A year after being chosen Pope Francis is very popular with American Catholics though his handling of the pedophile priests' scandal left many underwhelmed, a new study found.
More than eight in 10 surveyed in the Pew Research Center study of 1,821 adults 18 or older --- fully 85 percent -- had a favorable opinion of the pope a year after his elevation, it found.
Francis, born in Argentina, is the first pope born in the Americas, and the first from Latin America.
While a strong majority approves of Francis' work on behalf of the poor and disenfranchised, the new pope earned lower marks for his handling of the sex abuse crisis, the study found.
"Fifty-four percent of Catholics giving him an excellent or good rating for his handling of the issue. One year ago, 70% of US Catholics said that addressing the sex abuse scandal should be 'a top priority' for the new pope, far more than said the same about standing up for traditional moral values, spreading the Catholic faith or other issues," the study stressed.
Francis has defended the Catholic Church's record on tackling the sexual abuse of children by priests, saying "no one else has done more" to root out pedophilia.
The comments, in an interview published Wednesday, were the pope's first response to a scathing UN report that denounced the Vatican for failing to stamp out child abuse and allowing systematic cover-ups.
"The Catholic Church is perhaps the only public institution to have acted with transparency and responsibility. No one else has done more. Yet the Church is the only one to have been attacked," he said in an interview with Il Corriere della Sera daily.
Last month's hard-hitting UN report called on the Church to remove clergy suspected of raping or molesting children.
It accused the Vatican of systematically placing the "preservation of the reputation of the Church and the alleged offender over the protection of child victims."
On issues involving church traditions and social change, US Catholics, a minority in a sea of Protestants, are more progressive as a whole on issues of social change than their counterparts in most majority Catholic countries.
The United States is mostly Christian and Catholics are the largest single Christian group. But US Protestant Christian denominations together outnumber Catholics, and many sociologists believe they heavily influence what US Catholics see as normal.
Unlike in many majority Catholic cultures, US Catholics believe overwhelmingly that their church should not oppose birth control (77%); should and will allow priests to marry (72%); and should and will allow women to become priests (68%), the survey found.
Half of American Catolics said their church should recognize marriages of gays and lesbians, it found.