Why Pope Francis’ Favorability Rating Is ‘Tanking’ in the U.S.

Pope Francis leads the opening Mass of the XVI Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops i
Alessandra Benedetti - Corbis/Corbis via Getty

ROME — Pope Francis’ favorability rating has been dropping constantly among U.S. Catholics over the past 10 years, according to an April Pew Research Center poll.

From 2015 to 2021, the pope’s favorability rating dropped by 7 percentage points, from 90 percent to 83 percent, Pew found. More telling still, perhaps, is that in the last 3 years his favorability rating has declined by 8 more percentage points, to a record low of 75 percent.

Practicing Catholics who attend Mass at least once a week are the least supportive of him, giving him a favorability rating of just 71 percent. A mere 26 percent of all Catholics say that they view the pope “very favorably.”

As a point of comparison, the favorability rating for Pope John Paul II never fell below 91 percent during his 27-year pontificate and half of Catholics viewed him “very favorably.”

While the Pew Center did not offer an analysis of the causes of Francis’ loss of favor, the president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Right, Dr. Bill Donohue, suggested Tuesday that it is not difficult to connect the dots.

Donohue, a sociologist, notes that in the past three years the pope has endorsed civil unions and allowed the blessing of homosexual couples, leading to unprecedented pushback by clergy from all over the world.

Francis also named Cardinal Victor Manuel Fernández as head of the Vatican’s doctrinal office, despite the fact that Fernández is not known as a high-level theologian but whose claim to fame is having published a book on kissing (Heal Me With Your Mouth) as well as another book on the spirituality of orgasms (Mystical Passion: Spirituality and Sensuality), described by many as pornographic.

Donohue observes that Pope Francis “allowed Fr. Marco Rupnik, a fellow Jesuit, to remain a priest in good standing, notwithstanding his being thrown out of the Society for Jesus for sacrilegious and sexual offenses.”

The pope similarly “failed to deal forthrightly with his Jesuit friend, Bishop Gustavo Zanchetta, who was sentenced to prison by an Argentine court for sexually abusing seminarians,” Donohue adds.

Added to these disconcerting actions, Francis has put “severe restrictions on the Latin Mass,” Donohue writes, to the chagrin of numerous Catholics, and has punished conservative prelates such as Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas, and Cardinal Raymond Burke, former head of the Vatican’s highest court.

These and other issues “are seen by many practicing Catholics as wrongheaded,” Donohue asserts, and go a long way to explaining why the pope’s favorability rating is “tanking.”


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