National News

New Poll Shows Catholics Have More Favorable Opinion of Church Than Last Year

Pope Francis leads his general audience in Paul VI hall at the Vatican Jan. 29, 2020. (Photo: CNS)

By Christopher White, National Correspondent 

NEW YORK — While Catholics in the U.S. continue to grapple with fallout stemming from the clergy abuse scandals, new polling suggests that Catholics have a higher opinion of the Church than they did this time last year.

According to data from the Saint Leo University Polling Institute, the favorable opinion – those who responded strongly and somewhat favorably – was recorded at 73.5 percent, up from 69.3 percent in November 2019.

In addition, the new data shows a significant increase from April 2019, where U.S. Catholics only expressed a 57.1 percent level of favorability.

Along with the heightened favorability ratings among Catholics, overall the general favorable opinion of the Church among the public ticked slightly upward to 43.6 percent, compared to 42 percent in November. This marks another slight improvement from April 2019, when the favorable opinion was measured at 40.1 percent.

Meanwhile, seven years into papacy, Pope Francis has suffered a dip from 56.6 percent in November 2019 to 52.2 percent in the latest round of polling among the general population. Since St. Leo first began their polling, the numbers have ranged from 64.4 percent in August 2018 to 44.7 percent in October 2018, to a now midway point between the two.

Among U.S. Catholics, however, the pontiff – who marked the seventh anniversary of his pontificate on March 13 – clocks in at 74.6 percent, down from 78.1 percent in November 2019.

As a part of St. Leo University, which was founded on Benedictine traditions, the Saint Leo University Polling Institute regularly conducts surveys on topics that affect Catholics and the public’s opinion of Pope Francis.

The national survey was conducted online from February 17 through February 22, 2020, among 1,000 respondents nationally and has a margin of error of +/- 3.0 percentage points.

In addition to the data from St. Leo’s, last week, St. Mary’s University in London released new findings on “Catholics in Britain,” which found that 59 percent of all Catholics said that Pope Francis is doing an “excellent” or “good job” at spreading the Catholic faith. Those numbers increased to 74 percent among weekly Mass goers and to 78 percent among Mass goers under the age of 30.

Moreover, 70 percent of British Catholics see Francis as representing a “change of direction” for the papacy, a figure that rises to 87 percent among weekly Mass attendees.

On specific issues, the survey found that Pope Francis received his least favorable results when it comes to addressing the clergy sex abuse scandals, reforming the Vatican bureaucracy, and addressing the needs and concerns of Catholic women.

Only 42 percent of all Catholics believed that the pontiff was going an excellent or good job at responding to the abuse scandals, whereas 45 percent said the same about his efforts to reform the Vatican and addressing the concerns of women.

Among the issue specific questions, the pontiff received his highest marks for standing up for traditional moral values, with 60 percent of Catholics saying he is doing an excellent or good job and 80 percent of weekly Mass going Catholics under the age of 30 giving him that same ranking.

The survey was administered to nearly 2,000 Britons, in a country where Catholics make up nearly 8 percent of the adult population.

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