Pope Francis’ approval rating remains high in the U.S. but has slipped since 2021

Pope Francis April 3 2024 GA1 Pope Francis waves to pilgrims in St. Peter's Square gathered for his weekly general audience on April 3, 2024. | Credit: Vatican Media

new Pew Research study has found that three-quarters of Catholics in the U.S. view Pope Francis favorably, though that figure has dipped 8% since 2021. 

In addition, the Pew report suggests that a majority of Catholics in the U.S. want the Church to change its teaching on a number of key issues, including the all-male priesthood, contraception, and so-called same-sex marriage. But broken down by political affiliation, significant differences in opinion emerge. 

“Regardless of their partisan leanings, most U.S. Catholics regard Francis as an agent of change. Overall, about 7 in 10 say the current pope represents a change in direction for the Church, including 42% who say he represents a major change,” the new April 12 Pew report reads. 

Francis’ approval rating among U.S. Catholics reached 90% in Pew’s 2015 survey. By September 2018 — at a time when the entire Church was reeling from fresh scandals related to sexual abuse — the pope’s approval rating stood at just 72%, the lowest of his papacy. It had ticked back up to 83% three years later, before its latest dip to 75% in February of this year.

Pope Francis’ late predecessor Benedict XVI initially had a low approval rating of 67% among U.S. Catholics upon taking office in 2005. By 2008, however, his approval rating had reached 83%, and he closed out his papacy at 74%, in 2013.

Neither Benedict nor Francis has yet achieved the lofty heights set by the saintly Pope John Paul II, who in 1990 and 1996 garnered approval from 93% of U.S. Catholics, according to Pew’s data.

Broken down by self-described party affiliation, 35% of Catholic Republicans and Republican leaners said they have an “unfavorable” view of Pope Francis, compared with just 7% of Catholic Democrats and Democratic leaners. Catholic Republicans’ views of Pope Francis have gotten more negative over the past decade, while the views of Catholic Democrats have not changed much, Pew says. 

“The partisan gap in views of Pope Francis is now as large as it’s ever been in our surveys,” Pew noted.

“Roughly 9 in 10 Catholics who are Democrats or lean toward the Democratic Party hold a positive view of him, compared with 63% of Catholics who are Republicans or lean Republican.” 

Pew asked respondents about their opinions on several hot-button issues related to the Church’s teaching and found that the Catholics most likely to be in favor of changing Church teaching largely identify as Democrats or lean Democratic (57%), and many say they seldom or never attend Mass (56%).

In contrast, Catholics who mostly say the Church should not change its teachings are predominantly Republicans or lean Republican (72%), and many say they attend Mass at least once a week (59%).

Of those surveyed, 83% said they favored a change of the Church’s teaching on contraception; 75% said the Church should allow Catholics to take Communion even if they are unmarried and living with a romantic partner; 69% said priests should be allowed to get married; 64% said women should be allowed to become priests; and 54% said the Church should recognize the marriages of gay and lesbian couples. (These findings are not markedly different from those of a decade ago, Pew says.)

Catholics who attend Mass regularly — once a week or more — are far more inclined than those who go less often to say the Church should take a “traditional or conservative” approach on questions about the priesthood and sexuality, Pew says. 

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