US Catholics agree with pope that church needs new focus

Poll finds most agree with Francis that church should back off gays, abortion and contraception

Pope Francis greets the crowd as he arrives at St. Francis Basilica in Assisi, Italy, on Friday.
Filippo Monteforte/AFP/Getty

Pope Francis' comments that the Roman Catholic Church should not focus as much on homosexuality, abortion and contraception have been met with strong approval from U.S. Catholics, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released on Friday.

Sixty-eight percent of American Catholics agreed with comments the pope made to that effect in an interview published last month in the Jesuit magazine La Civilta Cattolica; 23 percent disagreed, according to the poll.

There was little difference in opinion between observant and less observant Catholics, between women and men and among age groups, the poll found. American Catholics also like their new pope, with 89 percent having a "favorable" or "very favorable" opinion and only 4 percent voicing an unfavorable opinion.

"Maybe they were just waiting for a Jesuit," said Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, based in Hamden, Conn. Francis is the first pope from the Jesuit religious order, known for its intellectuals and iconoclasts.

"American Catholics liked what they heard when Pope Francis said the church should stop talking so much about issues like gay marriage, abortion and contraception," Carroll said.

The findings of Friday's poll are in line with a previous Quinnipiac study in March, just after Pope Benedict XVI's surprise resignation but before Francis' election by the College of Cardinals. That poll showed growing support among American Catholics for same-sex marriage and a hope that the next pope would lead the church in a "new direction."

In the interview, Francis reaffirmed traditional church teachings but said the church must "find a new balance" or risk seeing its entire moral edifice collapse "like a house of cards."

The poll also found that 60 percent of American Catholics support women's ordination — though the pope recently reaffirmed the church's ban on women's ordination. Support is highest among those who attend services less frequently and Catholics over the age of 65.

The survey also found that Catholic opinion on abortion is similar to the opinion of American adults overall, with 52 percent of Catholics saying abortion should be legal in all or most cases, compared with 53 percent of the general public.

The poll surveyed 392 Catholics, with a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage points.

Pope Francis in Assisi

The pope made a pilgrimage Friday to the hillside Italian town of Assisi, following in the footsteps of St. Francis, the 13th century friar who renounced a wealthy, dissolute lifestyle to embrace a life of poverty and service to the poor and in whose honor the pontiff chose his papal name.  

According to tradition, God told St. Francis to "repair my house."  

In word and deed, the first pope to name himself after St. Francis has made clear how he wants to follow that command. Francis is trying to shape a church that is welcoming to all, especially to the most marginalized, with a hierarchy that is worthy of its flock of 1.2 billion people.  

The pope met with the poor in Assisi, demanding that the faithful "strip" themselves of their worldly attachment to wealth, which he said was killing the church.

He delivered that exhortation during the most evocative stop of the day, in the simple room where St. Francis stripped off his clothes, renounced his wealth and vowed to lead a life of poverty.

The "slum pope," as he is known because of his work in Argentina's shantytowns, recently denounced the "idolatry" of money and encouraged those without the "dignity" of work.

Al Jazeera and wire services 

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