A new Poll by Pew Research center shows that Republican Catholics are starting to become disenchanted with Pope Francis.
Five years into Francis’ papacy, the vast majority of U.S. Catholics continue to have a favorable opinion of the Argentinian pontiff, and most say he represents a major – and positive – change for the Roman Catholic Church. At the same time, a new Pew Research Center survey finds signs of growing discontent with Francis among Catholics on the political right, with increasing shares of Catholic Republicans saying they view Francis unfavorably, and that they think he is too liberal and naïve.
Currently, 84% of American Catholics say they have a “favorable” view of Pope Francis, which is virtually identical to the share who expressed a positive view of the pope after the first year of his pontificate. Furthermore, roughly nine-in-ten U.S. Catholics describe Pope Francis as “compassionate” and “humble.” And though the share of Catholics in the U.S. who think Pope Francis represents a “major change” for the better is down from a high point in 2015, nearly six-in-ten still express this view.
The Favorability rating here only drops 1% but unfavorable does jump a full 5%. The real change I see is on the % of Catholics who think Pope Francis is a change for the Catholic Church. Not only do only do the percentages of Catholics who think he is a better change for the Church drop by 9% but those who think he is a worse change for the church and those who don’t think he is a major change at all rose a combined 13%. For someone like Pope Francis, this is important. Francis has long been viewed as someone who was going to revitalize the church. People who don’t think he is making a major change might as well be added to the ‘I don’t like the job Pope Francis is doing’ category.
The Poll goes on.
But while Francis remains quite popular, there are signs that American Catholics are less enamored with him than was once the case. For instance, the share of American Catholics who say Pope Francis is “too liberal” has jumped 15 percentage points between 2015 and today, from 19% to 34%. And about a quarter of U.S. Catholics (24%) now say he is naïve, up from 15% in 2015.
Over the same period, the share of American Catholics who give Pope Francis “excellent” or “good” marks for his handling of the sex abuse scandal dropped from 55% to 45%. (The survey was conducted before the recent papal visit to Chile and Peru, which prompted new questions and media coverage about the pope’s handling of this issue.) And there have been similar declines in the share of Catholics who give the pope positive marks for “spreading the Catholic faith” and “standing up for traditional moral values,” though on balance he continues to garner more praise than criticism on these fronts.
The survey also finds signs of growing polarization along partisan lines in Catholics’ views of Francis. The share of Republican and Republican-leaning Catholics who say Pope Francis is “too liberal” has more than doubled since 2015 (from 23% to 55%). Similarly, one-third of Catholic Republicans now say Francis is “naïve,” up from 16% who said this in 2015. Among Democratic and Democratic-leaning Catholics, by contrast, there has been no statistically significant change in opinion on either of these questions.
This is another extremely troubling finding for Pope Francis. The idea that the Church is becoming polarized on political grounds is not good at all. Republicans and even some Democrats are trending towards a more unfavorable view of the Pope. Him being considered ‘too liberal’ and ‘naive’, as well as more Catholics, believing he is doing a poor/fair job of spreading the faith and standing up for morals is a trend that could become hurtful for Francis in the future. It is important to realize why this is. Pope Francis has frequently taken shots at Nationalism rising in America as well as being a promoter of many liberal causes such as Climate Change. It also didn’t help that when Hillary’s emails were released there were emails talking about applying pressure to then Pope Benedict in hopes of getting a more liberal Pope to step in.
In addition, while most Republican Catholics continue to express a favorable view of Francis, the share who have a favorable view of the pontiff is down compared with the end of his first year in office, four years ago. At that time, there was no discernible difference between the share of Catholic Republicans (90%) and Democrats (87%) who expressed a favorable view of Francis. Today, by contrast, the pope’s favorability rating is 10 points higher among Catholic Democrats (89%) than among Catholic Republicans (79%).
Over the same period, the share of Catholic Republicans who say Francis represents a major, positive change for the Catholic Church has declined from 60% to 37%. By contrast, there has been little movement since the end of Francis’ first year as pope in the share of Catholic Democrats who view him as a major change for the better (71% today vs. 76% in 2014).
Pope Francis is still popular but the trend is not looking favorable for him. If Catholics continue to view him as a promoter of liberal policies and not one of the Catholic teachings the Church will likely find itself in dark times. Pope Francis needs to show his constituents he is a strong leader and not one who is folding. Millions of Christians each year are forced to not practice their faith, some are even killed for this. Yet, I see little Pope Francis has done to call out the leaders in the Islamic world who are committing these acts. We all had high expectations for Pope Francis, hopefully he lives up to those.