Religion and Social Trends

U.S. Catholics' Reactions to Pope Benedict XVI More Positive Than Negative

Many have yet to form opinion of new pontiff

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- U.S. Catholics' initial reactions to Pope Benedict XVI are more positive than negative, though substantial proportions have yet to form opinions of the new pontiff. Most American Catholics say they are not bothered by the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger's age, his service in the German army during World War II, or his opposition to allowing priests to marry. A majority, however, is bothered by his opposition to the use of birth control by Catholics. Most American Catholics say the choice of the church's leader has little or no effect on their commitment to the church. Consistent with that, Catholics say they are more likely to rely on their own consciences to decide on difficult moral issues than to follow the pope's teachings.

These results are based on an instant-reaction poll of 616 U.S. Catholics conducted the evening of April 19, following the selection of Ratzinger as the new pope.

Impact of Selection on U.S. Catholics

According to the poll, 57% of Catholics say their commitment to the church is not affected much or at all by who the pope is. Ten percent say the chosen pope affects their commitment "a great deal," and 32% say a moderate amount.

When you think about your commitment to the Catholic Church, how much is your commitment affected by who the pope is -- a great deal, a moderate amount, not much, or not at all?

 

 

Great
deal

Moderate
amount

Not
much

Not
at all

No
opinion

           

2005 Apr 19

10%

32

37

20

1

Perhaps related to this is the finding that the vast majority of Catholics say they will follow their own consciences -- rather than relying on Pope Benedict's teachings -- when confronted with difficult moral decisions.

On difficult moral questions, which are you more likely to follow -- [ROTATED: The teachings of Pope Benedict (or) your own conscience]?

 

 

Teachings of
Pope Benedict

Your own
conscience

BOTH
(vol.)

No
opinion

         

2005 Apr 19

20%

74

4

2

(vol.) = Volunteered response

When similar questions were asked during Pope John Paul II's reign in 1987 and again in 2003, large majorities of Catholics also said they would follow their consciences rather than the pope's teachings.

U.S. Catholics' Reactions to the Selection

Initial reaction to the selection of Ratzinger as the new pope is more positive than negative, though at this early stage, many Catholics have not yet formed opinions about Pope Benedict. Thirty-one percent say they have a favorable view of him and 9% an unfavorable view, but the majority of Catholics -- 59% -- say they do not know enough about him to say.

Do you have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of Pope Benedict the 16th, or do you not know enough about him to say?

 

 


Favorable


Unfavorable

Don't know
enough to say

No
answer

         

2005 Apr 19

31%

9

59

1

Catholics are not bothered by some of the specific aspects of Pope Benedict's background, including his advanced age, his service in the German army during World War II, and his stance against marriage for priests. A majority of U.S. Catholics say they are, however, bothered by his opposition to the use of birth control by Catholics.

Next, we would like your reaction to some of the things from Pope Benedict's background. For each, please say whether it bothers you, personally, or if it does not bother you. How about -- [RANDOM ORDER]?

 


2005 Apr 19
(sorted by "yes, bothers you")

Yes,
bothers
you

No,
does
not


No
opinion

%

%

%

He has opposed allowing Catholics to use birth control

56

43

1

He has opposed allowing priests to marry

36

62

2

He is 78 years old

28

72

*

As a youth, during World War II, he was drafted into and served in the German army

20

78

2

* Less than 0.5%

At the outset of his papacy, Catholics do express optimism about the church under Pope Benedict. By a 3-to-1 margin, Catholics say he will move the church in the right direction rather than the wrong direction, although again a substantial proportion -- nearly half -- has no opinion on the matter.

Based on what you have heard or read, do you think Pope Benedict the 16th will move the Catholic Church in the right direction or the wrong direction, or don't you know enough to say?

 

 

Right
direction

Wrong
direction

Don't know
enough to say

No
answer

         

2005 Apr 19

39%

13

47

1

Some observers have expressed concern that Ratzinger's strong endorsement of traditional Catholic teachings on moral issues such as homosexuality and artificial birth control could alienate Catholics who have more liberal views on morality. But 6 in 10 Catholics say he will do more to unite the church than to divide it, while 19% take the opposing view. One in five have no opinion.

Do you think Pope Benedict -- [ROTATED: will do more to unite the Catholic Church (or) will do more to divide the Catholic Church]?

 

 

More to unite

More to divide

No opinion

       

2005 Apr 19

61%

19

20

Most Catholics have at least a moderate amount of confidence that the pope will be able to handle the issue of sexual abuse of children by priests, a problem that has plagued the American church.

How much confidence do you have in Pope Benedict to handle the issue of sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests -- a great deal, a moderate amount, not much, or none at all?

 

 

Great
deal

Moderate
amount

Not
much

None
at all

No
opinion

           

2005 Apr 19

29%

36

19

7

9

Practicing Catholics More Positive About Benedict

The 62% of respondents who identify themselves as "practicing Catholics" are universally more positive and optimistic about Benedict than are the 38% who say they are non-practicing.

 

Opinion

Practicing
Catholics
(n=397)

Non-
Practicing
Catholics
 (n=216)

 

%

%

How much is your commitment to the church affected by who the pope is?

   

Great deal/Moderate amount

54

25

Not much/Not at all

45

74

Which are you more likely to follow on difficult moral questions?

   

Teachings of Pope Benedict

30

4

Your conscience

62

94

Opinion about Pope Benedict

   

Favorable

40

17

Unfavorable

9

9

Bothered by his age

25

31

Bothered by his German army service

16

25

Bothered by his stance on birth control

49

68

Bothered by his stance on marriage for priests

34

40

Direction in which you believe Benedict will move the church

   

Right direction

50

21

Wrong direction

11

18

Will Benedict do more to unite or divide the church?

   

Unite

67

52

Divide

17

23

Amount of confidence in Benedict to handle sex abuse issue

   

Great deal/Moderate amount

73

50

Not much/None at all

18

40

Survey Methods

These results are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected sample of 616 Catholics, aged 18 and older, conducted April 19, 2005. Respondents are members of Gallup's household panel, all of whom were recruited by random selection methods. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is ±4 percentage points. The maximum margin of sampling error for the sample of 397 practicing Catholics is ±5 percentage points. The maximum margin of sampling error for the sample of 216 non-practicing Catholics is ±7 percentage points.

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.

Polls conducted entirely in one day, such as this one, are subject to additional error or bias not found in polls conducted over several days.

Gallup http://www.gallup.com/poll/15955/US-Catholics-Reactions-Pope-Benedict-XVI-More-Positive-Than-Negative.aspx Gallup World Headquarters, 901 F Street, Washington, D.C., 20001, U.S.A +1 202.715.3030