NEW YORK — Five years after his election, Pope Francis continues to receive high approval ratings in the United States, though he is viewed with increasing skepticism among Catholic Republicans according to a new study released on Tuesday from the Pew Research Center.
84 percent of American Catholics expressed a “favorable” view of Francis, a number that is “virtually identical” to polling from Pew following the first year of his papacy. Despite such widespread popularity, a quarter of American Catholics (24%), say he is “naïve” — a number up from 15 percent in 2015.
The increase can likely be attributed to his handling of sexual abuse cases, which have reemerged as a contentious issue following his January visit to Chile and Peru this year where his off-the-cuff remarks to a reporter led to massive blowback and accusations of insensitivity regarding the issue.
His approval ratings for his handling of clerical sexual abuse dropped ten points to 45 percent according to the latest data.
The study also found that the number of Republican and Republican-leaning Catholics that say Francis is “too liberal” is now at 55 percent — an increase from 23 percent in 2015. By contrast, there has been little statistical change among Catholic Democrats who gave him a 71 percent approval rating, in comparison to 76 percent in 2014.
In regards to parish life, 55 percent of the respondents to the Pew study said that their local priest was “very supportive” of Francis, with another 23 percent saying their priest was “somewhat supportive.”
67 percent of those surveyed said that they believe Francis represents a major change in a positive direction for the Catholic Church, with 94 percent describing him as compassionate and 91 percent describing him as humble.
Based on his current approval ratings, Francis remains more popular than his predecessor Pope Benedict XVI, whose approval ratings peaked at 83 percent following his visit to the United States. However, he remains less popular than Pope John Paul II whose numbers reached 93 percent public approval in both 1990 and 1996.
Next week, March 13, will mark the five year anniversary of his election as pope.