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Pope wins high rating Area Catholics show warmth toward pontiff, new surveyfinds.

THE BALTIMORE SUN

POPE JOHN PAUL II RATES warm feelings from the region's Catholics, according to a new poll. Not even the queen of England or Newt Gingrich comes close.

The pope scored 84.9 on a 0 to 100 scale in which 100 signifies "a very warm, positive feeling" toward a person and 0 means "a very cold, negative feeling."

The pontiff outdistanced a group of world leaders. Queen Elizabeth II (55.8) came in second and House Speaker Newt Gingrich (40.6) last.

Other scores: Vice President Al Gore (50.9), President Clinton (50.8), Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (48.8), first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton (48.4) and Boutros Boutros-Ghali (42.7) - although nearly two-thirds of Catholics didn't know who the United Nations secretary-general was.

The poll of 516 self-identified Catholics in mid-Atlantic states stretching from New Jersey to Virginia was taken Sept. 20 to 24 by the Wirthlin Group for The Catholic Review. The poll had a margin of sampling error of 4.3 percent.

Two-thirds of those surveyed said the Catholic church was "heading in the right direction," and 49 percent strongly approved of Pope John Paul II's leadership while 37 percent somewhat approved.

Most Catholics greatly respect the pope and consider him a unifying force in the Catholic church, the poll showed.

However, the survey avoided hot-button issues such as papal prohibition of artificial means of birth control, abortion, ordination of women or acceptance of married priests. Other polls have shown that American Catholics disagree with the pope's policies on those issues at least as overwhelmingly as they support him as a church leader.

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