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Poll Finds Pope Francis Viewed More Favorably Than Church

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The Saint Leo University Polling Institute recently released a survey conducted in early August asking for opinions on a wide range of topics regarding the Catholic Church and social issues.

One topic that stood out was how Pope Francis and the Catholic Church has handled cases of sexual abuse.

The survey found that 64 percent held a favorable opinion of the Pope. That number was at 68 percent when the same survey was conducted in May. The approval rating of how he handles cases of sexual abuse stands at 46.5 percent, up two points from the May results. The poll was taken before the recent Pennsylvania church abuse scandal.

These numbers show a stark difference between how respondents feel about the Pope and the Church as a whole. About 42 percent of people held a negative view of how the Church deals with sexual abuse.

Marc Pugliese, an associate professor at the university, said there used to be a perception within the Church that everything fell under the Pope, but this has changed.

“Instead of seeing the church monolithically and kind of blending the Pope, the bishops and the priests all together,” he said, “there is, in the contemporary Catholic Church, at least more of an acknowledgement of this distinction, that the church is not just the Pope and that the bishops are authoritative in their own right.”

Pugliese also explained that Pope Francis, in general, is more favored than the church by Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

“He puts his money where his mouth is and he actually does things,” he said. “He’s very concerned about social justice and he’s speaking out against these things.”

Last May, in the wake of a sexual abuse scandal, the Pope accepted resignations from three out of 34 Chilean bishops who offered to resign. According to Pugliese, this was the first instance in modern times of a cardinal resigning over allegations of sexual abuse. He said that the Pope’s acceptance could be a serious attempt to deal with this issue.

Two events have occurred since the poll was conducted, however, that makes Pugliese believe the result would have been very different if it was conducted later. The Pennsylvania grand jury released their findings regarding clerical sexual abuse and a 7,000-word letter was released calling for the resignation of Pope Francis, alleging that he covered up sexual abuse within the Vatican.

The polling institute conducts these surveys at least four times a year and collects opinions of 1,000 people nationwide. The survey also covered topics like human rights, the environment and many other social issues, a full list of the questionsand resultsreceived can be found online.

Bethany Hanson is a WUSF/USF Zimmerman School digital news reporter for spring 2018.
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