After first five years of Francis' papacy, the vast majority of U.S. Catholics still have a favorable opinion of him, and most of them say he represents a major and positive change for the Roman Catholic Church. According to surveys, 84% of American Catholics have a positive view of the pope, which is identical result as after the first year of his pontificate. Pope Francis has positive results in different categories, for example, the majority of Catholics say Francis is doing an excellent or good job appointing new bishops and cardinals. There are also positive views of the pope across a variety of Catholic subgroups and Francis has been rated more positively, on average, than was his immediate predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI. Furthermore, roughly nine-in-ten U.S. Catholics describe Pope Francis as “compassionate and humble.”
A new Pew Research Center survey finds signs of growing discontent with Francis among Catholics on the political right. While Francis remains quite popular, there are some signs that American Catholics are less enamored with him than was once the case. For example, in 2018 more American Catholics think that Pope Francis is "too liberal and naïve" than in 2015. Over the same period, there have been declines in the share of U.S. Catholics who give Pope Francis high marks for his handling of sex abuse scandal and for spreading the Catholic faith, though he is still gaining more praise than criticism on these fronts.
The most notable change is among Republican Catholics. There is still a major share of positive opinion on the right, but the percentage declined severely in comparison with the end of his first year in the office, when there was no discernible difference between the share of Catholic Republicans and Catholic Democrats who expressed a favorable view of Francis. For instance, the share of Catholic Democrats who say Francis represents a major, positive change for the Catholic Church has grown, and the share of Catholic Republicans who have the same opinion has declined.
These statistics give us the results that can be useful for providing data, but they don't give us the reason why are the changes happening and whether there are some other reasons behind them. An interesting example is that there is no evidence of a rise in the share of Americans who identify as Catholic during the Francis' papacy, no matter the fact that he is quite popular with Americans overall. Also, it is important to notice that there are a number of changes occurring within American Catholicism that were underway before Francis became pope and have continued during his pontificate.
Photo Credits: Daniel Ibanez, CNA