American Catholics divided on Pope Francis

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Pope Francis waves while riding through Santiago de Cuba, September 22, 2015.

REUTERS

CHICAGO -- There are 80 million Catholics in the United States, and in a little over two years, Pope Francis has won most of them over.

In a CBS News-New York Times poll, 63 percent of them say they have a favorable opinion of him.

When family counselor Victoria Fleming attends Mass on Sunday in a Chicago suburb, she is excited about her faith -- and especially her pope.

Some conservative Catholics at odds with Pope... 02:54

"He's leading by example," Fleming tells CBS News. "He is actually living the sort of faithful and humble life that he's called to."

She cheers each Francis pronouncement, from climate change to income inequality, and prays for more.

"I think he's actually leading us back. I think he's leading us back to where Jesus left off," Fleming says.

Fleming is among the 53 percent of American Catholics who say the church is in touch with their needs, and the 79 percent who approve of its direction under Francis.

"I'm quite content to have that direction be brought in line with the ministry of Jesus," Fleming says.

Mary Anne Hackett, president of Catholic Citizens of Illinois, does not share Fleming's enthusiasm.

"Are you uncomfortable with this pope?" we asked Hackett.

"Yes," she responded. "It's sort of like, anxious, not knowing exactly what he's going to do next."

Does she think the pope is damaging the church?

"Well, we'll see won't we?" Hackett says.

She is among the nine percent of American Catholics who disapprove of the pope's direction. On climate change, for example, Hackett says, "I think he's wrong."

Hackett says the pope leaves the impression that unshakeable doctrine is open for discussion. She's surprised when told that 63 percent of Catholics say the condition of the church in the United States is excellent or good.

"I don't think they know what they're talking about," Hackett says. "I think the condition of the church in the United States is very iffy. Very iffy."

Among the strongest supporters of the Argentine pope are American Hispanics, making up 34 percent of American Catholics. In heavily Latino Los Angeles last year, there were more infant baptisms than in New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and Washington combined.

  • Dean Reynolds
    Dean Reynolds

    Dean Reynolds is a CBS News National Correspondent based in Chicago.