As Pope Francis prepares to celebrate his first Christmas at the Vatican, Americans' opinions of the pontiff appear to be as high as the dome on St. Peter's Basilica, according to a new survey.
A CNN/ORC International poll released Tuesday found that 88% of American Catholics approve of how Francis is handling his role as head of the 1.2 billion-member church.
Religion Commentator Father Edward Beck says Pope Francis’ soaring popularity is unsurprising.
“This is a man who just sent 2,000 cards to immigrants in a shelter… and he gave them phone cards so they can call home. He gave them stamps so they can write home,” Father Beck says.
The popular pontiff has also made a positive impression among Americans in general: Nearly three in four view Francis favorably. The new survey suggests that the Pope is arguably the most well-regarded religious figure among the American public today, said CNN Polling Director Keating Holland.
“He hugs the faceless man and then he speaks about the faceless poor,” Father Beck says. “He’s consistent all the way through."
Nine months into his papacy, the Argentine-born Francis has captured attention with crowd-pleasing acts of compassion, from embracing a severely disfigured man, to washing the feet of juvenile delinquents, to hosting homeless men at his birthday Mass this month.
The Pope has also shown a common touch rare for such a lofty religious leader. He has eschewed the trappings of the papacy in favor of humbler digs, simpler vestments and a cheaper car. He worked as a bar bouncer and a janitor before he was a priest, and is not shy about telling people.
The poll was conducted for CNN by ORC International on December 16 through Thursday, with 1,035 adults nationwide, including 191 Catholics, questioned by telephone. The survey's overall sampling error is plus or minus three percentage points.
Pope Francis on Tuesday called for major changes in the Roman Catholic Church - from the top down - saying he knows it will be a messy business but he expects his flock to dive in feet-first.
"I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security," the Pope said Tuesday in a major new address.
"I do not want a Church concerned with being at the center and then ends by being caught up in a web of obsessions and procedures."
The Pope's address, called an "apostolic exhortation," is basically a pep talk from the throne of St. Peter. Officially known in Latin as "Evangelii Gaudium," (The Joy of the Gospel) the 85-page document is the first official papal document written entirely by Francis.
“I really appreciate that Pope Francis is saying the Church, too, needs to be converted and that we all need to change. And part of that change is giving women a place of authority, of responsibility, of inclusion in the decisions that are made.”
Father Dave Dwyer, host of SiriusXM's "The Busted Halo Show" comments on the Pope Francis' criticism of clericalism.
“He says, the vast majority of the church are laypeople and we who are clerics are here to serve and so if we get into the mind set of power or authority or nice positions, he said, then the church turns into a museum. The joy of the Gospel is not to be kept from anyone he says.”