Study Finds US Conservative Support for Pope Shows Cracks

Pope Francis is cheered by faithful during an audience with health workers, in the Paul VI hall at the Vatican, Saturday, March 3, 2018. (L’Osservatore Romano/ANSA via AP)

(CN) – In five years, Pope Francis has redefined the Catholic Church’s agenda on social and environmental issues, and while he still enjoys broad support among Americans, a Pew Research Center survey released Tuesday suggests his support is waning among conservatives.

Since his election in March 2013, Pope Francis has appeared more accepting of homosexuality, divorce and remarriage, warned of the growing threat of climate change, addressed poverty, and appointed cardinals from developing nations to churches.

The Pew study published Tuesday finds his support in the U.S. is holding steady with 62 percent of 1,503 American adults polled viewing him favorably. The national poll included 316 Catholics.

Unsurprisingly, the nation’s Catholics held him in even higher esteem, with 84 percent rating him favorably. Nine out of 10 agreed that he is compassionate and humble. Six in 10 Catholics, or 58 percent, say he represents a positive change for the church.

But there are caveats and a sign that his agenda is splitting Catholics on the right.

Half of Catholic Americans who are Republican or lean Republican now believe the pope is too liberal, according to the study. Overall, 34 percent of American Catholics respondents said he is too liberal, a 15 percent jump from 19 percent three years ago. A quarter of them say Pope Francis is “naïve.”

Four years ago, 60 percent of Catholic Republicans saw Pope Francis as an agent for “major, positive change.” That’s down to 37 percent in 2018, according to Pew.

The poll suggests that most American Catholics believe the pope has nudged the church into being more accepting of homosexuality, divorce and remarriage.

Thirty-eight percent of them said they attend Catholic masses once a week, down 3 percentage points from surveys conducted in 2012 and 2013.

Child sex-abuse scandals have dogged the church for decades. U.S. Catholics said that Pope Francis could be doing a better job to deal with the issue of pedophile priests, with 46 percent saying his efforts to tackle the crisis are “poor” or “middling.”

Pope Francis is the 266th pope of the Catholic Church. The Argentinean pontiff was born Jorge Mario Bergoglio in 1936. He chose his papal name in honor of Saint Francis of Assisi.

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