Pew survey: U.S. Catholics split on church’s direction, open to a pope from anywhere

(NCR) As Pope Benedict XVI faces his final days on the throne of St. Peter, a majority of U.S. Catholics view his papacy favorably, and almost six in 10 have no qualms should his successor come from the developing world or open marriage to priests.

According to a Feb. 21 study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, 74 percent of Catholics expressed a favorable opinion of Benedict. That three-fourths figure reflected the average favorability Benedict garnered in the United States throughout his pontificate, with his highest approval (83 percent) coming in April 2008 during his five-day visit to New York and Washington, D.C.

While Benedict’s favorability remains high, it falls well below that of his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, who averaged approval ratings in the low 90s from 1987-1996.

Looking at specific pieces of Benedict’s legacy, Catholics expressed greater satisfaction with his work promoting interfaith relations (55 percent) than with his track record addressing the clergy sex abuse scandal (33 percent), with 63 percent of Catholics saying he had done a poor or fair job. Satisfaction ratings on both issues peaked in light of his U.S. visit.

The Pew Forum conducted the poll Feb. 14-17 by telephone, surveying 1,003 adults (212 Catholics). [more]