WASHINGTON — A new survey shows that U.S. Catholics are overwhelmingly content with the election of Pope Francis, with 73% of Catholics expressing happiness with the new Holy Father.
The poll, conducted by the Pew Research Center less than a week after the Pope’s March 13 election, also reports a subset of 31% of Catholics who say they are very happy with his election.
Though reported happiness was high, about 24% of Catholic respondents told the Pew Research Center they have not heard enough about the Pope to make a judgment.
However, only 2% said they were unhappy with the cardinals’ choice.
Among weekly Mass attendees, almost 90% are happy with his selection, compared to only 62% of Catholics who are infrequent churchgoers.
Women and Catholics over 50 were more likely to report being happy at the Pope’s election.
Although Pope Francis is the first New World pope and hails from a Spanish-speaking country, U.S. Hispanics were only slightly more likely than whites to say they were very happy with the selection.
Non-Catholics were reluctant to comment on Pope Francis, with about 60% offering no opinion on him.
The survey also asked Catholics what they think Pope Francis should accomplish during his pontificate.
About 70% of U.S. Catholics said addressing the sex-abuse scandal should be “a top priority” for Pope Francis. Almost 50% said he should prioritize standing up for morals and values, while about 40% said he should focus on spreading the Catholic faith. Another 36% said the Pope should address the priest shortage, while 35% said he should reform the Vatican.
Among Catholic respondents, 75% said they followed the election of the new Pope very closely or fairly closely. About 50% of all U.S. adults said the same.
Catholic respondents were about evenly split on whether Pope Francis’ selection is a “major change.” Those who attend church weekly were slightly more likely to see Pope Francis as a major change.
Views on Other Issues
The Pew poll also asked Catholics about their support of Catholic doctrine and practice.
About half of Catholic weekly churchgoers said they favored allowing priests to marry, and about equal numbers favored the ordination of women. About 62% of Catholic respondents who are weekly churchgoers said the Church should allow the use of birth control.
Non-weekly churchgoers were less likely to support Catholic teaching and practice. However, there was no significant difference in response based on generational or gender differences.
The Catholic Church sees the ordination of married men as a question of discipline, and married men can be ordained in the Eastern Catholic tradition and in exceptional circumstances in the Western Catholic Church. However, ordained priests are barred from marrying even in the Eastern Catholic Churches.
Catholic teaching considers the ordination of women to the priesthood impossible, while Pope Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae (On Human Life) stated that the use of artificial contraception is an intrinsic evil.
Pew’s March 13-17 survey on Pope Francis polled 1,501 U.S. adults, including 325 Catholics. The Catholic sample size has a margin of error of plus or minus 6.3 percentage points.