PRINCETON, NJ -- A new low of 40% of Americans view Pope Benedict XVI favorably amid new criticism about the Roman Catholic Church's handling of child sex abuse by priests. Now, nearly as many Americans have an unfavorable view of the pope as have a favorable view.
The current results represent a major shift from two years ago, when the pope's favorable rating jumped to 63% as he was concluding a well-received visit to the United States that included personal meetings between the pope and victims of sex abuse by U.S. priests. The latest allegations of lax handling of abusive priests mostly concern past abuse cases in Europe, but they implicate the pope, who had a central role in the Catholic Church's handling of sex abuse cases prior to his becoming pope.
Pope Benedict's image has deteriorated about equally among Catholics and non-Catholics from its 2008 high -- by 20 and 23 points, respectively. Catholics continue to view him much more favorably than non-Catholics.
Pope Benedict's predecessor, Pope John Paul II, also saw his U.S. favorable ratings drop in 2002 as the Catholic Church responded to similar criticism for its handling of priest sex abuse allegations, mostly from the United States -- but only as low as 61% favorable and 26% unfavorable (compared to the current pope's 40% favorable and 35% unfavorable). As the scandal faded, Pope John Paul II's ratings improved, and Gallup's final measurement on him showed a 78% favorable and 11% unfavorable rating.
In general, Americans viewed Pope John Paul II more favorably than they view Pope Benedict XVI. That is partly because Pope John Paul II was a more familiar figure to Americans, with an average of 14% not having an opinion of him, compared with an average of 30% not having an opinion of Pope Benedict XVI.
Results are based on telephone interviews with a random sample of 1,033 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted March 26-28, 2010. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.
Interviews are conducted with respondents on land-line telephones (for respondents with a land-line telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell-phone only).
In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.