It seems that American Catholics love the seemingly liberal Pope Francis and the direction he’s taking their church.
A pair of recent polls found the new pontiff’s approval rating among his U.S. followers to be about as close to full approval as candy, ice cream and puppies.
A CNN/ORC International poll released Tuesday found that 88 percent of American Catholics approve of the pope nine months into his term.
That’s not far off the survey’s 3 percent margin of error from a Washington Post-ABC poll released earlier this month, which found a 92 percent approval rating among American Catholics.
Pope Francis, who has urged Catholics to shift their focus from culture war issues such as same-sex marriage and abortion to care for the poor and vulnerable, was the most talked about person on the Internet this year, and he was named person of the year by both Time magazine and The Advocate.
The pope drew criticism from American political conservatives for his recent remarks on capitalism and trickle-down economics, but more than 85 percent of American Catholics say he’s neither too liberal nor too conservative.
Nearly two-thirds of American Catholics agree with the pope about capitalism's effects on the poor, the poll found.
William Donohue, president of the conservative Catholic League, offered a tepid defense of Pope Francis against right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh, who attacked the pontiff’s agenda as “pure Marxism.”
"Catholic League has never, ever, ever been after anybody for criticizing the pope or priest or a bishop,” said Donohue, who is frequently presented on TV as the voice of American Catholics. “We get involved when you hit below the belt, when you start becoming insulting. He didn't like the pope's views on economics (and) Rush Limbaugh is entitled to that."
Regardless of what Limbaugh or Donohue have to say, about three-quarters of all Americans regard Pope Francis favorably, likely making him the most well-regarded religious figure in the U.S., and 86 percent say he’s in touch with the modern world.
By comparison, more than half of U.S. Catholics agreed that Pope John Paul was out of step with the world in 2003, near the end of his 26-year papacy.
The pollsters said it’s difficult to compare the popularity of one pope to another, but Pope Francis has grown more popular in recent months, after making public comments on gays, atheists and economics.
A Pew Research poll found 79 percent of American Catholics viewed the pope favorably, about the same after his March election.
That’s similar to the highest ratings achieved by his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, who was viewed favorably by 83 percent of U.S. Catholics in 2008 and 76 percent in February 2013.
Pope John Paul II, who will be declared a saint in April, surpassed 90 percent favorability ratings in several polls in the 1980s and 1990s before his handling of the church sex abuse scandal eroded his popularity, including a 64 percent rating in 2003.
Pope Francis is more than twice as popular than President Barack Obama, who recorded a personal low 41 percent approval rating this month, and about eight time more popular than Congress, which earned an 11 percent approval rating – including an astonishing 84 percent disapproval rating – in another poll earlier this month.