Pope Francis’s Favorability Remains High Among Catholics

As Catholic bishops from around the world convene in Rome for a special synod (conference) on family and marriage, American Catholics favor inclusivity in a number of situations, as responses to a new national survey by the Saint Leo University Polling Institute show.

Catholics expressed strong support for allowing divorced or remarried Catholics to receive the sacrament of Communion (68 to 18 percent). By a 3-to-1 margin, Catholics say the Church should drop its opposition to contraception (66 to 21 percent). A smaller majority supports dropping opposition to pre-marital sex and cohabitation (50 to 33 percent). A narrow plurality says the Church should recognize same-sex marriages (42 to 40 percent).

Specifically, the survey asked:

Should Catholics who are divorced and/or remarried, but who have not had their previous marriage annulled, be able to receive the sacrament of Communion?

Entire Base Catholics non-Catholics
53% Yes 68 47
14% No 18 13
33% Don’t know/unsure 14 40


Michael Anthony Novak, assistant professor of theology and religion at Saint Leo University, found some of the responses to be somewhat surprising. “Catholics take marriage, the family, and the sacraments seriously. But these results seem to verify that there is a frustration with the Church’s pastoral policies regarding divorce and remarriage,” Dr. Novak noted. Among non-Catholics, there were three times as many respondents who didn’t know or were unsure about their beliefs, which he found interesting. “Few Catholics want to exclude their divorced or remarried friends from participating in the Church, including receiving sacraments, and yet there is likely uncertainty about how, at the same time try, we to promote a serious vision of marriage within the Church. That tension will be keenly felt at the Synod on the Family,” Novak added.

The survey asked:

Should the Catholic Church drop its opposition to pre-marital sex and cohabitation prior to marriage?

Entire Base Catholics non-Catholics
40% Yes 50 36
33% No 33 34
27% Don’t know/unsure 17 30


Dr. Novak also found these results to be striking. “I was surprised that fully half of American Catholics responded this way. It makes me wonder how well the Church is getting across the inner logic of its teaching on sexuality, or whether a lot of Catholics understand it as some sort of arbitrary ‘rule’ or ‘taboo,’ especially in the ‘spirit of our times’ in the context of a post-sexual revolution culture. I’m curious whether the greater ambivalence among non-Catholics regarding this question is a result of a greater counter-cultural sexual ethic among Protestants,” added Dr. Novak.

The survey asked:

Should the Catholic Church recognize same-sex marriages?

Entire Base Catholics non-Catholics
38% Yes 42 36
37% No 40 36
25% Don’t know/unsure 18 27


Recognizing same sex marriages had very little statistical difference among the two groups. “There’s been a huge shift nationally in people’s beliefs and acceptance from even a decade ago,” said Dr. Novak. “I think these opinions are indicative of how much Catholics have been assimilated into the broader American demographic,” he stated.

The survey asked:

Should the Catholic Church drop its opposition to contraception?

Entire Base Catholics non-Catholics
61% Yes 66 59
15% No 21 13
24% Don’t know/unsure 13 28


There was a 3-to-1 split on responses with Catholics favoring the opinion for the Church to drop its opposition to contraception, which didn’t surprise Dr. Novak. “We’ve seen a fairly steady opposition to this position since the 1960s. Even in Catholic theology and philosophy, much less within the broader Christian context, there has been considerable debate about whether non-abortive contraception is as problematic as was originally supposed,” he said.

Pope Francis continues to be embraced by American Catholics, with an 85 percent favorability rating among U.S. Catholics. Non-Catholics also like the Pope, giving him a 54 percent favorable, 12 percent unfavorable rating.

“Pope Francis’s popularity remains constant, but it will be interesting to find out whether there will be any changes, such as the ‘honeymoon period’ of a newly elected president coming to a close. As with any major leader, people often project a lot of their hopes or fears onto popes. I’m curious to see if people’s sense of Pope Francis changes as he becomes more of a concrete person and less of an ‘image’ over time,” said Dr. Novak.

Media Contacts: Kim Payne, staff writer and media coordinator, at kim.payne@saintleo.edu or (352) 588-7233/(717) 798-1508 or Jo-Ann Johnston, academic communications manager, at jo-ann.johnston@saintleo.edu or (352) 588-8237/(352) 467-0843.