Despite all the turmoil and ongoing controversy within the church, Americans and American Catholics still think quite positively about Pope Francis.
Among Americans in general, 66 percent view him favorably and only 17 percent unfavorably. These are just about average numbers for the times Gallup has surveyed this question.
Among American Catholics, Pope Francis has a 78 percent favorable and only 12 percent unfavorable rating. This is down slightly from the 87 percent favorable view Catholics had of him when the question was last asked in October 2015. But that survey was taken immediately after his popular tour of the United States the previous month (see photo above).
Americans’ highest favorable rating for a pope was in 1998 when they gave Pope John Paul II an 86 percent favorable rating.
The lowest was for Pope Benedict XVI in 2010 when he got only a 40 percent favorable rating and a nearly equal 35 percent unfavorable amid a sharp rise in criticism of his handling of sexual abuse cases in Germany before his ascension to the papacy.
This latest Gallup papal survey came just before the recent Pennsylvania grand jury report said more than 300 clergy had sexually abused children there in the last 70 years and the cases had been covered up.
The pope responded with a letter to the world’s Catholics saying, in part, “No effort must be spared to create a culture able to prevent such (abuses) from happening, but also to prevent the possibility of their being covered up and perpetuated.” So, that report and papal response were not included in the latest ratings.
Gallup did not find evidence that recent years’ sexual abuse revelations have affected Catholics views of their clergy. Since 2014, 49 percent of Catholics have rated clergy’s honesty and ethics as high or very high. This is slightly higher than the 43 percent honesty clergy rating among Protestants.
The Catholics’ honesty rating is down five points from what they gave clergy in 2004-05. In the same time period Protestants’ favorable view of the clergy has declined more than twice as much.
Gallup’s question only inquires about “the clergy” without specifying a faith. Editor in Chief Frank Newport speculates that Protestants think the question concerns Catholic priests while Catholics are defensive and loyal regarding their own clergy.