U.S. Catholics Divided On Church's Direction Under New Pope

Feb 21, 2013, 14:01 ET from Pew Research Center

Three-quarters express a favorable view of Pope Benedict XVI

WASHINGTON, Feb. 21, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- As the pontificate of Benedict XVI winds down, many American Catholics express a desire for change, according to a new survey report by the Pew Research Center. For example, most Catholics say it would be good if the next pope allows priests to marry. And fully six-in-ten Catholics say it would be good if the next pope hails from a developing region like South America, Asia or Africa.

At the same time, many Catholics also express appreciation for the traditions of the Roman Catholic Church. While about half of U.S. Catholics (46%) say the next pope should "move the church in new directions," the other half (51%) say the new pope should "maintain the traditional positions of the church." And among Catholics who say they attend Mass at least once a week, nearly two-thirds (63%) want the next pope to maintain the church's traditional positions.

These are among the key findings of a new report by the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life based on two national surveys conducted Feb. 13-18 among 1,504 adults (including 304 Catholics) and Feb. 14-17 among 1,003 adults (including 212 Catholics). The report also finds that nine-in-ten U.S. Catholics have heard a lot (60%) or at least a little (30%) about Benedict's resignation. Just one-in-ten Catholics say they have heard nothing at all about his resignation.

Additional findings include:

Three-quarters of U.S. Catholics (74%) express a favorable view of the pope. Benedict's ratings among Catholics now stand about where they were in March 2008 (just before his U.S. visit) and are lower than they were in April 2008, when 83% of U.S. Catholics expressed favorable views of him. Benedict's predecessor, Pope John Paul II, was rated favorably by upwards of 90% of U.S. Catholics in three separate Pew Research polls in the 1980s and 1990s.

U.S. Catholics voice dissatisfaction with Benedict's handling of the sex abuse scandal in the church. Among Catholics who say they followed news of the pontiff's resignation, nearly two-thirds (63%) think he has done a poor or "only fair" job of addressing the sex abuse scandal, while 33% give him excellent or good ratings for his handling of the issue.

Benedict gets better marks for his handling of interfaith relations; 55% of U.S. Catholics say he has done a good or excellent job promoting relations with other religions, while 37% say he has done a poor or "only fair" job in this area.

The full report is available on the Pew Forum's website.

The Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life conducts surveys, demographic analyses and other social science research on important aspects of religion and public life in the U.S. and around the world. As a project of the Washington-based Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan, non-advocacy organization, the Pew Forum does not take positions on policy debates or any of the issues it covers.

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SOURCE Pew Research Center