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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. Neil DeGrasse Tyson - The Perimeter of Ignorance

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1te01rfEF0g&w=640&h=390]

    September 22, 2013 at 6:34 am |
  2. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things.

    September 22, 2013 at 5:39 am |
    • frank

      prayer is just talking to yourself and thinking you merit special consideration from some non-existant super being. it changes nothing.

      September 22, 2013 at 5:45 am |
      • nope

        @frunk
        nope

        September 22, 2013 at 5:51 am |
  3. Just Call Me Lucifer

    Suddenly the catholic church wants to be inclusive, even if it goes against what their god says in that book he didn't write. Since they've been losing the flock by the score they're willing to do anything to get revenues (your money) and attendence up. Its too late... the lie that is the christian god and the church has been exposed for what it is. A ponzi scheme based on fear and manipulation. May it soon rest in peace.

    September 22, 2013 at 4:52 am |
    • frank

      i hope i live long enough to see ALL religion die.

      September 22, 2013 at 5:47 am |
      • Colin

        You'll live long enough to see yourself die to find out what an ass you've been.

        September 22, 2013 at 5:52 am |
        • AtheistSteve

          Every living thing dies. You might see it coming but you wont be aware of anything after your brain stops functioning. The notion of a soul or afterlife is pure fantasy.

          September 22, 2013 at 7:31 am |
        • Chris

          Atheis Steve. You said every living thing dies....so how something...not alive come up to live??? Is it because everything is alive so there is not dead?

          September 22, 2013 at 12:05 pm |
    • JT

      The scam is working to an extent. From some comments on here, some sheep are attending church for the first time in years and buying into the lie once again.

      September 22, 2013 at 8:28 am |
  4. Douglas

    Thank you Pope Francis!

    You have broken the silence and expressed a new vision, not of condemning
    the sinner, but reaching out and embracing the sinner to initiate the act of penance
    and redemption.

    When asked by the Jesuit reporter, " who are you?"

    You responded, "I am a sinner".

    Such honesty is astonishing!

    There is a beacon of hope beaming out to sinners at the foot of the cross.

    There is hope for LGBTQ, Straight, and all who have fallen short of the mark to confess
    with their tongue the stain of sin and to plead for mercy to a compassionate God who hears every prayer we send up.

    Thank you Pope Francis!

    September 22, 2013 at 2:35 am |
    • Douglas is a closet case

      And once again Douglas obsesses with gays and gay se.x.

      Douglas is the Roy Cohn of the Belief Blog.

      September 22, 2013 at 2:41 am |
    • frank

      a 'compassionate god' does not issue the mandate that 'there is no forgiveness without blood'. imagine the parent who nails their child to the wall for disobeying and screams this. a compassionate god does not give a so called gift of free will then condemn you for exercising that 'gift' but not choosing what that god wants. here timmy.. you can either eat a carrot which is good for you or a candy. then when timmy eats the candy the parent douses him with kerosene and sets him on fire. that is the bible's god.

      September 22, 2013 at 5:51 am |
      • Chris

        Hi, Frank. There is not such thing on the Bible. That God nailed Jesus because just Adan ate the forbidden fruit. The forbidden fruit represents rebelion..disobeyence..and after that Sin Nailed man not God. Cain killed Abel...death murder came into humanity nature, wars, blood....If you are a father, one of your kids is a massive murder, you must stop that. You had given chances but not chage.. Free Will... You have to options...Destroy your creation....dead penalty... but not. You are a God of Love...and as father you put yourself on that penalty to save what you created. That is why some will follow and others not. Our sins nailed Jesus.. Not God that nailed Jesus.

        September 22, 2013 at 11:59 am |
        • a reasonable atheist

          Are you medicated, by chance?

          As a side job, I used to correct research papers written by foreign nationals with extremely poor English proficiency, and their writing was much clearer than what you posted here.

          September 24, 2013 at 9:20 am |
        • G to the T

          No Adam = no original sin = no need for Jesus' sacrifice. Is that really what you want to pin your eternity on? The belief that there really was just one man and women created in a garden provided by the all-powerful creator of the universe?

          September 27, 2013 at 11:13 am |
    • AtheistSteve

      There are no such thing as sinners. Sin is a religious concept. There isn't a higher power we need to be afraid of offending, only our fellow human beings. The core of morality is to inflict as little harm as possible. No god is required.

      September 22, 2013 at 7:45 am |
      • Chris

        Atheis Steve, it is very dangerous to realize that Sin is part of our Nature by origin. That case if we are like that for origin so why we comden bad deeds. Why we have laws..if SIN is our natural behaviour. You are not going to say that a Lion is a bad animal for eating less strong animals . That is its nature.

        September 22, 2013 at 12:09 pm |
        • TheScienceEnthusiast1130

          @Chris

          It is its nature, however, you "Christians" will enforce your ignorant delusions on others. That is how people die.

          September 23, 2013 at 1:01 pm |
        • G to the T

          I'll reiterate – "Sin" is not all inclusive of human behavior. It ONLY applies to those acts a particlar god finds offensive. That's why so many of the "sins" have nothing to actually do with moral behavior.

          September 27, 2013 at 11:15 am |
  5. Translation of Pope Francis's Vision

    "We were wrong."

    September 21, 2013 at 11:26 pm |
  6. Reality

    Only for the new members of this blog:

    The last paragraph of the topic:

    "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."

    Popes as prophets? Give us a break ! More like a brainwashed fortune teller !

    Popes as CEOs? Give us a break ! The only money he should be involved with is the refunding of all the money to the former and current members of the RCC for the con that has been pulled on them for the last 2000 years.

    September 21, 2013 at 11:24 pm |
  7. Barnabas Collins

    As Pope Francis' "new vision" is to still hate them but just be less obvious about it, it really only amounts to a PR campaign, about the same as when Chevron advertised their environmental greenness because fish tend to collect around oil platforms.

    September 21, 2013 at 11:13 pm |
  8. Concrete

    No, but it was a nice gesture.

    September 21, 2013 at 11:09 pm |
  9. The Pope's Vision

    If the Pope's Vision is a room full of little boys to mollest, then I suppose it could happen. It's happened before.

    September 21, 2013 at 10:35 pm |
  10. Alias

    I don't think you understand how this stuff works, so let me give an example of how to use it:
    I needed a car. I didn't bother praying for a car since god doesn't work that way. Instead, I stole a car and asked for forgiveness.
    See? I got a car and no one else actually had to do anything.

    September 21, 2013 at 10:32 pm |
  11. GOP is Greed Over People

    The GOP people should read the book, "How Not To Be A Republican" (a.k.a The Bible)

    September 21, 2013 at 10:29 pm |
  12. Bag Boy

    Polish your sack. Polish your balls.

    September 21, 2013 at 9:30 pm |
  13. Bag Boy

    Cover your sack. Remember your balls.

    September 21, 2013 at 9:30 pm |
  14. Bob

    Christians, how is it that your omnipotent being couldn't do his saving bit without the whole silly Jesus hoopla? And how was Jesus' death a "sacrifice", when an omnipotent being could just pop up a replacement son any time with less than a snap of his fingers? Pretty pathetic "god" that you've made for yourself there.

    Ask the questions. Break the chains. Join the movement.
    Be free of Christianity and other superstitions.
    http://whywontgodhealamputees.com/

    September 21, 2013 at 9:27 pm |
    • Macy

      Bob honey, I would rock your world and then we could read the Bible together.

      September 21, 2013 at 9:31 pm |
      • TheScienceEnthusiast1130

        Oh, the ignorance!

        September 23, 2013 at 1:02 pm |
    • Alias

      Bob,
      It's simple – God made the universe.
      God put a man he made from dirt in a magic garden.
      When the dirt man made god angry, god decided to send charge everyone who had not been born yet with a sin and send us all to the Hell He created.
      In order to save us from his judgement, He got a married woman pregnant and sacrificed his son to himself.
      If he hadn't tortured his son, He would not have been able to judge us all fairly when we died.

      How could that not be the truth?

      September 21, 2013 at 10:14 pm |
      • frank

        well i'm convinced! where do i sign up?

        September 22, 2013 at 5:53 am |
        • Colin

          No one wants you, from either side.

          September 22, 2013 at 5:56 am |
      • JT

        Then this all knowing god is surprised that this man he made from dirt is lonely, puts him into a deep sleep, takes one of his ribs and makes a woman who later is duped by a talking snake which damns all of future humans.

        September 22, 2013 at 8:32 am |
        • G to the T

          In one version of the story. In the other he makes them at the same time (Adam and Lilith) but that version of the story was watered down over time.

          September 27, 2013 at 11:18 am |
      • Chris

        hahaha somehow good.. but God is perfect and what he creates is perfect. He created the Universe and He wanted man to be his Presence. Same image as God. For santification of its Creation. Man was supposed to be a High Priest. But instead..he Praised Himself. you see..... Man got disconnected of God. We became imperfect.

        September 22, 2013 at 12:23 pm |
        • TheScienceEnthusiast1130

          Nice try at hating everyone.

          Is your life that sad?

          FAIL

          September 23, 2013 at 1:03 pm |
        • a reasonable atheist

          Vestigial organs =/= perfect design.

          September 24, 2013 at 9:24 am |
        • G to the T

          So your perfect and good god requires devotion? And created people just to worship him? Talk about stroking your own ego. Does that really sound like the act of an all-powerful and complete being?

          September 27, 2013 at 11:19 am |
    • SixDegrees

      Deriding those you oppose is not an effective strategy for bringing them around to your point of view. Major fail on your part.

      September 22, 2013 at 6:57 am |
    • Chris

      Bob please watch this video and that will give you Idea why Jesus die for you on the Cross : http://youtu.be/KGlx11BxF24

      September 22, 2013 at 12:11 pm |
  15. Macy

    I keep reading these obvious and really silly questions. You can prove God by looking at yourself in the mirror. He made you hun.

    September 21, 2013 at 9:24 pm |
    • Bob

      Macy, grow some guts, you pathetic coward, and try answer these questions that you previously tried to dodge:

      How is it that your omnipotent being couldn't do his saving bit without the whole silly Jesus hoopla? And how was Jesus' death a "sacrifice", when an omnipotent being could just pop up a replacement son any time with less than a snap of his fingers? Pretty pathetic "god" that you've made for yourself there.

      Ask the questions. Break the chains. Join the movement.
      Be free of Christianity and other superstitions.
      http://whywontgodhealamputees.com/

      September 21, 2013 at 9:27 pm |
      • Macy

        Bob, I can't answer to your lies silly. God designed a wonderful world for us. Enjoy it sour puss!

        September 21, 2013 at 9:29 pm |
        • Bob

          Again you dodge. Answer the questions, coward.

          September 21, 2013 at 10:37 pm |
      • ronvan

        BOB: I will have to assume that you are an atheist? NOT a problem for me as we ALL have our opinions & beleifs. BUT, here is a question for you. Can you PROVE there is no God, Jesus Christ? While I DO beleive I have yet to see, from either side, proof positive, 100% who is right or wrong?

        September 22, 2013 at 5:43 am |
        • truthprevails1

          How does one go about proving a negative? The burden of proof lies on the one making the claim, not the one asking for evidence of said claim (kind of like one saying they have a unicorn and the other requesting evidence). No honest person will ever say for certain there is no god, just that there is no evidence to substantiate a belief in one.

          September 22, 2013 at 6:45 am |
        • Stephen Harper

          It grieves a righteous mans soul to have to lead a nation with so many perverted degenerates in it. Bad enough the ungodly maggots undermine my promised land, they have no respect for the freedoms other nations enjoy.

          September 22, 2013 at 6:48 am |
      • Chris

        Bob if God saved Jesus... then you will have to die on that Cross... Dont you understand??

        September 22, 2013 at 12:12 pm |
      • Chris

        Bob please check this Video..."FALLING PLATES" on you tube

        September 22, 2013 at 12:24 pm |
    • JT

      And we all know that faries cause rain. We all have seen rain so there's your proof of fairies. How can anyone be so dumb to not see this?

      September 22, 2013 at 8:35 am |
  16. Theadore Realist

    I would like to see all christians stand up and say to the world .....

    "I have NO FACTS to back up my beliefs ... but ... I choose christianity as my religious faith just the same … because it is what I grew up with … it was my parents religion... and perhaps my grandparents religion... so it is familiar to me... so I just accept it without study, without full understanding, without full knowledge... blindly and without question... mainly because I was taught to NOT question my religion and NOT question my god … and I find comfort in believing in the IMAGINARY (except for the other childish imaginary images like the Tooth Fairy, Unicorns, Leprechauns, the Boogie Man, Santa Claus, etc - that I have since abandoned because there is NO proof of their existence) … and if my ancestors and the majority of my neighbors and countrymen believed in and worshiped ... Buddha, then I would too ... or Zeus, then I would too ... or Muhammad, then I would too, ... or a Unicorn, then I would too, ... or Aliens, then I would too, ... or the Flying Spaghetti Monster, then I would too … for the simple reason that I want to be part of the "majority", I want to "belong", I want to be "accepted", I want to feel like I have a “larger family", and I want to "fit in"... regardless of how nonsensical it all appears to be – and probably is."

    ........ and I could respect that and accept that. What I can't respect and accept is the hyperbole.

    September 21, 2013 at 9:20 pm |
    • Macy

      Jesus has been revealed to us that are born again. You are wrong because you just don't know like we do.

      September 21, 2013 at 9:26 pm |
      • G to the T

        Perhaps – but have you ever questioned how inconsitent his revelation is in reality?

        September 27, 2013 at 11:25 am |
    • Athy

      Too many periods and not enough sense.

      September 22, 2013 at 2:15 am |
      • Chris

        Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit[b] gives birth to spirit. 7 You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You[c] must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”[d]
        Man just bore man, flesh bores flesh... you by Jesus are born from Spirit.

        September 22, 2013 at 12:16 pm |
        • G to the T

          You are positing the existence of something called "Spirit". Please provide evidence for the existence of such a thing.

          September 27, 2013 at 11:26 am |
    • Neil DeGrasse Tyson - The Perimeter of Ignorance

      I think that would have worked better if you had just said this (although all of it is true):

      "I have NO FACTS to back up my beliefs ... but ... I choose christianity as my religious faith just the same … because it is what I grew up with … it was my parents religion... and perhaps my grandparents religion... so it is familiar to me... so I just accept it without study, without full understanding, without full knowledge... blindly and without question... mainly because I was taught to NOT question my religion and NOT question my god … and if my ancestors and the majority of my neighbors and countrymen believed in and worshiped ... Buddha, then I would too ... or Zeus, then I would too ... or Muhammad, then I would too, … for the simple reason that I want to be part of the "majority", I want to "belong", I want to be "accepted", I want to feel like I have a “larger family", and I want to "fit in"... regardless of how nonsensical it all appears to be – and probably is."

      September 22, 2013 at 6:42 am |
    • Robert

      Great post!

      September 22, 2013 at 11:24 am |
  17. Bob

    Christians, how is it that your omnipotent being couldn't do his saving bit without the whole silly Jesus hoopla? And how was Jesus' death a "sacrifice", when an omnipotent being could just pop up a replacement son any time with less than a snap of his fingers? Pretty pathetic "god" that you've made for yourself there.

    Ask the questions. Break the chains. Join the movement.
    Be free of Christianity and other superstitions.
    http://whywontgodhealamputees.com/

    September 21, 2013 at 9:20 pm |
    • ronvan

      Are you trying to make a point or just advertising this "referened" site of yours?

      September 22, 2013 at 5:47 am |
  18. Prayer Is Why Macy Has Gas

    Prayer makes you flatulent.
    Prayer makes you hoard cats.
    Prayer makes you frothy like Rick Santorum. See his website http://santorum.com
    Prayer fucks up your knees and your back.
    Praying is a stupid and useless thing to do.

    September 21, 2013 at 9:16 pm |
    • Macy

      Ahhh, you have a crush. But you should love Jesus instead!

      September 21, 2013 at 9:17 pm |
    • Jane

      Studies have certainly shown that prayer is useless. As for Macy's intestinal issue, I'd rather not speculate.

      September 21, 2013 at 9:17 pm |
      • Macy

        Hi Jane I am a lesbian Christian in cast you are a you know, interested...

        September 21, 2013 at 9:22 pm |
  19. Bag Boy

    I am tired of your talking and the smell of your stew.

    Cover your teeth. Hide your tongue.

    September 21, 2013 at 9:15 pm |
  20. Bag Boy

    Remove your shoes. Rinse your feet.

    September 21, 2013 at 9:12 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 with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.