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American Catholics like what they're hearing from Pope Francis (+video)

Pope Francis said in an interview this week that the Catholic Church's emphasis needs to turn from sexual issues to the ‘freshness and fragrance of the Gospel.’ Polls show most American Catholics agree.

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“This message resonates with so many Catholics because it reflects our personal experiences—Catholics are gay and lesbian; Catholics use birth control and Catholics have abortions,” Jon O’Brien, president of Catholics for Choice, said in a statement.

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“We truly hope that this is just the start; that Pope Francis doesn’t only talk the talk, but also walks the walk,” Mr. O’Brien said. “We hope he takes steps to ensure that his more open view of how the church should deal with people trickles down to his brother bishops around the world, who oversee large numbers of hospitals and medical centers.”

“We also hope that this attitude starts to take effect immediately at the United Nations, where the Vatican continues to take extreme positions against contraception, abortion and sexual and reproductive rights, having a very negative impact on the lives of Catholics and non-Catholics throughout the world,” he said.

As the Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project pointed out last week, the pope has made headlines by condemning the use of chemical weapons, leading a prayer vigil for peace in Syria, vowing to reform the Vatican bureaucracy, washing the feet of young prisoners (including two women) during a Holy Thursday ceremony, and taking a humble approach to the trappings of the papacy, including his decision to reside in a modest residence rather than more spacious accommodations. 

A Pew poll taken Sept. 4-8 shows that 79 percent of US Catholics view Pope Francis favorably. “Francis receives his strongest support from those who say they attend Mass at least once a week, with 86% of this group expressing a favorable view of the pontiff,” Pew reported.

The pope’s evident popularity is not lost on the church hierarchy in the United States.

Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence, Rhode Island, last week said in an interview with his diocesan newspaper that he was "a little bit disappointed" that Francis hadn't spoken out about abortion.

On Friday, in an official statement responding to the pope's remarkable interview in La Civilta Cattolica, Bishop Tobin said he admired Francis' leadership.

"Being a Catholic doesn't mean having to choose between doctrine and charity, between truth and love. It includes both. We are grateful to Pope Francis for reminding us of that vision," Tobin said.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who as head of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops has taken a lead role in voicing the U.S. church's opposition to contraception and gay marriage, said the church isn't the only one obsessed with such issues – today's culture is.

"Every pope has a different strategy," Cardinal Dolan told "CBS This Morning." ''What I think he's saying is, those are important issues and the church has got to keep talking about them, but we need to talk about them in a fresh new way. If we keep kind of a negative finger-wagging tone, it's counterproductive.”

“I think what he’s saying is those are important issues, but we need to talk about those issues in a fresh, new way,” Dolan said. “Instead of talking about these hot-button issues, why don’t we talk about tenderness and mercy and the love we have for one another?”

To which most American Catholics evidently say, “Amen.”

This report includes material from the Associated Press.

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