Washington: Amid new criticism about the Roman Catholic Church`s handling of child sex abuse by priests, Pope Benedict`s favourable ratings has dropped to 40 percent in the United States, a poll said on Wednesday.
"Now, nearly as many Americans have an unfavourable view of the pope as have a favourable view," the Gallup poll said in a media release.
The current results represent a major shift from two years ago, when the pope`s favourable rating jumped to 63 percent as he was concluding a well-received visit to the United States that included personal meetings between the pope and victims of sex abuse by US priests, it said.
"The latest allegations of lax handling of abusive priests mostly concern past abuse cases in Europe, but they implicate the pope, who had a central role in the Catholic Church`s handling of sex abuse cases prior to his becoming pope," Gallup said.
Pope Benedict`s image has deteriorated about equally among Catholics and non-Catholics from its 2008 high -- by 20 and 23 points, respectively, the poll revealed.
Catholics continue to view him much more favourably than non-Catholics, it said.
According to Gallup, Pope Benedict`s predecessor, Pope John Paul II, also saw his US favourable ratings drop in 2002 as the Catholic Church responded to similar criticism for its handling of priest sex abuse allegations, mostly from the United States -- but only as low as 61 percent favourable and 26 percent unfavourable (compared to the current pope`s 40 percent favourable and 35 percent unfavourable).
As the scandal faded, Pope John Paul II`s ratings improved, and Gallup`s final measurement on him showed a 78 percent favourable and 11 percent unfavourable rating, it said.