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U.S. Catholics Want Change

A CBS News Poll taken after the death of John Paul II found a dramatic surge in the number of American Catholics who had a favorable opinion of the late pope: 92 percent, compared to 63 percent in September and 53 percent three years ago.

Among all Americans polled, 73 percent had a favorable opinion of John Paul, way up from 37 percent last fall and 25 percent three years ago.

The poll also found 72 percent of Catholics and 59 percent of all Americans surveyed saying they viewed John Paul as a moral leader for all, and not just the Catholic Church - an assessment given by 46 percent of Catholics three years ago. And 50 percent, compared to 30 percent in September, said they felt the pope had a great deal of influence on world affairs.

As for the impact of his papacy on the Catholic Church, 63 percent said he helped the Church, up from 43 percent in September and 46 percent three years ago. Only 2 percent said he hurt the Church, slightly less than in previous polls, but 34 percent said his impact was mixed - a belief held by 46 percent last fall and 42 percent three years ago.

Asked what they'd like to see the new pope do, a majority of American Catholics polled said they would like to see him allow women to become priests (60 percent), allow priests to marry (65 percent), and end the ban on artificial birth control (69 percent).

The desire to let priests marry has been held by a majority of Catholics at least since 1985, when CBS News pollsters first began asking the question.

Seven in ten Catholics said Pope John Paul II's successor should continue the Church's opposition to the war in Iraq. A smaller majority, 55 percent, said the U.S. should have stayed out of Iraq in the first place.

Catholics were split on the death penalty, with 49 percent saying the new pope should continue John Paul II's opposition to capital punishment, and 40 percent saying they would like to see the new church leader support the death penalty.

Answers on abortion were also mixed, with 63 percent of Catholics saying the new pope should continue to oppose it, and 31 percent saying the reverse. At the same time, 33 percent of Catholics said abortion should be generally available; 22 percent said it should not; and 44 percent said it should be available, but under stricter limits.

When the pope or official Catholic teaching differs from one's own conscience, the conscience should be the guide, said 72 percent of Catholics surveyed, with just 18 percent saying the pope must be obeyed.

That is the same finding as twenty years ago when CBS News pollsters first started asking that question.

In this most recent survey, 82 percent of Catholics said you can disagree with the pope and still be a good Catholic; 15 percent said the opposite.

One area in which American Catholics were critical was the response of the pope and other church leaders to the sex scandals involving abuse of parishoners - in many cases, children and teenagers - by clergy.

Only 30 percent of Catholics polled said they think the pope and other Church leaders took the child sex abuse issue in the U.S. seriously enough; that compares to 71 percent who thought so three years ago. Of those who said John Paul II and other church leaders did take the issue seriously enough - 68 percent said so last week, compared to 23 percent three years ago.

Is the Catholic Church in touch with the needs of its people today? Some 52 percent said no, and 41 percent said yes, in both cases about the same as three years ago.

Asked whether the Church should change some of its stances, 59 percent said it should, and 38 percent said it should stick to its teachings. Among those who defined themselves as "strong Catholics," 52 percent said there should be change, and 46 percent advocated sticking to Church teachings.

Asked to compare their local priests to the Vatican, 56 percent said the ideology was about the same, 30 percent rated the local priests as more liberal, and 8 percent thought the local priests were more conservative.

As for the question of from what part of the world the new pontiff should be from, 40 percent of Catholics said it makes no difference, 24 percent said Latin America, 13 percent said Europe, 6 percent said Africa, and 7 percent said somewhere else.