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Pope Francis delivers a message during his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square, at the Vatican, on Sept. 26, 2018.

Andrew Medichini/The Associated Press

As sex abuse scandals continue to buffet the Roman Catholic Church, Catholics in the U.S. are steadily losing confidence in Pope Francis’s handling of the crisis, according to a new survey by the Pew Research Center.

The survey, released Tuesday, found that 31 per cent of U.S. Catholics felt the pope was doing an excellent or good job in addressing the issue, down from 45 per cent in January and 55 per cent in 2015.

Sex-abuse scandals have plagued the Catholic church worldwide for decades, but events this year – several with direct U.S. connections – have elevated the issue to crisis-level at the Vatican and sown discord among church leaders in the U.S. In August, a grand jury report in Pennsylvania detailed decades of abuse and coverup in six dioceses, alleging that more than 1,000 children had been abused over the years by about 300 priests.

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In July, Pope Francis removed U.S. church leader Theodore McCarrick as a cardinal after church investigators said an allegation that he groped a teenage altar boy in the 1970s was credible. Subsequently, several former seminarians and priests reported that they too had been abused or harassed by McCarrick as adults.

The Vatican has aggravated that scandal by refusing to respond to claims by a retired ambassador, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, that Francis and other Vatican officials before him covered up for McCarrick.

For the survey, Pew conducted telephone interviews with 1,754 American adults, including 336 Catholics, from Sept. 18-24. Among the public as a whole, about half said they viewed the pope favourably – the lowest rating Francis has received in a Pew survey since he became pope in 2013.

Among U.S. Catholics, 72 per cent said they viewed Francis favourably overall. But 62 per cent said he was doing an “only fair” or “poor” job handling the sex abuse scandals, including 36 per cent who said his efforts have been poor. That’s nearly double the share who said he was doing a poor job at the beginning of this year.

Until now, Francis has generally earned higher favourability ratings from Americans than his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI. In the new survey, Francis’ favourability rating is on par with the typical ratings for Benedict.

Pew said the survey’s margin of error was plus or minus 2.7 percentage points for the full sample, and 6.2 percentage points for the responses of U.S. Catholics.

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