Several local Catholics responded favorably to an interview with Pope Francis published Thursday that they believe reflected a shift in attitude and tone, one that emphasized love and inclusion in the church.
In a translation of the interview published in America magazine, a national Catholic weekly founded by the Jesuit order, the pope said he hoped the church would find a way to welcome and reach out to everyone, and to bring back those who had "quit" the church. Remarking that the church's teachings vary in relative import, he said, "We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods."
For Helen Cindrich, executive director of the Dormont-based People Concerned for the Unborn Child, the pope's interview was a positive sign.
"The way I see it, he's saying don't just condemn, condemn, condemn. You have to be welcoming. And I think he's absolutely right," she said.
"If it's giving anybody any reason to come back to church, then that's a good thing," said Kelly Quesnelle, post-doctoral fellow at the University of Pittsburgh and a member of St. Thomas More parish in Bethel Park, adding, "This is a person who's recognizing that the church has alienated a lot of people, and he's extending them an invitation to come back."
Even before the interview was published, some conservatives had voiced disappointment that Pope Francis had shied away from restating church rules on abortion, gay marriage and contraception.
On Friday Pope Francis offered an olive branch of sorts to the doctrine-minded, conservative wing of the Catholic Church as he denounced abortions as a symptom of today's "throw-away culture" and encouraged Catholic doctors to refuse to perform them.
Pope Francis issued a strong anti-abortion message and cited Vatican teaching on the need to defend the unborn during an audience with Catholic gynecologists.
He urged the gynecologists to abide by their consciences and help bring lives into the world.
John Pillar, an attorney and another member of St. Thomas More in Bethel Park, who describes himself as a progressive Catholic, appreciated the pope's apparent openness on some social issues.
"I know that everybody I've talked to in the last two days has been ecstatic," he said.
Some fell on different sides of the question of whether Pope Francis's stance signals a departure from his immediate predecessors.
"I think it's fair to say both John Paul II and Benedict [XVI] were much more critical of the culture of the modern world than Francis has been," said Nick Cafardi, a canon lawyer and dean emeritus and professor of law at the Duquesne University school of law.
Mrs. Cindrich, on the other hand, said, "I don't remember [Pope Benedict XVI and Pope John Paul II] talking about these things at all. It's the bishops who have tried to make these issues, as far as the pro-life issue is concerned."
Still, they agreed that Pope Francis' approach does not necessarily come up against the church's teachings on some of those hot-button topics, such as abortion, contraception and homosexuality.
"He's never going to change his teachings on abortion. That's just not going to happen," Mr. Cafardi said.
In previous instances, the pope had reaffirmed the ban on ordaining women, though in this latest interview he said the women's role in the church needed to be reconsidered.
"He's saying that if a person is a homosexual, they're a person, they have to be loved, they have all the rights that we do. But we can still say that homosexual acts are against the moral law, against the natural law, it's something unnatural," Mrs. Cindrich said.
"The message that Francis is trying to get out is the message of the church. So nothing that he's saying is antithetical to the church's teachings. He's saying it in a way that makes the message accessible to people," said the Rev. Lou Vallone, pastor of St. John of God in McKees Rocks and St. Catherine of Siena in Crescent.
The larger changes, then, lie in the pope's renewed emphasis on other tenets that some Catholics believe deserve greater focus.
"He's emphasized the church as a church of services. He's emphasized the church as a church of outreach to the poor. And that's always where the church has been strongest," Mr. Cafardi said.
The sentiments of Pittsburgh-area Catholics seemed to be shared by many across the country.
Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence, Rhode Island, just last week had said in an interview with his diocesan newspaper that he was "a little bit disappointed" that Pope Francis hadn't spoken out about abortion. On Friday, in an official statement responding to the interview, 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," he said.
Elizabeth Bloom: email@example.com or 412-263-1750 or on Twitter @BloomPG. Molly Born and the Associated Press contributed.