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The quotable pope: Francis fuels debate
September 21st, 2013
11:41 AM ET

Can Pope Francis make his vision a reality?

By John L. Allen Jr., CNN

ROME (CNN) - Pope Francis has sketched a vision of a Catholic Church that’s more welcoming – to women, to homosexuals, to divorced and remarried believers, to pretty much everybody –- and less invested in the culture wars.

In a now famous interview published Thursday, the pope said he knows some militants want him to toss around more fire and brimstone. But he insists that Catholic positions on hot-button issues such as abortion and gay marriage are already well known, and anyway, “Ministers of the church must be ministers of mercy above all.”

None of that implies a change in church teaching, but it does suggest a fairly serious shift in tone. The question now becomes, is this just the pope talking? Or is he capable of bringing the rest of the church along with him?

Despite the mythology of Roman Catholicism as a top-down monolith, the truth is that it’s actually one of the most decentralized institutions on Earth.

There are only about 3,000 personnel in the Vatican directing the affairs of a church that counts 1.2 billion members, which means that Rome doesn’t have the manpower to micromanage anything but exceptional cases.

Probably 90% of the decisions that matter – what pastor will be assigned to which parish, or what tithes will be used for –- are made at the local level.

Popes trying to steer this colossus in a new direction, therefore, need middle managers as well as the rank and file to pull in the same direction, and experience suggests they don’t always fall in line.

MORE ON CNN: Pope Francis: Church can't 'interfere' with gays

Pope John Paul II, nearly 27 years, exhorted the church to be more evangelical, more daring about taking its message to the streets, and while he unleashed powerful new energies – think about World Youth Days, for instance – that missionary aspiration still remains a work in progress.

Similarly, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI desired a church more appreciative of tradition and more focused on its core identity, and again most observers would say the end result over eight difficult years was a mixed bag.

If Francis is to bring the Catholic Church into line with his more pastoral and compassionate vision, two fronts seem especially critical.

First is personnel. Nothing a pope does to shape culture in the church is more important than naming the roughly 5,100 bishops of the world, who set the tone in their own backyards.

A new papal direction may be invigorating, but if people don’t pick up the same vibe from their local bishops and pastors, over time it will only seem like sound and fury signifying little.

To date Francis hasn’t made many flagship picks except for his own successor in Buenos Aires, Argentina, but he’ll have to do so soon, since archbishops in critical locales such as Madrid, Cologne and Chicago are all older than 75, the normal retirement age.

Popes typically rely on their nuncios, or ambassadors, around the world to recommend new bishops.

In June, Francis gave his nuncios their marching orders, saying he wants bishops who are “close to the people, fathers and brothers” as well as “gentle, patient and merciful.” He also said they shouldn’t have “the psychology of princes.”

How well he spots talent to fit that profile will help determine whether his dream of moving past what he called “a church of small-minded rules” becomes reality.

MORE ON CNN: The pope said what? Six stunners from Francis

The other key test is structural reform, beginning in the Vatican and radiating outward, perhaps especially on financial transparency and the fight against child sexual abuse.

Scandals in those areas have plagued the Vatican and the wider church in recent years, making it difficult for many people to see Catholicism as a vehicle for compassion.

Francis has set up three commissions to ponder reform, including a body of eight cardinals from around the world set to hold its first meeting in Rome from October 1-3.

If those groups don’t deliver significant recommendations, which are embraced and implemented by the pope, once again his rhetoric about reforming the church may ring hollow.

Popes play many roles, including prophet and CEO. Francis has delivered a stunning debut as the church’s voice of conscience and spiritual guide; now he has to get down to the brass tacks of management to make sure it doesn’t go to waste.

John L. Allen Jr. is CNN’s senior Vatican analyst and senior correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter. 

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Catholic Church • Leaders • Pope Francis

soundoff (2,596 Responses)
  1. http://www.radioamahoela.nl/indext.asp?p=34

    Reilly advised the "least restrictive" alternative to incarceration, as Christopherson would like to retain his enterprise and sustain operating to help set his 21yearold daughter by college.
    http://www.radioamahoela.nl/indext.asp?p=34 http://www.radioamahoela.nl/indext.asp?p=34

    November 27, 2013 at 11:41 pm |
  2. Applaud Aloud

    What you are talking about here is what Dr. J. Vernon McGee called the apostate church. It is the composite Christian church (at least) and yes Christians are dropping out in the thousands for the reasons you listed. But the sad thing is the Christians churches refuse to give up apostasy. They cling to absurd dogmas (never preached by Jesus) such as Calvinism, celibacy, inerrant Bibles, infallible popes, insensitive money grubbing, condemnation, damnation, B.S., manipulation, mysticism, theatrics, frauds, suicides, baloney peddling, end-times hoaxes, visions .. and apparently that does sell to the ignorant (as in the dark days of the bubonic Plague). Everyone else is moving on but for some reason they cannot understand and they own the infrastructure and so they dictate what they are going to offer. They own the revenue generators (universities, hospitals, radio stations, TV stations, publishing houses) and they can make a nice profit selling their wares. (said Simple Simon to the Pieman "let me taste your wares") They still fill churches with sheep. They offer child care, elder care, food , grade school, bingo, tours, cruises, camping and other benefits. The sell beads (as in buying Manhattan), water, cards, figurines, headstones, medallions, calendars, refrigerator magnets, bumper stickers, T-shirts, jackets .. and the sell endorsements to companies and charities. The get along with commerce, support political candidates (for a price), and influence urban governance. They really do not want to change .. and so they will go out of existence rather than change.

    October 24, 2013 at 6:28 pm |
  3. nowitspringsforth

    Reblogged this on now it springs forth.

    October 7, 2013 at 9:01 am |
  4. M MURDOCH

    "I'm guessing his Daddy (aka Grandpa)" dodo

    agreed. so, i'm guessing point being spray face. the reason u r going 2 jail.

    October 5, 2013 at 6:20 am |
  5. YTR452456

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    October 4, 2013 at 8:52 pm |
  6. YTR452

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    October 4, 2013 at 8:50 pm |
  7. YTR452

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    October 4, 2013 at 8:17 pm | Report abuse | Reply

    October 4, 2013 at 8:45 pm |
  8. smell

    test

    October 1, 2013 at 11:53 am |
  9. buckwheat sambo

    Athies have a point. They know that whale anatomy proves evolution and thus proves god ain't. They ignore the fact that w/o god, there ain't no whales! Such complete morons!

    September 29, 2013 at 4:20 am |
    • Chuckles

      how do you figure?

      September 29, 2013 at 4:30 am |
    • AtheistSteve

      " They know that whale anatomy proves evolution and thus proves god ain't."

      Um...no. Facts that support evolution in whales suggests absolutely nothing about god...only about evolution. Even if evolution were demonstrated to be entirely wrong it would still say nothing about god. You can't point to a gap in our knowledge and claim "See...god did that". That's just the tired old "god of the gaps" argument The case for god would require it's own supporting facts and evidence. Fanciful stories from long dead men doesn't qualify as evidence of god. Gaps in our understanding of the nature of or origin of this universe or life doesn't qualify as evidence for god. Voices in peoples heads doesn't qualify as evidence of god. If fact there is nothing whatsoever that qualifies as evidence for god or we wouldn't be having this conversation. Really really wanting it to be true isn't good enough but sadly it's all you have to go on.

      September 29, 2013 at 5:45 am |
    • truthprevails1

      Wow how many personalities do you have faith/hharri/kelly/murdoch/buckewheat? This is a sign of schizophrenia, you should seek some medical help and please stay off the streets, away from animals; children and other adults (set aside the fact that you need the Doctor's for your twice daily injection of those meds).

      September 29, 2013 at 5:55 am |
    • buckwheat sambo

      Well well well. I guess they finally got me. But wait. Do this girlfriends. Out of nothing material, go make your own whale. As soon as you do, let me know. Then, we will discuss how accurate all your beliefs are, k? On your Mark, get set, go doe doe! Quit your crying and just do it u idiot, lol

      September 29, 2013 at 6:14 am |
      • truthprevails1

        Oh you stupid stupid child, you need an education. Your lack of comprehension of how evolution works is obvious. Suck it up, your lack of understanding doesn't mean you get to impose your imaginary friend. Does your Mommy know you're using her computer or is she still not home from her 'special job'?

        September 29, 2013 at 6:20 am |
      • AtheistSteve

        Right back at ya. Get your god to make a whale right now. Oh wait...whales already exist and they are quite capable of making copies of themselves without the need for god to do anything. In fact you god has been entirely absent when it comes to manifesting anything whatsoever. You claim he created the universe and life within it but what has he done lately? (crickets)

        September 29, 2013 at 6:28 am |
        • christiansteve

          U just admitted god made whales, u moron!

          September 30, 2013 at 5:16 am |
    • captain america

      Stupid is coming into another mans country and trying to tell them your bull sh it opinion. There's your sign

      September 29, 2013 at 6:27 am |
      • truthprevails1

        Stupid is not comprehending how to use the reply button. Stupid is not comprehending that this is an INTERNATIONAL news site. Stupid is not comprehending that the US goes in to everyone's country. Stupid is using a super hero's alias when you're the furthest thing from a hero. Stupid is acting like a complete ass on a public forum. Stupid is denying the evidence and facts.

        September 29, 2013 at 6:34 am |
        • Mirosal

          He chose that name because comic books strecth the limit of whatever grade school education he failed.

          September 29, 2013 at 6:37 am |
        • captain america

          Stupid is being an ass hole in your own country and thinking your bull sh it will be accepted in another. There's your sign.

          September 29, 2013 at 6:38 am |
        • truthprevails1

          Mirosal: Education? The bible at his Mommy's dining room table in the trailer doesn't count. Do trailer parks use a grade system?

          September 29, 2013 at 6:39 am |
        • Mirosal

          as far as I know, no they don't. They either say "You done good" or "You idiot can't you do nothin' right?" .. which is what his mommy told him during his home-schooled se'x-ed class

          September 29, 2013 at 6:43 am |
        • truthprevails1

          CA: No stupid is you. Constantly posting without adding an ounce of intellect. Your hate for all other people is obvious. Please take Sam Stone's advice to buckwheat/hharri/faith and join your imaginary friend.

          September 29, 2013 at 6:48 am |
      • AtheistSteve

        To the point.
        captain america is stupid.
        Nuff said.

        September 29, 2013 at 6:38 am |
        • captain america

          The point is no one wants you ass hole in either country. There's your sign

          September 29, 2013 at 6:39 am |
        • Mirosal

          It seems that CA is not familiar with Emma Lazarus ..... all are welcome here,

          September 29, 2013 at 6:41 am |
        • truthprevails1

          CA is not familiar with much. An article about the pope and this loser thinks it is pertinent to the US only. I'm guessing his Daddy (aka Grandpa) and Mommy don't realize he is using the computer this morning, they'd have to take him out behind the woodshed and beat him (please) if they did. I guess they don't have maps in the trailer park either.

          September 29, 2013 at 6:50 am |
        • Mirosal

          You're correct m'lady. His geography is limitesd to either "ra-cheer" (right here) or "over yonder a ways"

          September 29, 2013 at 6:53 am |
        • AtheistSteve

          Do everyone a favor captain america and just go fellate your shotgun. You know you wanna.

          September 29, 2013 at 6:54 am |
        • hal 9001

          I'm afraid your assertions are correct, "AtheistSteve". "captain america" is, in fact, stupid.

          September 29, 2013 at 9:32 am |
    • Applaud Aloud

      the validity of evolution doesn't prove God does not exist. It proves that Genesis is not literal. How about this: Exodus never happened (archaeologists ALL agree - even Jewish archaeologists - that Exodus never happened). No Exodus means .. no Moses, no Talmud, no ten commandments, no Ark, no Passover, no Genesis, no Abraham, no Jacob, No manna, no Red Sea. The Canaanites "evolved" into being Israelites .. and there is no evidence before Solomon and Solomon was not a great king (he was a tribal king). The diggers are not sure if there was a Solomon's temple. ... but none of that proves that God does not exist. It proves that humanity probably does not understand God (and thus invented ways to understand God). God does not create humanity's woes; humanity does. God is the Omega, the primal cause, the Prime Mover. But that said we really do not have an understanding of God (but he does exist)

      September 29, 2013 at 2:54 pm |
      • Richard Cranium

        I didn't really know where you were going with this , then saw the "prime mover", a reference to a ridiculous hypothesis by the creationist/young earth/ I need to twist science to fit my bible crowd. Originnaly from aristotle, it has long been discarded by people who want ACTUAL knowledge.

        September 29, 2013 at 2:59 pm |
        • Applaud Aloud

          I tried to respond but the BOT stole it. I do not want to type it again.

          September 29, 2013 at 3:32 pm |
    • Timothy

      The only thing that can possibly prove 'there is' or 'there is not' a God is our own faith. All we experience about the world and life is based on rules and 'right' and 'wrong'. Let's take a look at Math for an example. We have these laws/rules, such as additive property and subtractive property. When we go to school, if we do not adhere to these rules we are told we are wrong, graded as such and not allowed to progress until we take the accepted rules and use them. These man made rules cause us to understand the world and life in a way that seems to work for us. We also assume there can be no other system that can possibly work and so we have stopped attempting to find another system and simply believe this is how it is. But what if somewhere else another intelligent life form created rules somewhat differently that we have and taught those rules to everyone to the same extent we have taught ours- and those rules work based on how they view their world and now cause them to be blinded to our math rules as we are blinded to their rules. That sounds stupid...absolutely because we have great FAITH that everything can be expressed in numbers as we have expressed them and because we can see no other way and we have been taught this way is 'right' and any other way is wrong. Faith in what we believe is what gives us our sense of 'right' or 'wrong' in ourselves and others. Thus the argument will never go away until all the world determines that all shall be taught one way is right and the other wrong and we are graded and forced to give into that teaching. Irony here is that without that argument we have no reason to research and explore in that never ending scientific search for the 'TRUTH'. Thank goodness we have both those who have faith in a God and those who do not. Too bad we cannot see the value in each however.

      October 1, 2013 at 12:05 pm |
      • sam stone

        Faith is wonderful. But, it ain't proof

        October 1, 2013 at 5:35 pm |
  10. snotrunningdownhisnose

    i love sambo murdochi love sambo murdoch

    September 28, 2013 at 8:30 pm |
  11. snotrunningdownhisnose

    i love sambo murdoch

    September 28, 2013 at 8:29 pm |
  12. snotrunningdownhisnose

    You give me some sound, logical answers and I'll believe in it too. So far, you've either evaded the questions or provided no logical answer. If you're going to be a creationist you'll have to do much better

    prove it.

    i'm dying here doedoe

    September 28, 2013 at 8:21 pm |
  13. snotrunningdownhisnose

    Athy
    Topher, I'm just trying to get your answers on creation. You give me some sound, logical answers and I'll believe in it too. So far, you've either evaded the questions or provided no logical answer. If you're going to be a creationist you'll have to do much better.Observer
    prove it.

    i'm dying here doedo
    Answer: Jesus said ZERO. Zip, Nada. Nothing. Zilch. Nill about gays.

    September 28, 2013 at 8:20 pm |
  14. buckwheat

    Did you girls hear what FSM said? Should have. For it is written, Santa! Ahahahahah!

    September 28, 2013 at 3:19 pm |
    • buckwheat

      Personally, I recommend going back to school, dodo. Get ur masters, then ur PhD, then come back and we can review ur latest theories on Horus, FSM and ur doggie, k?

      September 28, 2013 at 3:22 pm |
      • sam stone

        still not sucking on that 12 gauge, faith?

        September 28, 2013 at 5:48 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.