US still highly regards Pope Francis, but signs of disenchantment emerge: Pew survey

(REUTERS/Tony Gentile)Pope Francis waves at his audience before delivering an address.

Five years into Francis' papacy, the great majority of U.S. Catholics still have a favorable opinion of the Argentinian pontiff, and most see him as representing major, and positive, change for the Roman Catholic Church.

A new Pew Research Center survey, however, finds signs of growing dissatisfaction with Francis among Catholics on the political right, with increasing shares of Catholic who are Republicans saying they view Francis unfavorably,

They think that he is too liberal and naïve.

Currently, 84 percent of American Catholics say they have a "favorable" view of Pope Francis, virtually identical to the share who expressed a positive view of the Pope after is first year leading the church.

Furthermore, roughly nine-in-ten U.S. Catholics describe Pope Francis as "compassionate" and "humble."

Still although the share of Catholics in the U.S. who think Pope Francis represents a "major change" for the better is down from a high point in 2015, nearly 60 percent still hold this view.

The Pew survey notes, however, that while Francis remains quite popular, there are signs that U.S. Catholics are less captivated with him than they were once.

For example, the tally of American Catholics who say Pope Francis is "too liberal" has leapt 15 percentage points between 2015 and today, from 19 percent to 34 percent.

And 24 percent quarter of U.S. Catholics now say he is naïve, up from 15 percent in 2015.

Over the same period, the share of American Catholics who give Pope Francis "excellent" or "good" marks for his handling of the lingering sex abuse scandal afflicting the church dropped from 55 percent to 45 percent.

The survey was conducted before the recent papal visit to Chile and Peru, which prompted new questions and media coverage about the how the Pope has dealt with this issue.

The survey said there have been similar declines in the share of Catholics who give the Pope positive marks for "spreading the Catholic faith" and "standing up for traditionaoral values."

Still, on balance the pontiff continues to earn more praise than criticism in these areas.

On the U.S. political front the survey also finds signs of growing polarization along partisan lines in Catholics' views of Francis.

The share of Republican and Republican-leaning Catholics who say Pope Francis is "too liberal" has more than doubled since 2015 (from 23 percent to 55 percent).

Similarly, one-third of Catholic Republicans now say Francis is "naïve," up from 16 percent held this view in 2015.

Among Democratic and Democratic-leaning Catholics, by contrast, there has been no statistically significant change in opinion on either of these questions.

In addition, while most Republican Catholics continue to express a favorable view of Francis, the share who have a favorable view of the pontiff is down compared with the end of his first year in office, four years ago.

At that time, there was no noticeable difference between the share of Catholic Republicans (90 percent) and Democrats (87 percent) who indicated a favorable view of Francis.

Today, by contrast, Pope Francis' favorability rating is 10 points higher among Catholic Democrats (89 percent) than among Catholic Republicans (79 percent).

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