Ratings increase on issues including marriage and family, dealing with clergy sexual abuse

ST. LEO, FL – Pope Francis continues to garner favorable opinion among Americans, according to a new Saint Leo University Polling Institute (http://polls.saintleo.edu) survey.

The most recent poll shows his favorability at 68.7 percent, up from 65.6 percent in February, and 62.9 percent in November 2017. This online poll was conducted nationally among 1,000 adults between May 25 and May 31, 2018.

The poll asks those responding whether they hold a strongly favorable, somewhat favorable, somewhat unfavorable or not at all favorable opinion of the pontiff. As part of a Catholic university, founded on Benedictine traditions, the Saint Leo University Polling Institute consistently polls on the public’s opinion of the pope.

Among Catholics nationally, the favorable opinion of the pope remains high at 84.2 percent, nearly the same as 85.9 percent in February’s poll.

In the week before polling took place, a new documentary by filmmaker Wim Wenders, Pope Francis – A Man of His Word, premiered in the United States. The making of the documentary also was featured on the TV news program 60 Minutes on May 13. TV viewers also may have seen CNN’s six-part documentary series on the history of the papacy, Pope: The Most Powerful Man in History. “In addition to drawing attention to the papacy in general, whenever the episodes mentioned Pope Francis they always did so positively,” said Dr. Marc Pugliese, associate professor of religion and theology at Saint Leo University, possibly contributing to a favorable opinion of the pope.

The overall rating for Pope Francis by those who self-identify as politically conservative and/or Republican has gone up significantly since February, while the overall favorability rating by those who self-identify as politically liberal and/or Democrat has gone down since February, Pugliese said. “The pope’s overall favorability rating by conservatives has increased to 64.7 percent from 62.1 percent in February, and the overall favorability rating by Republicans has gone up to 66.7 percent from 63.0 percent in February. Conversely, the overall favorability rating by liberals has gone down from 77.3 percent in February to 65.1 percent and went down to 71.1 percent from 76.3 percent for Democrats. This is interesting, given the pope’s reputation for being liberal/progressive.”

Some news media reports painted Pope Francis as altering traditional, conservative Church teachings, but those were exaggerated or erroneous, Pugliese said. He noted a story in an Italian newspaper reported Pope Francis denying the existence of hell, however, the Vatican said this was not true, and it was contrary to statements the pope had made in public. Another instance that drew viral social media attention was a video of Pope Francis comforting a grieving young boy who wanted to know the fate of his late father, an atheist. The pope reassured him that his father was a good man as seen by how he had his four children baptized, and gave the boy hope that his father may be in heaven, Pugliese said.

While that may seem to portray Pope Francis as progressive, it rather affirms he is traditional. “The Catholic Church has repeatedly affirmed that those who follow their conscience and lead good lives, even if they are atheists, can go to heaven,” Pugliese said.

Pope Francis on the issues of the day
The Saint Leo poll also examines how the pope’s dealing with certain matters is viewed including human rights, marriage and family, and sexual abuse by priests. Ratings for the pope regarding issues he has focused on over time remain consistent with previous Saint Leo polls:

How would you rate the job Pope Francis is doing on… Strongly & Somewhat Approve September 2017 – % Somewhat & Strongly
Approve November 2017 – %
Somewhat & Strongly Approve February 2018 – % Strongly & Support Approve    May 2018 – %
Human rights 69.5 65.4 66.1 66.6
Advancing the cause of the poor 68.8 65.6 66.9 64.9
Marriage and family issues 55.7 51.4 52.7 56.7
Environmental issues 60.3 53.0 55.9 55.2
Migration / Immigration 53.8 49.8 51.3 53.0
Handling cases of sexual abuse involving Catholic clergy 43.8 40.6 40.5 44.3


Regarding marriage and family issues, in his call to holiness in today’s world, Gaudete et Exsultate—released in April—Pope Francis stressed how holiness is not something reserved for saints, clergy, and those with religious vocations, but rather something that all are called to, Pugliese said. “He spoke of ‘the holiness present in the patience of God’s people: in those parents who raise their children with immense love, in those men and women who work hard to support their families . . . Very often it is a holiness found in our next-door neighbors, those who, living in our midst, reflect God’s presence.’”

Pope Francis also appointed three women to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), two of whom are laypersons and one of whom is married with three children. The CDF is responsible for promoting and safeguard the Catholic Church’s teaching on faith and morals. Also in April and May, the pope spoke on behalf of two people who were on life support and whose parents wanted to maintain the support while medical professionals wanted to discontinue it. “These statements and actions may have contributed to the increase in ratings for how well the pope is doing on marriage and family issues,” Pugliese said.

On one of the more controversial topics—the pope’s handling of cases of sexual abuse involving Catholic clergy—his approval rating went up since polls in February 2018 (40.5 percent) and November 2017 (40.6 percent). The May poll shows a 44.3 percent approval rating.

“The recent events with the Church in Chile probably have something to do with this,” Pugliese said of the uptick in the pope’s approval on this issue. “The Chilean Church has been at the center of attention on the clerical sex abuse scandals. Pope Francis conducted a three-day summit in Rome with Chilean bishops, and in a historic act on May 18, all of the bishops of Chile submitted their resignations.”

Pope Francis acknowledged he made mistakes in handling sex abuse charges in Chile, and accepted the resignations of three of the bishops including Bishop Juan Barros, who had covered up abuse by a priest, Pugliese said.


About the Poll
METHODOLOGY: The poll sampled opinions of 1,000 adults approximately proportional to state population nationwide. The survey was conducted May 25 through May 31, 2018. All surveys were conducted using an online survey instrument. The poll has a +/- 3.0 percent margin of error at a 95 percent confidence level (on a composite basis).

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 Communications mary.mccoy02@saintleo.edu or (352) 588-7118 or (813) 610-8416 (cell/text).
Jo-Ann Johnston, Saint Leo University, University Communications jo-ann.johnston@saintleo.edu or (352) 588-8237 or (352) 467-0843 (cell/text).     


More about Saint Leo University
Saint Leo University (www.saintleo.edu) is a modern Catholic teaching university that is firmly grounded in the liberal arts tradition and the timeless Benedictine wisdom that seeks balanced growth of mind, body, and spirit. The Saint Leo University of today is a private, nonprofit institution that creates hospitable learning communities wherever students want to be or need to be, whether that is a campus classroom, a web-based environment, an employer’s worksite, a military base, or an office park. Saint Leo welcomes people of all faiths and of no religious affiliation, and encourages learners of all generations. The university is committed to providing educational opportunities to the nation’s armed forces, veterans, and their families. Saint Leo is regionally accredited to award degrees ranging from the associate to the doctorate, and the faculty and staff guide all students to develop their capacities for critical thinking, moral reflection, and lifelong learning and leadership.

The university remains the faithful steward of the beautiful lakeside University Campus in the Tampa Bay region of Florida, where its founding monks created the first Catholic college in the state in 1889. Serving more than 13,000 students, Saint Leo has expanded to downtown Tampa, to other sites in Florida and beyond, and maintains a physical presence in seven states. The university provides highly respected online learning programs to students nationally and internationally. More than 94,000 alumni reside in all 50 states, in Washington, DC, in three U.S. territories, and in 76 countries.