past month also found that the majority of U.S. Catholics believe Pope Benedict has done an excellent or good job promoting relations with other religions.
Among the Holy Father’s efforts was the creation of ordinariates, structures under which entire Anglican communities could enter into communion with the Catholic Church.
Although Pope Benedict disciplined the disgraced Legion of Christ founder Fr. Marcel Maciel in 2005, the American public appears reluctant to praise his work against sex abuse.
Sixty-three percent said the Pope has done a fair or a poor job in addressing the sex abuse scandal. Only 33 percent said he has done an excellent or good job. This represents a decline from April 2008, when 49 percent of Americans thought he had done an excellent or a good job and 40 percent said he has done only a fair or poor job.
The February survey also sought Catholics’ views about Pope Benedict’s possible successor.
About 60 percent of Catholics said it would be good for the next Pope to be from the developing world, while 14 percent thought it would be bad and 20 percent said it would not matter.
The majority of those surveyed said the next Pope should maintain traditional Catholic positions, while 46 percent said he should “move in new directions.” Weekly Mass attendees were most likely to favor tradition, with 63 percent saying the next Pope should maintain traditional teaching.
Sixty percent of Catholic college graduates favored “new directions;” however, there was no significant “generation gap” on the question between older and younger respondents.
About 58 percent of Catholics said allowing priests to marry would be a good thing, with 35 percent opposed. Women, college graduates, non-weekly churchgoers and those over 50 were more likely to favor married priests.
Those Catholics who favored taking the Church in a new direction could give pollsters an open-ended response as to where they would like to see change. Nineteen percent said the Church should “become more modern,” while 15 percent wanted a tougher stance on sex abuse.
Fewer than 10 percent called for the Church to accept same-sex “marriage,” women priests or contraception.