WASHINGTON (CBSDC/AP) – The findings of a recent poll show that an overwhelming majority of American Catholics approve of Pope Francis.

According to the Pew Research Center, eight-in-ten American Catholics view the pontiff as an agent of positive change for the Roman Catholic Church. Also, over half rated him “very favorably,” according to a release on the poll’s findings.

“The percentage of Catholics who view Francis ‘very favorably’ now rivals the number who felt equally positive about Pope John Paul II in the 1980s and 1990s, though Francis’ overall favorability rating remains a few points shy of that of the long-serving Polish pope,” the release continued. “Seven-in-ten U.S. Catholics also now say Francis represents a major change in direction for the church, a sentiment shared by 56 percent of non-Catholics.”

Researchers added: “And nearly everyone who says Francis represents a major change sees this as a change for the better.”

Those involved in the study were unsure of how effective Pope Francis has been in regards to changing how Americans celebrate their faith, however.

“There has been no measurable rise in the percentage of Americans who identify as Catholic. Nor has there been a statistically significant change in how often Catholics say they go to Mass,” according to the release. “And the survey finds no evidence that large numbers of Catholics are going to confession or volunteering in their churches or communities more often.”

The poll’s release comes as Pope Francis continues to come under increasing criticism that he simply doesn’t get it on sex abuse.

Three months after the Vatican announced a commission of experts to study best practices on protecting children, no action has been taken, no members appointed, no statute outlining the commission’s scope approved.

Francis hasn’t met with any victims, hasn’t moved to oust a bishop convicted in 2012 of failing to report a suspected abuser, and on Wednesday insisted that the church had been unfairly attacked on abuse, using the defensive rhetoric of the Vatican from a decade ago.

Victims’ advocates said his tone was archaic and urged Francis to show the same compassion he offers the sick, the poor and disabled to people who were raped by priests when they were children.

“Under Pope Francis the Vatican continues to deny its role in creating and maintaining a culture where upholding the reputation of the church is prioritized over the safety of children,” said Maeve Lewis, executive director of the Irish victims’ support group One in Four.

A reported 1,821 American adults were polled by Pew between Feb. 14 and Feb 23.

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