One in 10 adults in the United States is a lapsed Catholic, according to a 2009 report by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. But that number may soon change, some faith leaders suggest. Pope Francis shares with his predecessor a deeply conservative view of abortion, gay rights, birth control and the role of women in the church (the most common reasons cited for leaving the church), but some lapsed believers say his "human touch" has brought them back to the pew.
As Father Peter Mussett, pastor of the St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder, told Tracy Connor at NBC News: "I had five people in a week who were saying, 'Pope Francis has inspired me to return to my faith. It's pretty remarkable."
Brian O'Neill, an Irish-American police officer from Washington state who hasn't been active in the church since college, also sees more of himself in a pontiff who rides the bus and has spoken at length about the Catholic Church's commitment to the poor: "I was shocked and amazed when he started doing those things -- you know, 'No Popemobile for me,'" O'Neill said. "When the church says that's the guy we're going to put on St. Peter's throne, that says enough about where the church wants to go."
"Will I go back? I'm planning on it -- if I can find a good service," he added.
But not everyone is as easily charmed by a pope who has offered more of the same hardline teachings on reproductive and gender justice, and who has called marriage equality a "rejection of God's love" that hurts children.
Kathy Budreski left the Catholic Church after the abuse scandal and views Francis as "just another retro pope."
"He has a big heart and he loves the poor people, but he's not going to do anything to change the stance of the church on birth control and gay rights," she told NBC.
"I don't see him as a mover and shaker. He has some wonderful qualities but he's another retro pope," she concluded.