Scandal sends pope’s approval among US Catholics to new lows

Pope Francis, considered a rock star among American Catholics, appears to be losing some of his shine.

According to a poll from the Pew Research Center, the Pope’s popularity is taking a hit as Catholics — especially those who regularly attend Mass — frown on his handling of the sex abuse scandal plaguing the church.

Overall, 72 percent of Catholics in the United States view Francis in either a very or mostly favorable light — down from 84 percent in January — but when asked specifically about how he’s addressed sex abuse in the church, the numbers have been on a precipitous decline.

In February 2014, more than seven in 10 Catholics who attended Mass weekly said they were pleased with Francis’ handling of the scandal, but in the September Pew survey, only 34 percent approved.

Approval was even lower among less-regular Mass-goers (30 percent), but they have long disapproved of how Francis addressed the scandal. In February 2014, only 46 percent said he was doing a good job with it.

Displeasure with Francis’ handling of the scandal was fairly consistent across multiple demographics in the church, with only 28 percent of older parishioners, 27 percent of men, 36 percent of women, 24 percent of conservatives and 37 percent of liberals giving him a thumbs-up.

Conversely, the Pope received much higher marks across all Catholic demographics for “standing up for traditional morals,” though those approval numbers also remain on a significant decline since February 2014.

The Pew poll arrives just weeks after a CNN poll showed that only 48 percent of all Americans had a favorable view of Francis, down from 66 percent in January 2017. The CNN poll also showed a 20-point drop — from 83 percent to 63 percent — in his favorability rating among Catholics.

When Francis ascended to the church’s top spot in March 2013, he quickly earned a reputation as open-minded and bent on reform. His work with the poor was particularly lauded.

As the sex abuse scandal has progressed, however, he has increasingly come under fire, most recently by Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, who has accused Francis of, among other things, lifting sanctions that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI placed on former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick.

McCarrick was forced to resign earlier this year over accusations that he molested an altar boy and sexually abused young seminarians.

More than 46,000 Catholic women have signed an open letter to Francis, urging him to be more forthcoming about Vigano’s accusations.

“We need leadership, truth and transparency,” the women wrote. “We, your flock, deserve your answers now.”

While Francis, over the course of his tenure, has generally been viewed more favorably than his predecessor, Benedict, the Pew survey suggests that may no longer be the case.

Benedict’s lowest approval rating came in 2005 when only 67 percent of Catholics viewed him favorably, but when he stepped down in 2013, his approval rating was 74 percent.

That’s two points higher than the most recent numbers for Francis.