March 13, 2018

U.S. Catholics offer wide range of answers when asked about Francis’ most notable action as pope

Pope Francis embraces a boy after a weekly audience in Vatican City in 2013. (Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images)
Pope Francis embraces a boy after a weekly audience in Vatican City in 2013. (Franco Origlia/Getty Images)

Most U.S. Catholics continue to have a high opinion of Pope Francis as he marks his fifth year as pontiff, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted in January. And when we asked Catholics to tell us the most significant thing Francis has done so far – in their own words, regardless of their opinion of the pope – they offered a variety of responses that cover many facets of religious and public life.

For instance, about one-in-ten U.S. Catholics (9%) said Francis’ most notable action has been showing humility and setting a good Christian example. Individual U.S. Catholics told us Francis “is very humble with the people,” that he’s “humbling himself to teach Christianity,” and that “he’s a pope for the people.”

At the same time, an equal share of respondents (9%) credited Francis with opening up the church and making it more accepting. One respondent said, “He seems to get the idea across that all people are important and worthy of attention and rights.” Another said Francis is “teaching acceptance and diversity.”

Still others named more specific actions, such as helping the poor (8%). Respondents called him a “champion of the poor” and told us that “his mission for social justice and caring for marginalized populations” are the most significant things he’s done as pope.

Some respondents also pointed to the pope being accepting of gays and lesbians (7%). Indeed, individual Catholics said Francis is “more pastoral to all communities, especially gays and lesbians,” and that he “show[s] respect for [the] gay community.”

Relatively smaller shares of Catholics cited other things – including the pope’s efforts to promote peace (3%), his focus on caring for the environment (2%), and his moves to reform the Vatican (1%) – as notable actions.

Not all the significant actions mentioned are positive. Of the 4% who noted something negative (or not inherently positive), some said Francis “gets too involved in things that don’t concern the church” or that he is “more liberal than the popes before him.”

Another 4% of U.S. Catholics said Francis has not yet done anything significant in his tenure as pope, and 29% declined to answer the question.

Topics: Catholics and Catholicism, Christians and Christianity, Religious Affiliation, Religious Leaders

  1. Photo of Elizabeth Podrebarac Sciupac

    is a research associate focusing on religion at Pew Research Center.