ST. LEO, FL – While a new survey by the Saint Leo University Polling Institute shows some Americans approve of how Pope Francis is handling cases of sexual abuse involving Catholic clergy, (46.5 percent), significantly fewer positively view the Catholic Church’s efforts to weed out abuse.

The Saint Leo University Polling Institute ( survey was fielded nationally online among 1,000 adults from August 10 through August 16. When all 1,000 answered questions, the margin of error for results is plus or minus 3.0 percentage points.

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 well as opinions on his handling of various issues. 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.

The overall favorable opinion of Pope Francis is strong at 64.4 percent, the poll shows, but is near results of the May poll when it was 68.7 percent. Among Catholics nationally, the favorable opinion of Pope Francis remains high at 87.4 percent close to the 84.2 percent recorded in May.

Pope Francis’ national approval rating on his handling of cases involving sexual abuse by Catholic clergy increased more than 2 percentage points above his rating in the May poll (46.5 percent in August and 44.53 in the May poll) and was up from 40.5 percent in February and 40.6 percent in November, according to the polling institute. However, the pope’s handling of sexual abuse issues consistently receives the lowest approval rating among topics the Saint Leo poll surveys.

The August poll was conducted mainly before the release of a Pennsylvania grand jury report regarding rape and molestation by more than 300 priests over the course of 70 years.

But respondents were asked if they were aware of the resignation from the College of Cardinals by Cardinal Theodore McCarrick­­—former Archbishop of Washington DC, Vatican diplomat, and a prominent public figure—over allegations of sexual abuse. Nationally, 48.4 percent say there are aware of the resignation and allegations while 44.8 percent report they are unaware and another 6.8 percent say they were unsure.

The Saint Leo poll also asked if on a scale of one to 10, with one being very good and 10 being very poor, how respondents would rate the Catholic Church’s efforts to weed out and deal effectively with abuse within the church. Overall, 42.9 percent of respondents hold a negative or poor view of the Catholic Church’s efforts to eradicate abuse. Another 27.5 percent rate the church as good while 19.5 percent hold a neutral view.

Among Catholic respondents, 39.4 percent view the Catholic Church as doing a good job on dealing with sexual abuse; 31.3 percent of those who say they belong to other Christian religions hold a view that the church’s efforts are good, while 20.7 percent of those who identify as “other” say the church is doing a good job on weeding out abuse.

In the middle of May, 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 to the pope, and investigators from Rome arrived in Chile starting June 12. The pope ultimately accepted three of the Chilean bishops’ resignations, including that of the notorious Bishop Juan Barros, who has been at the center of the Chilean clerical sexual abuse scandal and whom Pope Francis actually defended in his visit to Chile in January (which was just before the February poll).

After a subsequent report on the extent of the abuse in Chile, the pope admitted “errors in judgment” and reversed his position on Barros. At the end of July, the pope accepted the resignation of McCarrick over allegations of molesting minors and seminarians. This received widespread publicity in the United States.

“It is extremely rare for a cardinal to step down from the College of Cardinals—the last time was back in 1927—and this appears to be the first incidence in modern times of a cardinal resigning over allegations of sexual abuse,” said Dr. Marc Pugliese, an associate professor of religion and theology at Saint Leo University. “Thus Pope Francis’ acceptance of Cardinal McCarrick’s resignation may be seen as a serious attempt to deal with clerical sexual abuse.

Pugliese noted that the news media coverage Pope Francis received regarding the Chilean bishops and McCarrick may have led poll respondents to hold a more positive view of his efforts.

“The apparent discrepancy between the rating for Pope Francis in handling of cases of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy, and the ratings for how well the Catholic Church is weeding out and dealing effectively with abuse in the Catholic Church may be due to how recently the pope has been taking positive action in this area while reports of sexual abuse have specifically concerned others within the church’s hierarchy, such as bishops in certain dioceses and a number of priests around the world,” Pugliese said.

“I believe that the pope’s favorability ratings among Catholics would be different—lower, perhaps significantly lower—had the news of the Pennsylvania grand jury’s findings regarding clerical sexual abuse in Pennsylvania been released prior to or during the fielding of the August poll instead of afterward.”

Pope Francis on Multiple 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 advancing the cause of the poor and environmental issues.

Respondents were asked to think about several of the issues the pope is addressing and to provide their opinion on how he is doing. The following table holds the cumulative totals for strongly and somewhat approve nationally.  Results are displayed in declining order by the approval column for August 2018.

National Results:

How would you rate the job Pope Francis is doing on… Strongly & Somewhat Approve September 2017 – % Strongly & Somewhat
Approve November 2017 – %
Strongly & Somewhat Approve February 2018 -% Strongly & Somewhat Support Approve
May 2018 -%
Strongly & Somewhat Approve August 2018 -%
Human rights 69.5 65.4 66.1 66.6 66.7
Advancing the cause of the poor 68.8 65.6 66.9 64.9 65.7
Environmental issues 60.3 53.0 55.9 55.2 58.3
Marriage and family issues 55.7 51.4 52.7 56.7 54.6
Migration / Immigration 53.8 49.8 51.3 53.0 53.8
Handling cases of sexual abuse involving Catholic clergy 43.8 40.6 40.5 44.3 46.5

“A pronounced feature of Pope Francis’ theology is the interconnectedness of all things,” said Saint Leo associate professor Pugliese. “Although not absent from the words of previous popes, Pope Francis perhaps most clearly and systematically a vision of reality as organic, social, and interrelated and interdependent.”

Pugliese noted that Pope Francis said that care of environment starts “locally” with care for our bodies. This is similar to Catholic teaching which focuses on the priority of smaller portions of society in their functions and roles within the whole. The pope also stresses the effects of climate change on individuals, especially the poor, he said.

Regarding human rights, due to Pope Francis’ holistic view of the interconnectedness of all things, “it is probably safe to say that Pope Francis would tie certain natural disasters to violations of human rights on the part of human moral agents,” Pugliese added.

Pope Francis and the Death Penalty
At the beginning of August, shortly before the August poll was administered, the Vatican announced a revision of the catechism of the Catholic Church to call the death penalty “inadmissible” and announce the church’s determination to work for its abolishment worldwide.

The Saint Leo poll asked respondents: “In a recent statement, Pope Francis said that the value of human life is so great that the death penalty is never an appropriate response to even terrible crimes, and that imprisonment is an effective punishment instead.  How strongly would you say you agree or disagree with the pope’s statement?

Among Americans, the responses were closely divided with 45.7 percent say they strongly or somewhat agree and 44.7 percent saying they strongly or somewhat disagree.

As a follow-up question, the poll asked, “Some suggest that Catholic Church teachings, based on the pope’s statement, should move from a position where capital punishment (death penalty) is permissible under very specific circumstances to a new position where capital punishment is not permissible.  How strongly would you agree or disagree with this suggestion?

The responses show 47.8 percent strongly or somewhat agree while 40 percent say they strongly or somewhat disagree.

Among Catholic respondents, 66.1 percent say they strongly or somewhat agree. Among those who say they belong to other Christian religions, 54.8 percent agree, and among those who identify as “other,” 44.6 percent agree.

“Although there have always been those in the church who have opposed capital punishment, the official teaching of the church for a very, very, long time has been that despite the fact that in general it should be avoided there are certain circumstances under which capital punishment is permissible,” said Pugliese, the Saint Leo associate professor of theology and religion.


About the Poll
METHODOLOGY: The poll sampled opinions of 1,000 respondents nationwide. The survey was conducted August 10 through August 16, 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) with questions asked of all 1,000.

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: You can also follow the institute on Twitter @saintleopolls.


Media contacts: Mary McCoy, Saint Leo University, University Communications or (352) 588-7118 or (813) 610-8416 (cell/text).
Jo-Ann Johnston, Saint Leo University, University Communications or (352) 588-8237 or (352) 467-0843 (cell/text).     


More About Saint Leo University
Saint Leo University ( 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 93,000 alumni reside in all 50 states, in Washington, DC, in three U.S. territories, and in 76 countries.