Alessandra Tarantino, ASSOCIATED PRESS
Pope Benedict XVI waves to the faithful during the Angelus noon prayer he celebrated from the window of his studio overlooking St. Peter's square at the Vatican, Sunday, Feb. 17, 2013.

Pope Benedict XIV will be stepping down as head of the Catholic Church with a strong approval ratings from church members in the United States, according to recent public opinion polls.

The pontiff's favorable rating, however, is below that of his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, who led the largest Christian denomination in the world for 26 years.

A survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life found 74 percent of U.S. Catholics had a favorable opinion of Pope Benedict, while a Washington Post/ABC Television poll had 76 percent of Catholics giving the pope a thumbs up.

"While positive, Benedict’s ratings stand 13 points below those of John Paul II during his final month as pope, when 67 percent of Americans and 87 percent of Catholics saw him favorably. Among non-Catholics, Benedict’s ratings are 14 points lower than his predecessor," the Washington Post reported.

The Pew survey had Benedict 19 points below his predecessor, who captured a 93 percent favorability rating in 1996.

The Washington Post survey noted that Benedict also received fewer positive marks than the Catholic Church itself, which is seen favorably by 62 percent of Americans and 86 percent of Catholics.

While healthy majorities like the pope, more than two-thirds (63 percent) disapproved of his handling of the sex abuse cases in the church, the Pew study stated.

The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center, conducted Feb. 13-18 among 1,504 adults (including 304 Catholics) also found 46 percent of Catholics want the next pope to “move the church in new directions,” while 51 percent say the new pope should “maintain the traditional positions of the church.”

Among the reforms the new pope should undertake, according to those surveyed, are modernize the church (19 percent), get tougher on sex abuse (15 percent), allow priests to marry (14 percent), become more accepting (14 perent), accepting same sex marriage (9 percent) and allowing women to be priests (9 percent).

Asked about the pope's successor, 60 percent view a pope from the developing world as a good thing, Pew found.

The Roman Catholic Church is growing fastest in Africa and in Latin Amercia. But a CNN report explained that the body that will elect the pope next month, the College of Cardinals, is predominantly European.

“It (the College of Cardinals) doesn't reflect the population, it reflects the power structure,” William D’Antonio, a professor at The Catholic University of America, told CNN. “It is like a corporation. The corporation picks its own board of directors. You might own some stock in it, but you are really fighting a battle against a corporation here.”

Eleven members of the college hail from the United States, and two of them, Archbishop of New York Tim Dolan and Archbishop of Boston Sean O'Malley, have been mentioned as possible candidates for pope. The Deseret News profiled Dolan in 2011.

And while most of the world hears or reads daily updates about the pope and the process to replace him, China's official media have yet to even announce Pope Benedict is retiring on Feb. 28, according to the Catholic World Report.

Politics appear to be keeping China's Catholics in the dark. The CWR quoted China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei saying that to improve relations with China the church must sever ties with Taiwan and not interfere in China's internal affairs. Hong didn't elaborate on how the church is allegedly meddling in the country's internal affairs.