Pope Francis' warning that the Catholic Church is "obsessed" with preaching against abortion, gay marriage and contraception was praised by some Catholics on Long Island as setting a more welcoming tone.
Many agreed Thursday that while the pope isn't changing doctrine on key issues facing the church, he's encouraging a less judgmental approach.
"I'm encouraged by what I'm hearing," said the Rev. William Brisotti, pastor of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal Catholic Church in Wyandanch.
"It has to be different from what we have been doing. You back yourself into a corner -- like that's all you stand for."
In a lengthy interview with the Italian Jesuit magazine La Civilta Cattolica, Francis called for a "new balance" and said, "It is not necessary to talk about these [divisive] issues all the time."
Bishop William Murphy, spiritual leader of the Diocese of Rockville Centre, did not comment.
Dennis McCarthy, a longtime parishioner at Our Lady of the Snow Catholic Church in Blue Point, said the pope's statements were aimed at making the church more inclusive.
"Statements like we've been hearing from this pope I certainly welcome, and I feel a lot of my fellow Catholics will find them very welcoming," McCarthy said.
"I wish we had more leadership that has this type of openness in the world today."
Phyllis Zagano, a religious studies scholar at Hofstra University, said the pope is "not changing church teaching. What he is saying is to live the whole Gospel."
That includes increasing the influence of women in the church, Zagano said.
"Pope Francis has put his finger on the world's pulse and learned that the beat is very much about women," she said.
"He clearly wants to see women in positions of power within his own Curia and on curial staffs around the world. But church law forbids women from -- formally at least -- 'obtaining' church offices."
Jane Gilroy, president of the Long Island chapter of University Faculty for Life, a group that opposes abortion, said the pope is calling for a broader focus for the church, not criticizing efforts by organizations such as hers.
"There is a difference in the tone," she said.
"But as far as upholding the teachings of the church . . . he's there. He is saying we have to focus on other things," Gilroy added.
While she acknowledged that a better balance is a worthy goal, she pointed out that many in the church are devoted to other, less-divisive issues, such as addressing poverty or helping to rehabilitate criminals.