Both Catholics and non-Catholics in Europe, the United States, and in his home turf – Latin America – love Pope Francis, though he’s not well known in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East.
According to Pew Research’s Global Attitudes Project, “A median of 60 percent across 43 nations have a favorable view of the pontiff. Only 11 percent see the pope unfavorably, and 28 percent give no rating.”
Large majorities in Europe (84 percent), the United States (78 percent), and Latin America (72 percent) have a favorable view of the Argentine-born pope.
In Europe and the United States, 11 percent of respondents had a negative impression of the pope, with 8 percent of Latin Americans sharing that view. Surprisingly, 21 percent of Latin Americans responded that they “never heard of,” “can’t rate,” or “don’t know” about the pope.
Forty-four percent of Africans, 41 percent of Asians, and a quarter of Middle Easterners report favorable impressions of the pope, though over 40 percent of respondents in all three regions gave no rating.
In the Middle East, a quarter of respondents gave an unfavorable rating to the pope, more than double the percentage of any other region.
Those are the findings from a Pew report released Thursday, compiling several polls conducted between October 2013 and June 2014.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Catholics rate the pope higher than non-Catholics, and the differences in Latin America are more pronounced than elsewhere.
For example, in the United States, 93 percent of Catholics and 74 percent of non-Catholics have a favorable impression of the pope, a difference of 19 points.
In Mexico, while 86 percent of Catholics rate the pope favorably, just 23 percent of non-Catholics do, a difference of 63 points. That trend holds elsewhere in Latin America, where Pentecostals and other Christian denominations have made inroads to the largely Catholic region, including Chile (42 percent gap), Brazil (45 percent gap), and El Salvador (56 percent gap).
Another report from Pew, released last month, found that while 84 percent of Latin Americans were raised Catholic, only 69 percent currently identify as such.
Catholicism is the only denomination in Latin America to lose ground, and a majority of those who left the faith did so seeking a denomination with more conservative views on social issues such as abortion, sex outside marriage, and homosexuality. This contrasts with the pope’s perceived openness to how the Church addresses these issues.
The pope’s highest unfavorable ratings come from predominantly Muslim nations, including Egypt (35 percent), Turkey, where the pope visited last month (32 percent), and Bangladesh (28 percent).
The pope has sent mixed messages on Islam. He led a world day of prayer against US-led airstrikes in Syria last September, but more recently, he gave tepid approval to airstrikes against the Islamic State. Like his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, Pope Francis used his visit to Turkey last month to pray in a mosque alongside Muslim leaders.
While Pope Francis enjoys global popularity, his numbers in the United States don’t show the same high levels of popularity as Pope John Paul II, who enjoyed a favorable view of 90 percent or more of Americans in Pew polls during the 1990s.
Benedict’s popularity in the United States peaked at 83 percent in 2008, when he visited New York and Washington, D.C., but by the end of his pontificate in 2013, it had dropped to 74 percent.
Pope Francis announced last month that he will travel to the United States next September, with a confirmed visit to Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families. He is expected to accept invitations to visit New York to speak at the United Nations and Washington to give an address to Congress, which would be the first ever by a pope.
A perceived rift between the more liberal Pope Francis and conservative elements of the American hierarchy has lent a certain drama to his visit to the United States.
- Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles Chaput, for example, said news reports from the October synod on the family, during which bishops discussed hot-button issues including homosexuality and divorce, had led to confusion among Catholics.
- Cardinal Raymond Burke, an American who was sacked from two prominent Vatican posts, said Catholics have told him they feel the Church under Francis is like a “ship without a rudder.”
- And Cardinal Francis George, retired archbishop of Chicago, questioned in a Crux interview last month if Pope Francis knew how his words were being interpreted.
Many bishops, however, say they are simply taking the pope up on his invitation to express their views openly.
In a recent interview with Argentina’s La Nacion, the pope acknowledged resistance to his reforms, but called it “a good sign for me, getting the resistance out into the open, no stealthy mumbling when there is disagreement. It’s healthy to get things out into the open, it’s very healthy.”
According to Pew, the two surveys were “conducted from October 30, 2013 to March 4, 2014, among 14,564 respondents in nine Latin American countries, and another from March 17 to June 5, 2014, among 36,430 respondents in 34 countries.”