Pope’s Popularity Takes a Hit Amid Abuse Scandals

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However, the pontiff’s core Catholic base remain unchanged.

The latest Gallup polls reveal Americans are now less enamored by Pope Francis this month with only 53 percent of United States residents taking a positive view of the all-powerful leader of the Catholic Church. To understand how big this fall is, the pontiff had an approval rating of 66 percent in August. The core of the pope's followers remains unchanged. Roman Catholic Americans continued to hold the pope on a pedestal. The survey was conducted over eight days, starting on September 4 and ending on September 12.

The principal reason for this popularity dip is presumably the report submitted by the Attorney General of Pennsylvania on allegations of horrific sexual abuse perpetrated by priests. Pope Francis himself was stuck in the muck after large swathes of Catholics clambered for his resignation when it was found that the pontiff himself concealed serious sexual abuse allegations directed towards an American cardinal.

Pope Francis is not the first pope to suffer a fall in popularity after previously unknown events burst into the scene. John Paul II, his predecessor, took a similar hit.  About 86 percent of Americans held favorable views of John Paul in 1998. It dropped to 61 percent in 2002, the same year when the Boston sexual abuse scandal came to light.

Pope Francis, however, need not worry. Although he has suffered a popularity dip among Americans, opinions concerning the pontiff remained high in his core target segment, the American Catholic population. When it comes to U.S. Catholics, approximately 79 percent continues to hold a positive opinion of him. In August, it was 78 percent, meaning that his standing has marginally improved despite the sexual abuse allegations. This does not mean the pope is loved by all. About 12 percent of Americans continue to hold negative views concerning the pope.

When it comes to longer terms, Pope Francis has suffered a substantial dip in popularity. Catholics over time hold a less favorable view of the pontiff. About 90 percent of U.S. Catholics held a positive view of Pope Francis in 2014, the year when he began substantial reforms of modern-day Catholic practices. This has now reduced to almost 80 percent. The period also witnessed a sharp fall in popularity of the pope among non-Catholic Americans as well. 45 percent of non-Catholics hold favorable views of the pope in September. The figure was 63 percent in August. In 2014, it was 72 percent. The pope has lost similar ground among the population of other groups as well.


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