By Christopher White
The Tablet’s National Correspondent
Two years after Pope Francis visited the United States and four months after his first meeting with President Donald Trump, the Pope’s overall approval among Americans is at 87.9 percent – up from 82.6 this past March.
While the new data evidences a five-point bump among the general U.S. population, his popularity dipped slightly among U.S. Catholics, now at 67.9 percent approval, down slightly from 70.5 percent last March.
The polling, which was carried out by Saint Leo University Polling Institute, took place Sept. 10-16 among 1,000 individuals.
Respondents were asked to weigh in on six areas of the pope’s job performance: advancing the cause of the poor, human rights work, environmental issues, migration and immigration, handling cases of sexual abuse involving Catholic clergy, and marriage and family issues.
The pope received his lowest approval for his handling of sexual abuse issues, with 46.4 percent of national respondents saying they “strongly or somewhat approve” of his work in this area, while 30.8 percent say they “somewhat and strongly disapprove” of the Pope’s course of action.
Just last week, Francis admitted that the Church waited too long to respond to the sexual abuse crisis and expressed regret for his decision to give a priest accused of abuse a lesser sentence than had originally been recommended.
“I was new and I did not understand these things well,” he said.
The pope’s remarks on sexual abuse came during a meeting with members of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, in which he praised them for their work in fighting sexual abuse, while at the same time acknowledging the sluggish response of some Church leaders.
“You have had to swim against the current because there is a reality: the Church has taken consciousness about these crimes in a delayed manner,” he said.
The Pope also managed to lose a bit of support for his work on immigration, dipping from a 54.4 percent approval in March to 53.8 percent in the September poll. However, the poll also showed a 19.7 percent disapproval of his work on immigration, a decrease from 21.1 in March.
On Wednesday of this week, Francis kicked off a two-year global campaign, “Share the Journey,” meant to promote a great welcome of migrants and refugees. In response, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) is calling for a National Week of Prayer and Action, Oct. 7-13.
The campaign comes at a time when many leaders of the U.S. Church have clashed with the Trump administration over its policies toward migrants and refugees.
Earlier this month, the administration announced that it would be ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program known as DACA, which provides protection from deportation for qualified immigrants. This decision prompted widespread outrage among members of the U.S. church hierarchy.
The Pope earned his highest marks for his work on human rights causes and his advocacy on behalf of the poor.
According to respondents, 69.5 percent “strongly and somewhat approve” of the pontiff’s work on human rights, while 11.7 percent “somewhat and strongly disapprove” of his performance. Similarly, 68.8 percent say they approve of his work on behalf of the poor while only 10.7 say they disapprove.
Pope Francis also received increased approval for his work on environmental issues, with 60.3 percent of respondents expressing their approval and 13.6 percent saying they “somewhat and strongly disapprove.”
The environment has been a chief concern for Francis ever since the release of his 2015 encyclical Laudato Si’, in which he urged finding global solutions to fight climate change and environmental degradation.
Francis was widely considered to be a significant force behind the Paris Climate Agreements in December 2015 where nations of the world pledged global cooperation to cut greenhouse emissions. In August, Trump announced he would be withdrawing from the agreement, prompting widespread criticism from U.S. Church leaders.
Lastly, the pope received a 55.7 percent approval for his work on marriage and family issues, with 20.5 percent saying they “somewhat and strongly disapprove.”
Last week it was announced that a group of 62 conservative theologians had accused the pope of heresy for his teachings on marriage and family in his 2016 apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia.
Saint Leo University, a Catholic institution located in Florida, commissions quarterly polling on the pope’s job performance. The results have a margin for error of +/-4.5% at a 95% confidence level.