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US Catholics Split on Cause of Global Warming

FILE - Pope Francis speaks during the Angelus noon prayer from his studio window overlooking St. Peter's square at the Vatican, Jan. 4, 2015.

Ahead of Pope Francis' much-anticipated encyclical on the environment, a poll released on Tuesday found that U.S. Catholics are divided on the causes of global warming, mirroring the views of the general public.

The survey by the Pew Research Center found 71 percent of U.S. Catholics believed the planet was getting warmer, but less than half, or 47 percent, attributed global warming to human causes. About 48 percent viewed it as a very serious problem.

The numbers are similar to the U.S. population overall - 68 percent believe warming is happening, 45 percent say it is caused by humans, and 46 percent see it as a very serious problem.

Francis, who took his name from the patron saint of ecology, Francis of Assisi, is expected to release a "teaching document" on Thursday. In a leaked draft, he makes an urgent call for protection of the planet and agrees with the scientific consensus that global warming is mostly caused by humans.

The document is expected to note the harsh impact of climate change on the poor.

Among U.S. Catholics and the U.S. population at large, views on global warming differ widely by political party, the poll found. Among Catholic Democrats, 62 percent believe warming is caused by human activity, compared with 24 percent of Catholic Republicans.

Among all Americans, 64 percent of Democrats view warming as caused by humans, compared with 22 percent of Republicans, the poll found.

The poll also found that 65 percent of Hispanics, who make up about a third of the U.S. Catholic church, view global warming as a very serious problem, compared to 39 percent of whites.

After two years as head of the 1.2 billion-member church, the pope is popular both among U.S. Catholics and the general public, which could affect how the encyclical is received.

Among Catholics, 86 percent viewed the pope favorably, compared with 64 percent of Americans overall, the poll found.

He was most popular among Catholics who attend church often, at 92 percent.

Less than 1 percent of Catholics had only negative things to say about Francis, the poll found.

The survey was based on telephone interviews conducted May 5 through June 7 of a national sample of 5,122 adults, with a margin of error of plus or minus 1.6 percentage points for everyone, and 3.5 percentage points for Catholics alone.