Majority of U.S. Catholics approve of new pope

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Although the majority of U.S. Catholics approve the choice of Pope Benedict XVI, most believe the Church is not completely aligned with their personal views, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll.

The survey, conducted in late April 2005, found that more than 80 percent of U.S. Roman Catholics supported German-born Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in his replacement of Pope John Paul II, who died April 2, 2005.

Seventy-three percent of U.S. Catholics polled said they were “enthusiastic” about the new pope, while only 25 percent said they were “strongly enthusiastic.”

When questioned, about half of respondents said they want the Church to adhere to tradition, while half said the Church must be flexible and reflect modern lifestyles and beliefs.

“Conservative Catholics are happy and encouraged by the new pope,” said Juan Herrero-Brasas, religious studies lecturer at CSUN, regarding Pope Benedict XVI, who has been touted as being more conservative than Pope John Paul II. “But progressive Catholics feel dismayed. They want a modernization and acceptance of new issues, like gay marriage.”

Herrero-Brasas also said that for the most part, U.S. Catholics are polarized about the direction in which the Church should go.

According to the poll, 52 percent believe the Catholic Church is out of touch with U.S. Catholics.

“A lot of people in the U.S. hope the Catholic Church would relax its stance on birth control and gay issues,” said Randal Cummings, religious studies professor at Mount St. Mary’s College, a predominantly Catholic campus.

Cummings said a lot of his students are hopeful Pope Benedict XVI will implement an agenda of social justice, and embrace people of diverse backgrounds.

According to the poll, which also surveyed non-Catholic U.S. citizens, only 56 percent of non-Catholic adults had a favorable opinion of Benedict XVI, compared with 81 percent of Catholics.

Nancy Tosh, CSUN religious studies professor, said many people she has spoken with, including her students, are surprised Pope Benedict XVI was chosen as pope.

“Most (of my students) are not fond of the new pope,” Tosh said. “Pope John Paul (II) spoiled people. He changed the ideal of what a pope should be. He was visible (to the public); he traveled a lot (and) met a lot of people. I don’t think people will get that this time.”

In the past, before John Paul II, the pope was seen as remaining exclusively in the Vatican and not getting involved with the public, Tosh said.

“Pope John Paul (II) changed that,” Tosh said. “He was a statesman, and met with world leaders.”