He’ll make an historic address to Congress, speak passionately about climate change at the United Nations, and say two outdoor Masses in Philadelphia. Yet less than a month before Pope Francis arrives in the United States for a 6-day visit, most Americans don’t even know he’s coming.
A new survey shows that the pope remains as popular as ever in the States: The Public Religion Research Institute found that 90 percent of US Catholics view the pope favorably, while about two-thirds of all Americans share that view.
When it comes to the Catholic Church as an institution, Catholics are still very supportive (89 percent). But not so when it comes to all Americans; only 56 percent view the Church favorably.
As for the pope’s Sept. 22-27 trip, even though 70 percent of Catholics say they know about it, most Americans in general (52 percent) haven’t heard a thing about it.
The survey had other interesting findings:
- There are two American Catholic Churches, both ethnically and politically
- Most Catholics think Francis will get people back to church
- A lot of people believe the pope supports same-sex marriage (he doesn’t, but most US Catholics do)
- Half of young US Catholics are Hispanic
Robert P. Jones, the CEO of the PRRI, said US Catholics increasingly find themselves in “two American Catholic churches.”
“One of these is predominantly white, older, concentrated in the Northeast, and tends to support Republican presidential candidates, while the other is primarily Hispanic, younger, concentrated in the Southwest, and supports Democratic presidential candidates,” he said.
For decades, the Church has been informally divided into “pro-life” and “social justice” wings, and the PRRI survey finds that dichotomy continues.
Most Catholics (57 percent) want the Church to focus its energy on social justice instead of contraception and abortion, the survey found, and that sentiment breaks along political lines.
A majority of Catholic Democrats (68 percent) says the Church should focus on social justice issues, while a majority of Catholic Republicans (53 percent) wants it to focus on life issues.
Two-thirds of Catholics think Pope Francis will bring people back to the faith, but just 51 percent of former Catholics agree.
When it comes to perception, how American Catholics view Pope Francis is sometimes at odds with reality.
Almost 40 percent of US Catholics, for example, believe that Pope Francis would support same-sex marriage. He doesn’t, as he’s made clear, even as he pushes the Church to be more merciful toward gays and lesbians.
While all politics may be local, the survey found that when it comes to who best represents their beliefs, US Catholics look to Rome rather than their local bishop. More than three-quarters (80 percent) of US Catholics say the pope understands their needs, compared to just 60 percent of bishops. Among former Catholics, the numbers drop to 59 percent for the pope and 35 percent for the bishops.
In addition to questions about Pope Francis, the survey found that about half of Catholics 18-29 years old identify as Hispanic.
Most Catholics (60 percent) continue to support same-sex marriage as well as LGBT non-discrimination laws (65 percent) that don’t include broad religious exemptions.
Large majorities of Catholics believe that the government should do more to close the gap between the rich and the poor as well as protect the environment – both priorities of Pope Francis – although substantial gaps exist between white and non-white Catholics.
About two-thirds of white Catholics believe more should be done to address income inequality, while that number rises to 81 percent for non-white Catholics. With regard to climate change, 64 percent of white Catholics want the government to act, while 86 percent of non-white Catholics support action.
When it comes to providing a pathway for immigrants to become citizens, however, majorities of both white and non-white Catholics are in favor.
Small majorities of Americans (53 percent) and US Catholics (51 percent) say abortion should be legal almost always, but 43 percent of Americans and 45 percent of Catholics say it should be illegal.
The survey was conducted between Aug. 5 and Aug. 11 with 1,331 adults from all 50 US states.