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Pope Francis is more popular than ever in the U.S., with 95 percent of Catholics who go to church every week — and even two-thirds of those with no religion — giving him high marks. The Pew Research Center says that two years after Francis was named the leader of the world's 1 billion Roman Catholics, his popularity has eclipsed any numbers his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, ever posted and puts him on par with Pope John Paul II in the 1980s and 1990s.
Pope Francis' common touch and plain-spokenness have also won him fans among non-Catholics. The survey, conducted last month and released Thursday, shows that 70 percent of Americans have a positive view of him regardless of their religious affiliation, up from 57 percent when he was elected. "Francis is held in high esteem even among religious 'nones,'" the Pew report said.
Two-thirds of people who have no particular religion or describe themselves as atheists or agnostics have a favorable opinion of the former Argentine archbishop. "That was somewhat surprising because two years ago, right after Pope Francis was elected, only 4 in 10 had a favorable view," Pew researcher Jessica Martinez said. The survey did not ask respondents what was behind their views, but the pontiff has reached out to atheists in some of his remarks.