Survey: 7 in 10 US Catholics happy about Pope Francis

(Photos: Reuters / Paul Hanna)Pope Francis takes part in his inaugural mass in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican, March 19, 2013. Pope Francis celebrated his inaugural mass on Tuesday among political and religious leaders from around the world.

As Pope Francis is officially installed to the papacy before witnesses worldwide, three-quarters of U.S. Catholics are happy about his selection as the new pontiff, a new survey finds.

About 73 percent of U.S. Catholics say they are happy with the selection of Pope Francis, including 31 percent how say they are very happy, according to Pew Research Center study. Another 26 percent haven't heard enough to express their opinion on his selection. Only 2 percent say they were unhappy with the selection of Pope Francis.

The data was flipped around when it was compared to how happy Protestants were in the selection of Francis as pontiff. About 35 percent of Protestants were very happy or happy, while 65 percent didn't have enough information to say their thoughts on the matter or had no opinion to give.

According to the study, Catholics who attend Mass are more likely to be happy with Francis selection. About nine out of ten Catholics, or 87 percent, who attend Mass at least once a week were happy about Pope Francis' selection. Those who attend less often were less happy, with 62 percent of Catholics in that category happy with his election.

Catholic women were happier than Catholic men on Francis, 80 percent to 65 percent.

Hispanics were more likely than Whites to be happy about Francis as the new pope. Half of hispanics were happy compared with 45 percent of Whites. About 6 in 10 blacks did not express on opinion on the pope.

Pope Francis is the first pope from Latin America, the Americas and the first Jesuit pope. As the 266th pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church, the pope will lead over 1.2 billion Catholics worldwide, 40 percent of whom reside in Latin America.

In the days following his election, Catholics are still unsure his selection is a major or minor change. A slim majority of U.S. Catholics, 44 percent, say his selection as pope represents a major change, compared to 41 percent who say there is a major change. Catholics who attend Mass at least once every week were were more likely than those who attended less to see the pope's selection as a major change.

Outside of the Catholic church walls, non-Catholics don't share the same views that Francis' papacy has been a major change. Less than one-third of Protestants, 28 percent, and just one-fifth of the religiously unaffiliated (21 percent) say Francis' elevation to the papacy represents a major change.

For U.S. Catholics, 7 in 10 agree that addressing the sex abuse scandal should be "a top priority" for Francis.

A majority of Catholics also want the Church to change policies on birth control, married clergy and female clergy. Seventy-six percent of Catholics say the church should allow them to use birth control. Around 64 percent of Catholics say that priests should be allowed to get married, and 59 percent endorse the idea of allowing women to become priests.

The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center was conducted March 13-17 among 1,501 adults (including 325 Catholics).

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