Poll: Mixed Feelings On Pope

Pope John Paul II delivers his blessing as he arrives St. Peter's Square at the Vatican for the Vespers celebrations on May 29, 2004. The Polish pontiff who led the Roman Catholic Church for more than a quarter century and became history's most-traveled pope, has died at 84, the Vatican announced in an e-mail Saturday, April 2, 2005. AP

Pope John Paul II was popular among many Catholics and non-Catholics, but feelings are mixed about his impact on the Church and the world, according to a CBS News analysis of past surveys done by CBS News on its own, and in conjunction with The New York Times.

American Catholics had mixed views of his leadership, and those assessments became more negative over time, the analysis shows. Also, most Catholics thought the pope had a limited role in world affairs.

It's clear that American Catholics changed during his tenure in the Vatican. They are older and more educated today, more diverse racially and regionally, and less Democratic in their political preferences.

They are also more willing to see their leader as more conservative than they are when it comes to issues of morality.

Still, while they may disagree with Church teachings on a married clergy or birth control, those who are currently Catholic (and especially those who are observant churchgoers) are only somewhat likely to think the Church should change with the times to reflect the views of Catholics today.

OVERALL OPINION OF THE POPE

Pope John Paul II enjoyed very positive ratings from American Catholics throughout his tenure as Pope. Non-Catholics, too, had favorable opinions of him over the years, but despite serving as Pope for more than two decades, a number of Americans were unable to offer an opinion of him.

In a CBS News poll conducted last September, 37 percent of Americans had a favorable view of the pope, while one in 10 viewed him unfavorably. That was one of his most positive ratings. He received his highest rating from the American public in September 1995, weeks before a visit to the United States. Back then, 38 percent said they viewed Pope John Paul II favorably.

The views of Catholics were more positive, and they were more likely to voice an opinion of him. In September 2004, 63 percent of American Catholics had a favorable opinion of Pope John Paul II.

Surprisingly, the pope's highest rating among Catholics occurred in mid-April 2002, just when the scandals involving child sex abuse by American Catholic priests were becoming news. 69 percent had a favorable opinion of the Pontiff at that time.

Just two weeks later, opinions of Pope John Paul II were at their lowest. After the pope's high-profile meeting with American Cardinals in Rome, a majority of Americans, including Catholics, felt the pope did not go far enough in addressing the problems of sexual abuse by Catholic priests. In late April 2002, only 25 percent of the American public had a favorable opinion of the pope. Still, 53 percent of Catholics viewed him favorably, but that was the lowest rating ever given the pope among American Catholics.

The CBS News poll in September 2004 did show differences among some groups in their views of the pope:

  • Overall, men were more likely than women to say they had a favorable opinion of him. But among Catholics, more than six in 10 of both men and women said they had a favorable opinion of him.

  • Americans age 45-64 were more likely than any other age group to have a favorable opinion of the pope. A majority of those under 30 were unable to offer an opinion of the pontiff.

  • Among Catholics, all age groups held favorable opinions of Pope John Paul II, but views among older Catholics were even more favorable.

  • Also, 81 percent of Catholics who attended church weekly viewed the pope favorably, compared to 56 percent of those Catholics who attended less frequently.
    • Brian Dakss

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