Pope Benedict XVI steps down with an uptick in personal popularity and wide support for his decision to retire, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll. But Benedict leaves his position less well-liked than his predecessor or the Roman Catholic Church overall, a sign that his own brand failed to take flight as did Pope John Paul II’s.
About three-quarters of Catholics (76 percent) and a smaller majority of all Americans (54 percent) view Benedict favorably, both numbers up slightly from a 2008 survey. Only 14 percent of Catholics and 27 percent of the overall public rates the pontiff unfavorably.
While positive, Benedict’s ratings stand 13 points below those of John Paul II during his final month as pope, when 67 percent of Americans and 87 percent of Catholics saw him favorably. Among non-Catholics, Benedict’s ratings are 14 points lower than his predecessor.
Benedict also receives fewer positive marks than the Catholic Church itself, which is seen favorably by 62 percent of Americans. John Paul II, by contrast, was more popular than the church he led.
Benedict’s tenure has been dogged by long-running criticism of the way the Catholic Church dealt with allegations of sexual abuse by priests. In 2008, more than seven in 10 Americans in a Post-ABC poll — including Catholics — disapproved of the church’s handling of the issue.
In the new poll, more than six in 10 (64 percent) see Benedict’s decision to step down in a favorable light, while just 23 percent view it unfavorably. But the sentiment appears more well-wishing than not: Two-thirds of those endorsing his retirement also report positive ratings of the pope himself.
The Post-ABC poll was conducted Feb. 13-17 among a random national sample of 1,006 adults. The margin of sampling error for the full survey is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. Click here to see question wording, results and interactive breakdowns.
Clement and Craighill are pollsters with Capital Insight, the independent polling group of Washington Post Media. Jon Cohen, director of polling at Capital Insight, contributed to this report.