U.S. Catholics Admire, Disagree With Pope

ByABC News
October 14, 2003, 9:39 PM

Oct. 15 -- A quarter-century into his papacy, the ailing Pope John Paul II is a beloved leader but in many cases an unpersuasive one, an ABCNEWS/Washington Post poll finds.

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Even as they express admiration for the man, majorities in the pope's American flock reject a variety of his teachings, say he hasn't influenced their views even on religious matters and see the Roman Catholic Church as out of step with their lives.

On a range of issues including premarital sex, birth control, the death penalty, ordaining women and allowing priests to marry majorities of American Catholics differ with the pope. About six in 10 call the church out of touch with the views of American Catholics.

And in what can only be regarded as a rebuke to this conservative, tradition-centered pontiff, nearly two-thirds say the next pope should focus less on traditional policies, and more on changing those policies to reflect the attitudes and lifestyles of Catholics today.

Also, as John Paul's health declines, American Catholics for the first time are evenly split (49 percent to 47 percent) on whether he should resign for health reasons or lead the church until he dies. In three polls last year, majorities wanted him to keep the job until the end.

Approval Ratings

Overall nearly eight in 10 American Catholics approve of the pope's work as he reaches the 25th anniversary of his Oct. 16, 1978, election (40 percent strongly approve). On a more personal level, 84 percent of Catholics view him favorably, as do 65 percent of all Americans.

Yet his personal popularity is far greater than his influence. Most Catholics, 60 percent, say their local church officials better represent their views on religious and moral issues. Fewer than half of Catholics about four in 10 say the pope has influenced their personal religious and moral views; fewer, 33 percent, say he's influenced their personal behavior; and fewer still, 21 percent, say John Paul II has influenced their political opinions.

Fewer than a third of Catholics say John Paul has "strongly" influenced them in any of these areas on religious beliefs, 30 percent; on moral views, 27 percent; in their personal behavior, 22 percent; and in their political opinions, 11 percent. (Among non-Catholics, naturally, the pope has decidedly less influence: from 7 percent to 13 percent say he's influenced their views on these issues.)