(CNN) -

As cardinals gather at the Vatican to elect a new pope, President Barack Obama said he believes U.S. politics wouldn't stand in the way of an American pope doing his job.

"It seems to me that an American pope would preside just as effectively as a Polish pope or an Italian pope or a Guatemalan pope," the president said in an interview that aired Wednesday morning on ABC's "Good Morning America."

Since Benedict XVI resigned at the end of last month, some American names have circulated in media reports as possible contenders for the papacy, including U.S. cardinals Sean O'Malley of Boston and Timothy Dolan of New York.

Critics argue an American pope would be controversial, saying the Vatican would then be too closely tied to Washington.

Asked if an American pope would take orders from the president, Obama made a joke about the at-times thorny relationship between the Obama administration and the Catholic Church.

"I don't know if you've checked lately but the Conference of Catholic bishops here in the U.S. don't seem to be taking orders from me," he said, chuckling.

Last year, the administration faced tense scrutiny after it issued a ruling that required religiously-affiliated institutions, such as hospitals and universities, to include contraception coverage in health insurance plans for employees–a measure met with strong pushback from Catholics. The White House eventually proposed an amended ruling allowing those institutions to opt out of the mandate.

Obama, who's not Catholic, offered no preference for the pope in the interview.

"My hope is based on what I know about the Catholic Church–and the terrific work that they've done around the world and certainly around this country helping those who are less fortunate–is that you have a pope who sustains and maintains what I consider the central message of the Gospel. We treat everybody as children of God. We love them the way Jesus Christ taught us to love them."