Pope’s popularity faces rising conservative opposition

The Pope’s popularity is dropping in the United States while conservative opposition to his papacy is rising, according to a Pew Research Centre survey.

The January survey canvassed 1,503 Americans.

Twenty percent of those surveyed are Catholic.

The survey found a third of respondents think Pope Francis is “too liberal” while one-quarter considered him “too naïve”.

Just under half think he is doing a “poor” or “middling” job in handling clergy sexual abuse scandals.

Conservative Catholics reported they are increasingly concerned about his reforms and vision for the Catholic Church.

While Francis has won public acclaim for living in the Vatican guesthouse instead of the Apostolic Palace and washing the feet of Muslim inmates during Holy Week, these gestures were not the focus for many of those surveyed.

People are now “looking at what he has really changed in the church,” says John Thavis, author of “The Vatican Diaries” and former Rome bureau chief for Catholic News Service.

“He does have his share of critics, but he still has an awful lot of support among mainstream Catholics.”

At the same time, Catholics are increasingly polarised about the actions Francis has taken as Pope.

Since 2014, the share of Catholic Republicans who say Francis represents a “major, positive change” for the church declined from 60 percent to 37 percent.

Similarly, the number of American Catholics who view Francis as “too liberal” (34 percent) or “naive” (24 percent) has multiplied dramatically during the past three years.

Pew’s study helps define the small but growing anti-Francis movement.

Conservatives have criticized the Pope for saying of gay people, “Who am I to judge?” and for opening a path for divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Communion. Others argue Francis has created confusion about Catholic teachings.

Over six in 10 say he has helped make the church more accepting of homosexuality, while 17 percent say they would like to see him do less in that area. Eleven percent say they do not want Francis to make the church more accepting of divorce and remarriage.

Twenty-two percent of Americans identified as Catholic in 2012, before Francis’ election, and 20 percent did the same in 2017.

Mass attendance has stayed steady over the same period, with about four in 10 Catholics reporting weekly attendance.

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