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Poll: U.S. Catholics would support changes

But survey finds agreement with pope on abortion

Interactive: Poll results

(CNN) -- A majority of U.S. Catholics surveyed want the next pope to have a theological outlook similar to that of Pope John Paul II, but they would also like to see changes on issues such as birth control, stem cell research and allowing priests to marry, according to a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll released Sunday.

Large majorities of Catholics and non-Catholics polled said they believe the next choice of pope matters to the world, the survey also found.

In telephone interviews mostly conducted before his death, two-thirds of the 254 Catholics polled said John Paul II will go down in history as one of the greatest pontiffs.

Twenty-one percent of respondents said he will be remembered as great, but not among the greatest.

And 9 percent of those surveyed said John Paul would be considered a good or average pope. Only 1 percent said he would be viewed as below average.

Asked about the selection of the next pontiff, a third said they want a pope who is more liberal, while just 4 percent said they want someone more conservative. More than half -- 59 percent -- said they want someone about the same as John Paul.

Seventy-eight percent said the next pope should allow Catholics to use birth control, 63 percent said he should let priests marry and 59 percent said the next pope should have a less-strict policy on stem cell research.

Fifty-five percent said the next pope should allow women to become priests, while 44 percent said he should not. The question's margin of error means the difference is too close to draw strong conclusions.

A majority of U.S. Catholics polled support John Paul's unwavering stance against abortion rights. Asked whether the next pope should have a less strict policy, 59 percent said no, while 37 percent answered yes.

Respondents were split on the question of divorce. Asked whether the next pontiff, unlike John Paul, should allow Catholics to divorce and remarry, 49 percent said yes, while 48 percent said no.

They were also split over whether they found inspiration in the way the pope handled his health problems: 51 percent said yes, while 48 percent said no. Vatican experts have said John Paul wanted to use his illness to set an example for Catholics on how to handle suffering.

Asked whether they believe the church will make John Paul a saint, 71 percent of Catholics interviewed said yes. That's 20 percentage points higher than in a poll taken in October 2003.

Two-thirds of the Catholics surveyed said the next choice of pope matters to them either a great deal or a moderate amount.

Eighty-nine percent said the choice matters to the world.

Large majorities said it would be fine with them if the next pope were to come from Latin America (85 percent), Africa (80 percent) or Asia (78 percent).

Separately, of 786 non-Catholics polled, 23 percent said the choice of the next pope matters to them personally, but 76 percent said it matters to the world.

The sampling error for questions posed to Catholics was plus or minus 6 percentage points. The poll was conducted by phone Friday and Saturday. Most of the interviews took place before the announcement of the pope's death, but virtually all respondents were aware of his grave illness.

The sampling error for questions posed to non-Catholics was plus or minus 4 percentage points.

The 84-year-old pope died Saturday night in his private apartment.

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