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November 26th, 2013
10:21 AM ET

Pope Francis: No more business as usual

By Daniel Burke, Belief Blog Co-editor

(CNN) - Pope Francis on Tuesday called for big changes in the Roman Catholic Church - including at the very top  saying the church needs to rethink rules and customs that are no longer widely understood or effective for evangelizing.

"I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security," the Pope said in a major new statement.

"I do not want a Church concerned with being at the center and then ends by being caught up in a web of obsessions and procedures," Francis added.

The Pope's address, called an "apostolic exhortation," is part mission statement, part pep talk for the world's 1.5 billion Catholics. Francis' bold language and sweeping call for change are likely to surprise even those who've grown accustomed to his unconventional papacy.

"Not everyone will like this document," said the Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest and author in New York. "For it poses a fierce challenge to the status quo."

And it's not just a verbal challenge, the Pope said on Tuesday.

"I want to emphasize that what I am trying to express here has a programmatic significance and important consequences."

Since his election in March, Pope Francis, the first pontiff to hail from Latin America, has made headlines by decrying the iniquities of modern capitalism, embracing the poor and people with disabilities and reaching out to gays and lesbians.

At the same time, the 77-year-old pontiff has sought to to awaken a spirit of joy and compassion in the church, scolding Catholic "sourpusses" who hunt down rule-breakers and calling out a "tomb psychology" that "slowly transforms Christians into mummies in a museum."

"An evangelizer must never look like someone who has just come back from a funeral!" the Pope said.

Officially known in Latin as "Evangelii Gaudium" (The Joy of the Gospel), the 85-page statement released on Tuesday is the first official document written entirely by Pope Francis. (An earlier document was co-written by Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.)

Although Francis sprinkles the statement with citations of previous popes and Catholic luminaries like St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine, the new pontiff makes a bold call for the church to rethink even long-held traditions.

"In her ongoing discernment, the Church can also come to see that certain customs not directly connected to the heart of the Gospel, even some which have deep historical roots, are no longer properly understood and appreciated," the Pope said.

"Some of these customs may be beautiful, but they no longer serve as means of communicating the Gospel. We should not be afraid to re-examine them. At the same time, the Church has rules or precepts which may have been quite effective in their time, but no longer have the same usefulness for directing and shaping people’s lives."

Such statements mark a sharp break from Benedict XVI, a more tradition-bound pope who focused on cleaning up cobwebs of unorthodoxy in the church.

By contrast, in "Evangelii" Francis repeats his calls for Catholics to stop "obsessing" about culture war issues and to focus more on spreading the Gospel, especially to the poor and marginalized.

READ MORE: The Pope’s bold new vision

The outside world, particularly its economic inequalities, didn't escape Francis' notice either.

In a section of "Evangelii" entitled "some challenges to today's world," he sharply criticized what he called an "idolatry of money" and "the inequality that spawns violence."

The Pope also blasted "trickle-down economics," saying the theory "expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power."

“Meanwhile,” Francis said, “the excluded are still waiting.”

But the bulk of Francis' statement addresses the church, which, he said, should not be afraid to "get its shoes soiled by the mud of the street."

The Pope also hinted that he wants to see an end to the so-called "wafer wars," in which Catholic politicians who support abortion rights are denied Holy Communion. His comments could also be taken as another sign that he plans to reform church rules that prevent divorced Catholics from receiving the Eucharist.

"Everyone can share in some way in the life of the Church; everyone can be part of the community, nor should the doors of the sacraments be closed for simply any reason," Francis said.

"The Eucharist, although it is the fullness of sacramental life, is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak."

Even so, Francis reiterated the church's stand against abortion, defending it against critics who call such arguments "ideological, obscurantist and conservative."

"Precisely because this involves the internal consistency of our message about the value of the human person, the Church cannot be expected to change her position on this question," Francis said.

The Pope also reiterated previous rejections on ordaining women, saying the topic is "not open for discussion."

But that doesn't mean the church values men more than women, he said.

"We need to create still broader opportunities for a more incisive female presence in the Church," the Pope said.

Francis also said he expects other parts of the church to change, and called on Catholics to be unafraid of trying new things.

"More than by fear of going astray, my hope is that we will be moved by the fear of remaining shut up within structures which give us a false sense of security, within rules which make us harsh judges, within habits which make us feel safe, while at our door people are starving."

Francis didn't mention specific reforms, but he suggested that it could include changes at the very top of the church.

"Since I am called to put into practice what I ask of others, I too must think about a conversion of the papacy," he said.

READ MORE: Pope Francis: Church can't 'interfere' with gays

The church's centralization, where all roads lead to Rome, and the "we've always done it this way" type of thinking have hindered Catholics' ability to minister to local people in far-flung places, Francis suggested.

"I invite everyone to be bold and creative in this task of rethinking the goals, structures, style and methods of evangelization in their respective communities," the Pope said.

Martin, the Jesuit priest and author, said he could not recall ever "reading a papal document that was so thought-provoking, surprising and invigorating."

"The document’s main message is that Catholics should be unafraid of new ways of proclaiming the Gospel and new ways of thinking about the church."

MORE ON CNN:

The disfigured man in popular photos talks about the Pope's embrace 

Opinion – the Pope’s revolutionary message 

- CNN Religion Editor

Filed under: Catholic Church • Christianity • Pope Francis

soundoff (2,437 Responses)
  1. Walter

    Good to hear that pope Francis is speaking out against persecution of Christians in the Middle East(a situation that is deteriorating quickly), hopefully this pope can continue to condemn acts of violence against Christians and help restore peace in this region with religious freedom for the Christians.

    Keep up the good work Pope, we need your voice loud and clear condemning religious persecution of Christians.

    December 19, 2013 at 11:17 am |
    • Extremely Moderate

      Man you missed the point. We are all God's children. His greater goal is to fight persecution of all peoples and not to condemn, but to save through the example set by acts of mercy.

      I promise you, the pope weeps for oppressed Christians as well as those oppressed by Christians.

      December 20, 2013 at 4:51 pm |
    • Abraham Yeshuratnam

      Why Obama is remaining silent when Christians are being persecuted? Christians are being increasingly forced out of the biblical homelands. Indeed, across a vast swath of the world between Morocco and Pakistan, the persecution of Christians continues to gather pace, frequently with barely a eyebrow raised in the secular west. Perhaps this is beginning to change. Last month Baroness Warsi warned that "A mass exodus is taking place, on a biblical scale. In some places, there is a real danger that Christianity will become extinct." And on Saturday, the shadow foreign secretary, Douglas Alexander, spoke up against the "political correctness, or some sense of embarrassment at 'doing God'" that makes this a taboo subject.

      December 28, 2013 at 11:05 am |
  2. maxmaxwell

    hahahah I see purple smoke soon for this guy, isn't that the famous color they use to say they have killed another pope at the vaticaan???? hahahahahahahahahaha

    December 18, 2013 at 9:38 am |
  3. Abraham Yeshuratnam

    There is nothing to be ashamed of being a Marxist, for Marx got his ideas from Jesus. Jesus attacked priests, capitalists and corrupt rulers in all his speeches. Marx probably would have got ideas for revolutionary socialism from the bold act of Jesus in driving out black marketers and big business from the Temple premises. The Bible says that Jesus entered into the temple of God, and drove out all of those who sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the money changers' tables and the seats of those who sold the doves. If Jesus came now into many parts of his visible church, how many secret evils he would discover and cleanse! And how many things daily practiced under the cloak of religion, would he show to be more suitable to a den of thieves than to a house of prayer! In Dostoevsky's Brothers Karamazov, a bishop wants to arrest Jesus for interfering in his nefarious activities. Pope Francis should boldly put into action Christian Marxism. If he fails, Jesus wouldn't recognize him at the time of Last Judgment.The Kingdom of Heaven on earth propounded by Jesus – a world of equality, freedom, fellowship without courts of law, world without pain, depression, tears - would have probably inspired Marx to envisage an Utopian society.

    December 18, 2013 at 1:58 am |
  4. michael2

    I agree that prayer is powerful, possibly the most powerful way to make a Christian difference–I am one who is drawn to participate actively doing Christian acts in society (with proper motives) also. I seem to need do more than just pray in quiet surroundings–I need to do both pray and actively act/risk.

    December 17, 2013 at 8:15 pm |
    • PushingBack

      "Prayer is powerful."

      Ok, please tell me one thing you can prove that prayer changed.

      December 20, 2013 at 1:36 pm |
    • jim g

      prayer is just a part of an adult fairy tale.

      December 22, 2013 at 4:06 pm |
  5. Name*Gen

    You want my sons and daughters go die .if they have to for your freedom so you can outsoure their job to China and get richer , stashing cash overseas banks and properties... .???? A nation where.greed rules must.not insult the victims of unprecedented greed , playing child psychology, mentioning "trickled down economy".

    December 15, 2013 at 11:24 am |
  6. Steve

    The pope is a modern day Jesus and rush Limbaugh is Pontius Pilate

    December 15, 2013 at 8:33 am |
    • Insight

      Rush Limbaugh is trash

      December 15, 2013 at 9:03 am |
      • jenholm25

        I completely agree. Rush Limbutt is trash.

        December 27, 2013 at 4:23 pm |
    • Denniis

      "Steve",How correct you are. I support you 100%. We definitely need a "Pope" who will bring long awaited "reform". Like "BLESSED BE THE GOD OF ALL MANKIND".

      December 15, 2013 at 11:54 am |
  7. neved

    after debating about the doctrines of faith of varied christian belief,and atheism and looking at the holistic problem of the world in the context of religious unity,a paradigm shift in the essence of faith is necessary here.We cannot ignore or dissociate scientific facts and discoveries from our core beliefs and dogmas.the exponential growth of scientific knowledge and technological development will someday stressed religious belief to irrelevance.so the challenge now is how do we prepare our descendants to the enevitable future.That is suppose to be our greatest concern and obligation,a shift from self centeredness salvation of our souls to the total physical or material and spiritual survival of humanity

    December 14, 2013 at 8:58 pm |
    • simplyput

      Salvation is not self-centered, it is Christ centered. Sefl awareness is not Christ awareness. The only one that can save humanity is a God who gave his only Son as a sacrifice for sin. He hates sin, but truly loves the sinner, unlike some of us. Before Catholicism, a chuch met, broke break together in His name as long ago as the last supper. Only Catholics doubt that the apostletic church met before they came on the scene. The *universal* church is the Catholic's way of co-opting protestant believers. Salvation is real, personal and eternal. Salvation of the collective does not exist on earth. The word literally means a "saved prudence." Peace.

      December 14, 2013 at 11:35 pm |
      • neved

        there are less than 2 billion christians of all denominations today of the 7.5 billions people on earth today,atheism is on the rise and seemed unstopable,the the acceptance of gay marriages is due to their influence,if we donot change or evolve,there will be non of us left in the future,its not instantaneous the change,but it is the obligations and missions of those enlightened by God.it was Abraham who led the Jews ,who were enslaved by the Romans and at 300 A.D. ,the Romans were coverted by Him to christianity,now another momentous episode will start the Change is Coming or had already arrived.

        December 18, 2013 at 10:21 am |
      • jim g

        religious garbage.

        December 22, 2013 at 4:09 pm |
  8. Allberta.com

    We should pray that the Pope can follow through on these plans.

    This could really help improve our future.

    December 14, 2013 at 12:50 pm |
    • aldewacs2

      Please stop with the prayer talk.
      Try to do something that will actually make a difference if you support the pope's beliefs. Like influence the dinosaurs in your congregation.

      December 15, 2013 at 12:07 pm |
      • simplyput

        Prayer is hated by the evil one more than anything on earth. Why would you suggest stopping prayer? Prayer may be underestimated, but it is God Himself who influences the dinos, not you. I figure if Satan hates prayer more than anything else on earth, it must be the end goal.

        December 15, 2013 at 10:47 pm |
    • Mary Healey

      What is needed right now are Catholics who will dare to take a stand against all the "accepted forms of discrimination" in the Chuch that Pope Francis is talking about. He cannot clean up this mess by himself. Until this Pope came along I was really beginning to feel that our Catholic "Traditions of Ceremony" replaced Christ. There are many small steps that can be initiated in all parishes; however it will be at the cost of ridicule, rejection and all the other sins that were dealt to Christ when He tried to change the thniking of the people. i COULD LIST ABOUT 10 OFF THE TOP OF MY HEAD BUT WILL LEAVE THAT TO THE READERS.

      December 30, 2013 at 5:00 pm |
  9. laststonecarver

    Thanks to CNN's editor's too. Fabulous job fellas! Sam bo stone adds much to the discussion, even as she instructs xtards to kiss a 12 gauge and her co-devils cheer her on.

    December 14, 2013 at 9:54 am |
  10. laststonecarver

    Sam bo stoned and her fellow demons r responsible 4 encouraging xtards to commit suicide. U have all done very well! We r very proud of u!

    December 14, 2013 at 9:51 am |
  11. ramon machtesh

    G-d never changes because G-d is infinite and perfect. Our understanding of G-d does, must change, because we are neither.

    December 14, 2013 at 9:49 am |
  12. Mike Denney

    Oh. Just another deceptive headline–I thought he was going to get honest work. ba-ZING!

    December 13, 2013 at 12:41 pm |
  13. Renee

    This pope is a bad seed. God Never changes. What's in the Holy Bible is as true today as when it was written. This man is trying to change the Bible and rules to suit himself and anyone else that don't want to live like God has said .

    December 13, 2013 at 12:40 pm |
    • stcd

      Your comment makes no sense. God wrote the bible, or man did? The bible's interpretation has changed. For example, "spare the rod spoil the child" is considered child abuse these days. You also need to check your grammar if you want to be taken seriously.

      December 13, 2013 at 1:51 pm |
    • neved

      humans changes Renee,if you dont know evolution maybe you reach only first grade in school.the need for change is part of Gods will or you are extinct,or you still eat raw foods.God permits changes in everynthing.

      December 13, 2013 at 10:58 pm |
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About this blog

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 with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.