Polling Also Looks at Favorability of Pope Francis, Catholic Church


ST. LEO, FL – A new poll by the Saint Leo University Polling Institute shows most Americans say the Catholic Church should allow priests to marry.

As part of a Catholic university, founded on Benedictine traditions, the Saint Leo University Polling Institute (http://polls.saintleo.edu) surveys on topics that affect Catholics and the public’s opinion of Pope Francis. The most recent poll was conducted online from November 13 through November 18 among 1,000 total respondents nationally.

In a new question for November 2019, poll respondents were asked their opinion on the Catholic Church allowing priests to marry. Nearly three-quarters, 72.4 percent, suggest they strongly or somewhat agree with the Catholic Church permitting priests to marry.

The responses indicate 41.2 percent strongly agree and 31.2 percent somewhat agree; 5.7 percent somewhat disagree; 5.6 percent strongly disagree; and 16.3 percent say they are unsure or don’t know.

Of those reporting that they are Catholic, 70.4 percent say they strongly or somewhat believe the Church should allow priests to marry. Catholics comprise 27.4 percent of the survey sample and that reflects the actual population nationally.

In October, Roman Catholic bishops who gathered for a three-week summit at the Vatican proposed allowing married deacons from a region of the Amazon to become ordained priests in order to address a critical clergy shortage there. Pope Francis has not approved the proposal.

“There have always been those who think the Catholic Church should allow married priests, but more and more people are saying this in the wake of the clerical sexual abuse crisis,” said Dr. Marc Pugliese, associate professor in Saint Leo’s Department of Philosophy, Religion, and Theology. “Whether or not that would be a ‘solution’ is another matter.”

Pugliese said there was backlash to the bishops’ proposal from conservative and traditionalist portions of the Church, “but in general, I think that the number of Catholics in the U.S. who think the Church should allow married clergy has been increasing for some time. Culture is an important factor here, but also the view that this is an old, outdated, tradition that may involve religion’s tendency to regulate human sexuality. Sometimes you will hear people say that clerical celibacy developed in the west due to inheritance rights: a priest whose son did not become a priest would inherit Church property, which the Church would in turn lose. But the history of clerical celibacy is more complex than that.”

In April 2019, the Saint Leo University Polling Institute asked poll respondents whether they agree that celibacy required of Catholic priests is a contributing factor to the sexual abuse by clergy crisis. The poll shows 44.3 percent said remaining celibate could be a factor with 52.1 percent of Catholics saying they thought it could contribute to the abuse.

The most recent poll shows that most younger respondents (ages18-35) say they support marriage for priests at 87.4 percent, while 71.3 percent agree in the 36-55 age group, and 72.3 percent for ages 56 and older.

Pugliese noted that he thinks it would cost the Church more to allow married priests. “In addition to supporting the priest, there would also have to be support for the family,” he said. “In certain cases the Church does already allow married priests when Protestant clergy convert and want to become Catholic priests.”

Opinions on Catholic Church, Pope Francis

Overall favorable opinion (strongly and somewhat) of the Catholic Church in the United States is 42 percent, the November Saint Leo University poll shows. This was up slightly from 40.1 percent in the April 2019 poll. Among Catholics, the favorable opinion (strongly and somewhat) is 69.3 percent, which is a significant increase from the April poll, which was 57.1 percent.

Pope Francis’ favorability rating remained almost statistically even, from 57.9 percent in April to 56.6 percent in November. Among Catholics, 78.1 percent say they hold a favorable opinion of the pontiff. In April, among Catholics nationally, the pope’s favorable opinion was at 75.7 percent.

Between the spring and fall, the pope’s favorability rating typically decreases by at least 5 percentage points and sometimes significantly more, Saint Leo’s Pugliese said. “Even among Catholics the pope’s favorability rating typically falls between the spring and summer, so the significant increase this year is a noteworthy reversal of the usual pattern.”

The Saint Leo University Polling Institute survey also examined the approval of Pope Francis in dealing with several issues.

Respondents were asked to think about several of the issues the pope is addressing and to provide their opinion.

The following table holds the cumulative totals for strongly and somewhat approve nationally. Results are displayed in declining order by the approval column for November 2019.

How would you rate the job Pope Francis is doing on…

Strongly & Somewhat Approve August 2018 – %

Strongly & Somewhat Approve October 2018 – %

Strongly & Somewhat Approve February 2019 – %

Strongly & Somewhat Approve April 2019 – %

Strongly & Somewhat Approve November 2019 – %

Catholics Strongly & Somewhat Approve November 2019 – %

Human rights







Advancing the cause of the poor







Environmental issues







Marriage and family issues







Migration / Immigration







Handling cases of sexual abuse involving Catholic clergy







Handling cases of sexual abuse of nuns by priests and bishops






The pope received his highest favorability rating (strongly and somewhat approve), 58.4 percent, in the categories of handling human rights issues and advancing the cause of the poor.

“While the poll was being fielded, the World Day of the Poor was celebrated, which Pope Francis established back in 2017,” Pugliese said. “In his homily on November 17, the pope spoke out strongly on behalf of the poor and vulnerable of the world, decrying the effects that the individualism and culture of disposability in our modern world has upon them.”

“Two days prior to the World Day of the Poor, the pope made a surprise visit to a medical clinic and announced the erection of a new four-story homeless shelter adjacent to St. Peter’s Square, which he dubbed the ‘Palace of the Poor,’” Pugliese added.

About the Poll

METHODOLOGY: This national survey was conducted from November 13 through November 18, 2019, among a base of 1,000 respondents nationally, using an online instrument. The national sample has an associated margin of error of +/- 3.0 percent at a 95 percent confidence for questions asked of all 1,000 respondents.

The Saint Leo University Polling Institute conducts its surveys using cutting-edge online methodology, which is rapidly transforming the field of survey research. The sample is drawn from large online panels, which allow for random selections that reflect accurate cross sections of all demographic groups. Online methodology has the additional advantage of allowing participants to respond to the survey at a time, place, and speed that is convenient to them, which may result in more thoughtful answers. The Saint Leo University Polling Institute develops the questionnaires, administers the surveys, and conducts analysis of the results. Panel participants typically receive a token incentive—usually $1 deposited into an iTunes or Amazon account—for their participation.

The Saint Leo University Polling Institute survey results about national and Florida politics, public policy issues, Pope Francis’ popularity, and other topics, can also be found here: http://polls.saintleo.edu. You can also follow the institute on Twitter @saintleopolls.

Media contacts:

Mary McCoy, Saint Leo University, University Writer & Media Relations, mary.mccoy02@saintleo.edu, (352) 588-7118 or cell (813) 610-8416

Jo-Ann Johnston, Saint Leo University, University Communications jo-ann.johnston@saintleo.edu or (352) 467-0843 (cell/text).

About Saint Leo University

Saint Leo University is one of the largest Catholic universities in the nation, offering nearly 60 undergraduate and graduate-level degree programs to more than 19,500 students each year. Founded in 1889 by Benedictine monks, the private, nonprofit university is known for providing a values-based education to learners of all backgrounds and ages in the liberal arts tradition. Saint Leo is regionally accredited and offers a residential campus in the Tampa Bay region of Florida, 32 education centers in seven states, and an online program for students anywhere. The university is home to more than 95,000 alumni. Learn more at saintleo.edu.