By Patricia Zapor
Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON (CNS) – Pope Benedict XVI's April 15-20 visit to the United States in April will be tracked in minute detail by the news media. His public events in Washington and New York are a hot ticket for tens of thousands of people.
But even among Catholics, most people admit not knowing much about him.
A survey released two weeks before the pope was due to arrive found that, despite high numbers of people who said they know little or nothing about the pope, 52 percent of the general public and 74 percent of Catholics said they had a favorable opinion of him.
The survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life and the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press asked 1,001 Americans their opinions about Pope Benedict in March as the third anniversary of his pontificate approached.
Although a majority holds a favorable opinion of the pope, only 18 percent of the general public and 37 percent of Catholics said they know a lot about him. Fifteen percent of Catholics and 25 percent overall said they know nothing about the pope.
A similar survey conducted by the Knights of Columbus earlier this year found similar results.
Pew found that public opinion of Pope Benedict has improved since he was elected pope April 19, 2005.
In July 2005 just 44 percent of those surveyed had a favorable view of Pope Benedict, now up to 52 percent. By comparison, his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, was viewed favorably by more than three-quarters of the public throughout his pontificate.
The Pew survey asked respondents if they consider Pope Benedict "conservative," "moderate" or "liberal." The results showed people are less likely to think of Pope Benedict as conservative than they were just last year, although more than a quarter of the public and 11 percent of Catholics said they didn't know enough about him to characterize him as conservative or liberal.
Of the whole survey, 45 percent of respondents described him as conservative and 28 percent said they think of him as liberal. Last August 56 percent of the whole group described Pope Benedict as conservative and 22 percent thought he was liberal.
Among Catholics, 62 percent of those who attend church at least weekly think of Pope Benedict as conservative, a decrease of 11 percent since August. Less-frequent Massgoers also were less likely to say he is conservative. In March, 53 percent described him as conservative, compared to 64 percent who did so last summer.
Among Protestants, 35 percent responded that they didn't know how to describe his ideology and 34 percent said he's conservative.
Catholics were much more likely than the whole survey group to describe Pope Benedict's efforts on interfaith outreach as excellent or good. Sixty-four percent of Catholics described his work at promoting interfaith relations as excellent or good, compared to just 39 percent of the whole group. Forty percent of the whole group said his efforts were "only fair" or poor.
Again, the differences were more pronounced among frequent Massgoers. Among them, 78 percent said the pope has done an excellent or good job in promoting good relations among faiths, compared with 48 percent of Catholics who attend church less often.
The survey was conducted by telephone March 24-29 by Princeton Survey Research Associates International. It included a nationwide cross section of adults. The margin of error is cited as plus or minus 3.5 percentage points for the whole sample and plus or minus 7.5 percentage points for the Catholics only.
Return to Backgrounders From Catholic News Service
Return to Pope Benedict’s U.S. Visit News Feature