Roman Catholics in America love Pope Francis and believe that the people’s pontiff is doing a wonderful job in the Vatican, according to a new survey.
The CNN/ORC International poll found that 88 percent of Catholics in the U.S. approve of how the 77-year-old Francis is leading the church while in charge of 1.2 billion followers worldwide, according to CNN’s Belief Blog.
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Francis has been also given the thumbs up by three out of every four Americans when non-Catholics are included in the study.
CNN Polling Director Keating Holland argues that the Pope is probably the “most well-regarded religious figure” among the American public today.
After taking the reins at St. Peter’s Basilica nine months ago, the Argentine-born Francis has already proved that the life under his papacy will be vastly different from his predecessors.
First and foremost,Time Magazine’s Person of the Year is seen as the everyman pope who has shunned the traditional luxuries afforded to the highest Catholic by living in a Vatican guesthouse instead of the papal palace as well as wearing more simple vestments to official functions. He even rides around in a 1984 Renault.
Francis was the most talked about person on the Internet this year, ahead of fugitive National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden, Prince William’s wife and new mom Kate Middleton, and even twerking singer Miley Cyrus.
As an example to others, he’s gone out of his way to show compassion to the less fortunate, such as embracing a man with heart-breaking facial tumors — moves that have drawn praise the world over.
To mark his 77th birthday, instead of thinking about himself, Pope Francis welcomed three homeless men to a Mass and a special meal at the Casa Santa Marta, the Vatican guesthouse. The men, one of whom brought his dog, then sang “Happy Birthday” to the pontiff.
When Francis was named Time’s Person of the Year, the magazine’s managing editor Nancy Gibbs declared, “Rarely has a new player on the world stage captured so much attention so quickly — young and old, faithful and cynical — as has Pope Francis.”
Even the gay and lesbian magazine The Advocate named him its person of the year. “While 2013 will be remembered for the work of hundreds in advancing marriage equality, it will also be remembered for the example of one man,” said the magazine.
The surprise award was given for the Pope’s potential policy-shifting position on homosexuality, made five months ago when he declared, “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?”
Instead of concentrating on such cultural issues as abortion and gay rights, the pontiff is urging his flock to care more about moral issues such as the poor and the underprivileged.
But it has not been all plain sailing for Pope Francis in his first year. In a 50,000 word statement, called “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”), the pope attacked the “idolatry of money” and said that trickle-down economics was “crude and naive.”
But conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh called him a closet Marxist and declared that the pontiff’s economic opinions were “dramatically, embarrassingly, puzzlingly wrong.”
The CNN poll found that American Catholics agreed with the pope’s new direction for the church, with nearly two thirds of recipients saying more attention should be paid to moral issues. The survey showed that 86 percent of U.S. Catholics said the pope understands the problems of the modern world while 85 percent believed that Francis was neither too liberal nor too conservative.
These statistics lie in stark comparison to a poll in 2003 finding that more than half American Catholics thought that Pope John Paul II was out of touch with the times as he neared the end of his 23-year tenure in the Vatican, CNN pointed out.
The poll revealed that two out of every three Catholics in America support the pontiff’s economic position that capitalism is hurting the poor.
More than six out of 10 U.S. Catholics also agree with the pope’s stated position that women must play a larger role in the future of church leadership, although he still supports the longtime doctrine that women cannot be ordained as priests.
The poll recorded that 60 percent of American Catholics believe Francis has also performed admirably in dealing with the ongoing sexual abuse scandal inside the church, although 64 percent claim that the church overall could do a better job on the problem.
Earlier this month, it was revealed that Francis was creating a special commission to prevent the sexual abuse of minors and to help victims of abuse. The commission will be working with authorities to report such cases, according to CNN.
CNN polling chief Holland said that there have not been many approval surveys conducted on the pontiffs, and thus it was difficult to compare Pope Francis with his predecessors. “It’s a tough question since polling on Popes is pretty sparse,” he said.
The phone poll of 1,035 adults was conducted from December 16-19, and it has a margin of error is plus or minus three percentage points.
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