Comments by Pope Francis published simultaneously in a set of Jesuit publications have not changed any church teaching, but have called for a change of emphasis and fuller teaching.
Some Catholics, including those who have not been practicing, are intrigued by the focus on mercy.
"I’ve been excited to hear his thoughts on shifting the conversation away from a few narrow social issues and back to social justice, advocating for the poor, tolerance, etc.," 39-year-old Portlander E. Barrett Anderson says in an email interview. "I feel like it is more in-line with the spirit of Catholicism I was taught as a young person."
Anderson, who grew up a Catholic altar boy in the Chicago suburbs, moved away from the church during college. Now a development manager for Portland Parks and Recreation, he says Pope Francis may help people like him return.
He explains that the church at a certain point was not seen feeding the hungry and advocating for the poor.
"Service and humility, that’s what I remember," Anderson says. "I think we need more voices of empathy, tolerance and love, and less divisiveness."
The pope, in his long interview published in the U.S. in America magazine, said today’s church needs to “heal wounds” by proclaiming the Gospel and moving away from the “small-minded rules” that have sometimes dominated its message.
“The church sometimes has locked itself up in small things," the pope said. "The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you. And the ministers of the church must be ministers of mercy above all.”
On abortion and gay marriage, the pope sought to shift emphasis, but not content of teaching.
“The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time,” he said, calling for a "new balance."
"I’ve been struck by the number of practicing Catholics who find their step a bit lighter, as well as former and inactive Catholics who find themselves willing to give the Church another listen," said Father Thomas Smolich in June. He is president of the U.S. Jesuit Conference.
Father Edmond Bliven, a senior priest who reported for the Catholic Sentinel on the Second Vatican Council, says statements by Pope Francis are mostly in line with what Pope Benedict said.
"But Francis understands that people are more influenced by how you act than by what you say," Father Bliven explains, referring to conduct like the pope's simple living and his personal phone calls to regular people.
"A lot of people who left over disillusion with the hierarchy will come back," Father Bliven predicts. "And it's because of Francis."
Father Bliven says the pope will be especially affective in reaching Catholics who sense the church has lost track of its mission.
"Francis says it's not the institution that's important, it's Jesus," the priest says. Mainstream media erred in reporting that the pope seemed to be downplaying pro-life teachings.
"What Pope Francis did say is that the Catholic Church should simultaneously speak out against abortion while providing hope and healing for women who have them and see their lives destroyed by their abortions," writes John Allen, a Vatican watcher who writes for National Catholic Reporter. "The Pope said the Catholic Church must not solely focus on condemning abortion, but must offer the kind of mercy and forgiveness for women having abortions that Jesus offers Christians who seek forgiveness from God — that that Gospel is a companion to the pro-life teachings."