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Poll: Most American Catholics have positive views of pope's leadership

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By Political Editor Paul Steinhauser

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- American Catholics woke up Monday to the news that the head of their church, Pope Benedict XVI, would resign at the end of the month "because of advanced age."

As they react to the news, it seems most Catholics in this country had a favorable impression of their spiritual leader, according to the most recent national polling on the issue.

According to a Pew Research Center survey conducted in late June and early July of last year, 74% of U.S. Catholics said they were very or somewhat satisfied with the pope's leadership, with just over one in five saying they were very or somewhat dissatisfied. That 74% is about the same number who approved of how Benedict's predecessor, John Paul II, was leading the Church, in a Pew poll from 2002.

The 74% who said last summer that they were very or somewhat satisfied with the pope's leadership was slightly lower than the 83% who approved the performance of the nuns and sisters and the 82% who felt the same way about parish priests, and it was equal to the amount who were very or somewhat satisfied with the leadership of U.S. bishops.

Benedict's numbers seem to have improved from three years ago, when the Catholic Church was dealing with renewed headlines here in the U.S. that spotlighted sexual abuse by priests. According to a CNN/ORC International poll conducted in April 2010, 59% of American Catholics had a favorable view of the pope, and a majority of them thought Benedict was doing a bad job dealing with the problem of sexual abuse by priests.

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