Pew: U.S. Catholics Divided On Future Of The Church

Feb 21, 2013

Catholics in the United States are divided over what they want from their next pontiff, a new poll from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life finds.

While a majority (58 percent) say it would be "good" if the next pope allows priests to marry and 60 percent said it would be good if the new pope is from the "developing world," that majority narrows when they asked a broader question.

Forty-six percent said they want the next pope to "move in new directions" and 51 percent said they wanted him to "maintain traditional positions."

Pew also gauged the pope's approval ratings. They explain:

"In a separate national survey conducted Feb. 14-17 among 1,003 adults (including 212 Catholics), three-quarters of U.S. Catholics (74%) express a favorable view of the pope. Benedict's ratings among Catholics now stand about where they were in March 2008 (just before his U.S. visit) and are lower than they were in April 2008, when 83% of U.S. Catholics expressed favorable views of him. Benedict's predecessor, Pope John Paul II, was rated favorably by upwards of 90% of U.S. Catholics in three separate Pew Research polls in the 1980s and 1990s.

"U.S. Catholics voice dissatisfaction with Benedict's handling of the sex abuse scandal in the church. Among Catholics who say they followed news of the pontiff's resignation, nearly two-thirds (63%) think he has done a poor or 'only fair' job of addressing the sex abuse scandal, while 33% give him excellent or good ratings for his handling of the issue. Benedict gets better marks for his handling of interfaith relations; 55% of Catholics say he has done a good or excellent job promoting relations with other religions, while 37% say he has done a poor or 'only fair' job in this area. But the public is more negative now than in 2008 in its views both on Benedict's handling of the sex abuse scandal and on his handling of interfaith relations. Immediately following his 2008 visit to the U.S., 49% of American Catholics gave the pope good or excellent ratings for his handling of the sex abuse scandal, and 70% said he was doing a good or excellent job promoting interfaith relations."

We'll point out one last thing from the poll: Pew says that there doesn't appear to be a "generation gap" among Catholics. Those under 50-years-old and those over 50 appear "closely divided as to whether the new pope should move in new directions or maintain the church's traditional positions."

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