Most British people now say the Pope is doing a good job – and one in four say he has made them view the Catholic Church more positively

Pope Francis made headlines last week when, while condemning the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, he told journalists there were limits to freedom of expression. "If my good friend… speaks badly of my mother, he can expect to get punched. You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others… There is a limit", he said. The responses ranged from amusement to anger, picking up on the unusualness of a Pope joking about punching, and the suggestion that in some way critics of religion have it coming to them.

New YouGov research finds that most British people (51%) disagree with what the Pope said, however his distinctive unpretentiousness may be exactly what is driving his popularity.

After his inauguration in March 2013, 36% thought Pope Francis was doing a good job in the role. Almost two years later, 15% more British people approve of the job he’s doing, bringing the figure up to a slim majority (51%).

Having run into controversy in the past decade, Pope Francis has given the Catholic Church a lift. Humble beginnings and Latin American birth made the Pope stand out, and the evidence in Britain is that he has made people view the Catholic Church more positively (23% now say this, up from 17% in November 2013).

The Pope has been described by those who studied with him as equally "uncompromising as Pope John Paul II, in terms of the principles of the Church - everything it has defended regarding euthanasia, the death penalty, abortion, the right to life, human rights, celibacy of priests". Still, he undoubtedly has a plan to increase the relevance of the Catholic Church – in 2013 he told a crowd of 30,000 young Argentine Catholics to "stir things up" in their dioceses: "Don't forget to disturb complacency, but please don't water down the faith!" he said. The new approach seems to be paying off, as 39% say he will make the Church more liberal compared to 31% two years ago.

See the full poll results

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