Poll: Pope unknown to most Americans

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WASHINGTON (RNS) Most Americans hold a favorable opinion of Pope Benedict XVI, but the vast majority confess they don't know much about the pontiff, according to a new poll.

Just weeks before Benedict's first trip to the U.S. as leader of the Roman Catholic Church, 58 percent of Americans say they have a favorable or "very favorable" opinion of him.

But when asked how much they know about the 80-year-old German, 52 percent said "not very much," and nearly 30 percent said "nothing at all."

Benedict and Americans will have a chance to get to know one another better April 15-20, when the pope celebrates Masses, greets interfaith leaders, and visits heads of state in New York and Washington, D.C.

Forty-two percent of Americans said they'd like to attend one of Benedict's public appearances, according to the survey, which was conducted by the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion and financed by the Knights of Columbus. Sixty-six percent of Catholics said the same.

More than 70 percent of Americans look forward to hearing Benedict talk about spiritual matters such as God's presence in daily life, spiritual fulfillment and how to positively affect the world.

The survey polled 1,015 adults 18 years of age or older, 613 of whom were Catholic. The margin of error for all Americans is plus or minus 3 percent; for the Catholic sample alone it is plus or minus 4 percent. -- Daniel Burke

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