by Supreme Knight Carl Anderson
Packing venue after venue during Benedict XVI’s visit last year, Americans showed an eagerness and enthusiasm to hear his Gospel message that many did not expect. They exhibited a hunger – for the truth and for moral leadership.
And – despite a trend in the media to be very critical in their coverage of Benedict XVI – more than a year later, by wide margins, Americans in general – and American Catholics in particular – have a positive view of the pope and a strong desire to hear him speak on the most pressing issues of the day.
A Knights of Columbus-Marist College survey, conducted in late March, found that Americans have a positive view of Benedict XVI by a nearly 3:1 margin (59% to 20%). Among Catholics, he is viewed favorably by a nearly 7:1 margin (76% to 11%).
By a nearly 3:1 margin (4:1 among Catholics), he is seen as “good for the Church.”
That Benedict XVI remains so respected by Americans – in spite of a 24-hour news cycle often hostile to him and his message – is a great testament to the Pope’s ability to communicate the Gospel directly to people. It also says something significant about the American people’s desire for the message of hope and love that Benedict XVI preaches in calling us to say “yes” to Jesus Christ.
And that message has not been lost on a great number of the American people, who want to hear him weigh in on the most contentious issues of the day. This underscores a quiet hunger for the truth of the Church’s message, the message enunciated by Benedict XVI.
As state after state redefines marriage, Americans want to hear the Pope’s views on marriage and the family by more than 2:1 (57% to 22%). Among Catholics it’s nearly 5:1 (68% to 14%).
In a country where laws concerning abortion and stem-cell research are increasingly being liberalized, a great number of Americans are eager to hear what Benedict XVI has to say about these life issues (50% to 29% and 60% to 21% among Catholics).
In other words, in spite of a legal and media culture increasingly tolerant of “moral relativism,” Americans – by large margins – see Benedict XVI's commitment to Catholic morality as valuable, and are looking for Catholic leadership on core issues.
Americans also want to hear what Benedict XVI has to say about making God a part of our daily lives, sharing time and talent with those in need, the shortsightedness of greed, and the creation of a society where spiritual values play an important role.
In the midst of a serious economic slump brought on by a series of moral failures, Americans want Benedict XVI’s perspective on building a society based on values – not on greed.
Having seen where moral relativism leads economically, Americans are looking instead for an unwavering moral compass, and looking to the man they know has one.
On the international stage as well, Americans see the pope as very important. Seventy-four percent of Americans – and 84% of American Catholics – would describe the Pope as “an important religious leader in the world.” And by more than 2:1 margins both the American people and American Catholics see him as “active and visible.”
On the eve of Benedict XVI’s trip to the Middle East, Americans – by a 2:1 margin (46% to 23%) – believed he was sensitive to Muslims, and by a similar margin (48% to 20%), said he was also sensitive to Jewish people. Among Catholics the ratio was 3:1 – about 60% believed he was sensitive to people of both religions, only about 20% disagreed.
Reflected in these attitudes is something very profound. Despite the occasional flack that the Holy Father has received on his trip to the Holy Land, the fact is that his willingness to put his own life in danger in the unstable and often violent region in order to seek a lasting peace underscores his sensitivities to both sides of Middle East conflict.
And despite occasional criticism, he has not allowed any negativity to distract from what he believes is possible: a peaceful resolution to the violence endemic in the Holy Land.
Those who have taken issue with aspects of the Pope’s trip should pause to consider this, and further, might consider that while past grievances are part of memory and cannot be put aside, such grievances must not become barriers to a real opportunity for peace that is now at hand.
And those who would dismiss our Pontiff – or some part of his message –should take a lesson from the attitudes catalogued in this survey and should realize that the human heart is restless until it rests in God. This is a fact not lost on Catholic thinkers from Augustine to Benedict XVI himself, who has made bringing human hearts to God a hallmark of his pontificate.
It is an unswerving commitment to the truth – and the ability through his own prayerfulness to introduce people to Jesus Christ – that has made Benedict XVI a beacon of moral courage whose message the American people and people worldwide respect and wish to hear. We might call it a triumph of truth over television.