Cardinal Dolan: Pope is 'on to something' with 'fresh' stance on social issues

Pope Francis is starting to turn public perception of the Catholic Church in a more positive direction, a leading American Catholic cleric said Friday.

The pope laid out a more pastoral vision, one with less of a doctrinal focus, during an interview published Thursday that said the church cannot focus only on the issues of abortion, contraception and gay marriage.

The pope turned the interview into “an amazingly effective teachable opportunity” for Catholic leaders, said Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, by deemphasizing controversial issues that have dominated church politics for more than a generation.

“He’s asking for a fresh strategy. What he’s saying is that sometimes if we come across as negative, as complaining too much, we lose the folks,” he told TODAY’s Savannah Guthrie. “We got to be positive, we got to be fresh, we got to be affirming. And if we emphasize the essentials, all the other principles are going to flow from it, the practical applications.

"I think he's on to something. He's a good teacher."

In his interview with a group of Jesuit journals, the pontiff acknowledged that he has not spoken extensively about abortion and homosexuality but said the church should not discuss those issues excessively but rather “in a context.”

In July, he also drew attention for saying that the church must treat everyone, including gays, with dignity, saying, “who am I to judge them?” The interviews have drawn great opportunity for discussion, Dolan said.

“This man, Pope Francis, has given the Church a front-burner position in the life of the world that we know,” he said. “We bishops, we priests, we lay leaders of the church — we’ve got the opportunity now to help him clarify and present, in a fresh and vigorous way, the teaching of the church because all of a sudden, everybody’s interested.”

The pope's interview was published on the six-month anniversary of his installation, Dolan said, noting the numerous conversations the pontiff has generated about church teachings.  

"This guy's batting a thousand," he said.