Five years into Francis’ papacy, the vast majority of U.S. Catholics continue to have a favorable opinion of the Argentinian pontiff, and most say he represents a major – and positive – change for the Roman Catholic Church. At the same time, a new Pew Research Center survey finds signs of growing discontent with Francis among Catholics on the political right, with increasing shares of Catholic Republicans saying they view Francis unfavorably, and that they think he is too liberal and naïve.
Currently, 84% of American Catholics say they have a “favorable” view of Pope Francis, which is virtually identical to the share who expressed a positive view of the pope after the first year of his pontificate. Furthermore, roughly nine-in-ten U.S. Catholics describe Pope Francis as “compassionate” and “humble.” And though 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 six-in-ten still express this view.
But while Francis remains quite popular, there are signs that American Catholics are less enamored with him than was once the case. For instance, the share of American Catholics who say Pope Francis is “too liberal” has jumped 15 percentage points between 2015 and today, from 19% to 34%. And about a quarter of U.S. Catholics (24%) now say he is naïve, up from 15% in 2015.Over the same period, the share of American Catholics who give Pope Francis “excellent” or “good” marks for his handling of the sex abuse scandal dropped from 55% to 45%. (The survey was conducted before the recent papal visit to Chile and Peru, which prompted new questions and media coverage about the pope’s handling of this issue.) And 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 traditional moral values,” though on balance he continues to garner more praise than criticism on these fronts.
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