Poll: Pope Benedict's legacy not as positive as John Paul's

Analysis by the CBS News Polling Unit: Sarah Dutton, Jennifer De Pinto, Anthony Salvanto and Fred Backus

As Catholic cardinals meet in Rome to select the next pope, Catholics are optimistic about Pope Benedict's successor. Seventy-four percent of Catholics have at least some confidence that the College of Cardinals will select a pope who will be in touch with the needs of Catholics today, including 29 percent who have a great deal of confidence, according to a new CBS News/New York Times poll.

Nevertheless, Catholics are less confident today than they were in 2005, just before Pope Benedict's appointment.

Table - Confidence in the New Pope

Catholics who attend mass at least once a week are more optimistic about the next pope. Forty-two percent of them have a great deal of confidence in the cardinals to choose a Pope who is in touch with Catholics today.

Pope Benedict

As Pope Benedict XVI begins his retirement, assessment of his legacy as pope is mixed. Fifty-two percent think his leadership has been a mixed blessing. While just 12 percent of Catholics think his leadership has hurt the Catholic Church, 26 percent think his leadership has helped the Church.

In contrast, 63 percent of Catholics felt the leadership of Benedict's predecessor, Pope John Paul II, had helped the Church at the time of his death in April 2005.

Assessing the Catholic Church

Fifty-four percent of Catholic Americans rate the way things are going for the Catholic Church in the United States as at least good - but overall positive assessment of the Church in the U.S. has fallen since September 1995 when 67 percent rated the condition of the church as at least good.

Looking ahead, most Catholics - 60 percent - think things in the Catholic Church are staying about the same. Just 17 percent think things are generally getting better for the church, while 22 percent think they are getting worse.

For the full poll results, see next page

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This poll was conducted among a random sample of 1585 adults nationwide, interviewed by telephone February 23-27, 2013. Phone numbers were dialed from RDD samples of both standard land-lines and cell phones. The error due to sampling for results based on the entire sample could be plus or minus three percentage points. The error for subgroups is higher.

An oversample of Catholics was interviewed, for a total of 580 interviews. The results were then weighted in proportion to the adult population. The margin of error for the sample of Catholics is four points. This poll release conforms to the Standards of Disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

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