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How U.S. Catholics regard Pope Francis

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According to a March 2014 Pew Research survey, 85% of adult Catholics in the U.S. say they have a favorable view of Pope Francis. Pew Research surveys conducted over the past year found no change in the number of U.S. adults identifying themselves as Catholic, or in self-reported rates of Mass attendance. But about a quarter of those responding to the new survey (26%) say they feel “more excited” about their faith than they did a year ago, far outnumbering the 11% who say they feel “less excited.”

In the Pew Research Center survey, 76% of American Catholics said they thought the pope was doing an excellent or good job addressing the needs of the poor, and 62% said he is doing a good job of reforming the Vatican bureaucracy. The pope received slightly lower marks for his handling of the clergy sexual abuse crisis, which is now more than a decade old and continues to weigh on the minds of American Catholics. In the survey, 54% of Catholics gave Francis an excellent or good rating for his handling of the crisis.

The survey shows large numbers of Catholics wanting to see some changes in church teachings. Large majorities say the church should allow birth control (77%), allow priests to marry (72%) and ordain women as priests (68%). Some Catholics responding to the Pew Research Center poll said they believed Pope Francis could initiate these changes.

Some Catholics told the Pew Research Center that they hoped the goodwill directed toward Francis would extend to religion more broadly. “Over the last five years, there’s been a huge stigma about religion in general, and I haven’t seen that as much in the last year,” said Amanda Brush, a 30-year-old business owner from Florida. “He’s cancelled out some of that negativity that religion has carried with it.”

“It just feels like the church is now focusing on what I think is important and less on political issues,” said Vicky Rybnick, a 21-year-old college student in Connecticut. “I think what’s important is reducing poverty, helping the homeless and children who have been given up for adoptions and other at-risk populations, as opposed to fighting against gay marriage and abortion and contraception. … So Pope Francis has done a job bringing the right things back into focus, and that has certainly changed the way I feel about my church.”

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