Cardinal Timothy Dolan said Pope Francis' remarks that the Catholic Church had become obsessed by "small-minded rules" was a welcome and positive message he plans to carry forward.
Dolan, archbishop of New York, said on the "TODAY" show Friday that Francis is "getting back to the roots, he's going back to the gospel."
"I'm listening to him. He's asking for a fresh strategy," Dolan said. "I think what he's saying is sometimes if we come across as negative, as complaining too much, we lose the folks. We've got to be positive, we've got to be fresh, we've got to be affirming... I think he's on to something. He's a good teacher."
In interviews published Thursday in Jesuit journals in 16 countries, Francis said he had been "reprimanded" for not pressing church opposition to abortion in his papacy. But he said "it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time."
"The church's pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently," Francis said.
"We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel," the pope said in the 12,000-word article, based on interviews conducted by a fellow Jesuit, the Rev. Antonio Spadaro, editor of La Civilta Cattolica, a Rome journal for the religious order.
"The church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules," Francis 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."
The comments contained no change in church teaching, and the pope said reform should not happen quickly. Still, it was the pope's clearest declaration yet of a break in tone and style from his immediate predecessors.