Washington, March 6, 2014 — One year into his pontificate, Pope Francis remains immensely popular among American Catholics and is widely seen as a force for positive change within the Roman Catholic Church, according to a new Pew Research Center survey. More than eight-in-ten U.S. Catholics say they have a favorable view of the pontiff, including half who view him very favorably. The percentage of Catholics who view Francis “very favorably” now rivals the number who felt equally positive about Pope John Paul II in the 1980s and 1990s, though Francis’ overall favorability rating remains a few points shy of that of the long-serving Polish pope.
Seven-in-ten U.S. Catholics also now say Francis represents a major change in direction for the church, a sentiment shared by 56% of non-Catholics. And nearly everyone who says Francis represents a major change sees this as a change for the better.
It is less clear whether there has been a so-called “Francis effect,” a discernible change in the way American Catholics approach their faith. There has been no measurable rise in the percentage of Americans who identify as Catholic. Nor has there been a statistically significant change in how often Catholics say they go to Mass.
On the other hand, about a quarter of Catholics (26%) say they have become “more excited” about their Catholic faith over the past year (outnumbering the one-in-ten who have become less excited). And fully 40% of Catholics say they have been praying more often in the past 12 months (compared with 8% who say they have been praying less often). It is important to note that none of these questions about religious practices were explicitly tied in the survey to Francis’ papacy; the questions dealing with attitudes toward Francis came elsewhere in the questionnaire.
These are among the key findings of a new Pew Research Center survey, conducted Feb. 14-23, on landlines and cellphones among a national sample of 1,821 adults (including 351 Catholics).
The full survey report, “Catholics View Pope Francis as a Change for the Better,” is available on the website of the Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project. A companion media analysis, “Media Coverage of Pope Francis’ First Year,” is available on the Pew Research Center’s Journalism Project website.