The Pontiff’s Polling Problem: History Indicates Pope Francis, Catholic Church Will Have Difficult Time Repairing Their Images
Overall, Americans’s views of Pope Francis have soured somewhat, with 53% now holding a favorable opinion of the pontiff, down from 66% in August. However, U.S. Roman Catholics are held firm, with 79% still holding a favorable opinion, essentially unchanged from last month (78%).
Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano recently accused Pope Francis and other high-ranking Vatican officials of a “cover-up” involving accusations of sexual misconduct against the Roman Catholic Church.
In the letter, Archbishop Vigano called on Pope Francis to resign, saying he and others were weaving a “conspiracy of silence” around former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, whom the Pope forced to resign last month after accusations that he abused a minor in the 1970s.
McCarrick, 89, retired as archbishop of Washington in 2006. Vigano alleges that former Pope Benedict XVI knew of the accusations against him and had McCarrick placed restrictions on him in both 2009 or 2010.
Gallup’s latest survey was conducted from September 4 – 12, just as the Roman Catholic Church faced tough scrutiny surrounding the Pennsylvania state attorney general’s report on allegations of sexual abuse by priests.
According to another recent poll, nearly 3 out of 4 (73%) American adults think the Roman Catholic Church has a serious problem with sexual predators. Rasmussen Reports finds only 15% think the media is overhyping the church’s sex problems.
That poll also finds the pope’s favorability numbers are heading in the wrong direction. While 50% have at least a somewhat favorable view of him, 35% have at least a somewhat unfavorable of him and another 15% were unsure or refused to answer.
While nearly 9 in 10 U.S. Catholics had a favorable view of the pope in 2014, among non-Catholic Americans, the drop has been substantially worse during the same period.
Among non-Catholics, 45% now hold a favorable view of the pope, compared with 63% last month and 72% in 2014. Similar drops in the pontiff’s favorability have occurred among most other groups.
How does Pope Francis appear to be weathering the storm juxtaposed to other pontiffs?
When the sexual abuse scandal was uncovered in 2002, the image of John Paul II fell from 86% in 1998 to 61% in 2002. Still, he’s more popular than Pope Benedict XVI. In 2010, Gallup’s final reading on Benedict found 40% of Americans viewed him favorably and 35% unfavorably.