The Washington Times - February 21, 2013, 12:05PM

A majority of U.S. Catholics now say the new pope should allow Catholic priests to marry, a new new survey released Thursday found.

The Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life poll determined a full 58 percent of American Catholic’s believe Pope Benedict XVI’s successor should sign off on nuptials for members of the priesthood. 

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U.S. Catholics also favor another change: Sixty percent said it would be good if the next pope is from the “developing world” instead of Europe.

Still, the survey also found three-quarters of American Catholics have a favorable impression of Pope Benedict XVI and a bare majority believe the next pope should “maintain traditional directions.”

Asked for a view of Benedict in general, 74 percent of Catholics said they had a favorable view of the pontiff.

Data was drawn from two surveys, one taken Feb. 13-18 of 1,504 adults, including 304 Catholics, and another taken Feb. 14-17 of 1,003 persons, including 212 Catholics. Only answers from Catholics were reported, and while the answers were weighted, they still carried large (6 percent to 8 percent) margins for error.

Pew found that only one in 10 Catholics said they had not heard the news that Benedict was resigning Feb. 28, citing his failing health and the heavy burden of his office..

Of Catholics who were following the news about Benedict, only a third gave him “excellent” or “good” ratings on his handling of the clergy sex-abuse scandal in the church.

However, 55 percent said he had done an “excellent” or “good” job of handling relations with other religions.

When asked whether the next pope should “move in new directions or maintain traditional positions of the church,” 51 percent of Catholics preferred the traditional approach. This was especially true among Catholics who attended church at least weekly.

When asked what “new directions” the church should move, the top answers were for the church to “become more modern” (19 percent), followed by “get tougher with abusers/sex abuse” (15 percent). Change on policies on gays or birth control both garnered under 10 percent support.