November 26th, 2013
10:21 AM ET

Pope Francis: No more business as usual

By Daniel Burke, Belief Blog Co-editor
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(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."


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. follow the money

    Church attendance down, therefore collection$ are down, so the Pontiff needs to re-brand. Oy vey.....

    November 26, 2013 at 2:13 pm |
    • Dyslexic doG


      November 26, 2013 at 2:17 pm |

    Please don't get it twisted. The Pope may change some internal things but he will never turn his back on the word of God. So no he will not allow abortion or allow two men to marry under his watch.

    November 26, 2013 at 2:11 pm |
    • truthprevails1

      Good thing your god has no voice on those things in the real world. Nowhere in the bible is there mention of abortion, that is simply an issue christians use to justify trying to dictate women's rights again. As for the same gender marriage equality deal, gay children are born to straight parents every day. These people work, they pay taxes, they raise children. Marriage licenses are nto issued by the church and thus the church needs to keep their bigoted noses of it.

      November 26, 2013 at 2:20 pm |
      • HolySmokes

        The idea that every single human being is equal to another and all have rights endowed by their creator is the lesson taught us by Christ. Every single human being. No one is above or below another. No one has the right to destroy another for the advancement of the self against the will of God.

        November 27, 2013 at 12:53 am |
        • HotAirAce

          Really? Why doesn't The Babble unequivocally ban slavery or state that women are fully equal?

          November 27, 2013 at 12:57 am |
        • Sara

          The bible predates the modern concept of human rights by well over a thousand years.

          November 27, 2013 at 1:02 am |
  3. Leftcoastrocky

    Changes in theology are needed, not just public relations.

    For example, if you divorce and remarry you can't take communion - doesn't make any sense

    November 26, 2013 at 2:11 pm |
  4. Lee

    – I think its great. change is needed in the church many catholics who don't abide by the "old" ways are cut out. Its time to change with the times.
    As for "leading the flock into hell" I'm sure your fond of WBC – If we follow no alterations with the times we would still be cavemen sitting around a fire.
    As for it being a fairy tale. To each their own clearly! No one asked you to stop and read and comment. If you don't believe why waste your time? and others time reading your silly meaningless posts. You do what you do in your house, I'll do what I do in mine, except I won't judge you on that – or bother to care.

    November 26, 2013 at 2:10 pm |
    • Dyslexic doG

      ahhhh, but you do judge and you do care ... you are powerless to stop it.

      November 26, 2013 at 2:13 pm |
  5. JoeP

    How about the Roman Catholic Church convening Vatican Council III?

    November 26, 2013 at 2:10 pm |
  6. Dyslexic doG

    For all of you buying in to the Vatican's PR campaign, with the carefully staged photo opportunities and carefully written tweets and speeches, just know that the Vatican is treating you like a fool. They are not changing any of the factors of child molestation and misuse of money and links to crime, they are just running a political campaign to increase popularity and membership. See CNN's "pope-story-a-day" Belief Blog as an example.

    despite what has been recently said, only one person knows what this pope's real views are but if you want a clue, his past statements give us a pretty good idea!

    November 26, 2013 at 2:10 pm |
    • Lee

      I'd suppose that makes you amazingly psychic. Being the "only one" who knows what his "real views are" !! Bravo!!

      November 26, 2013 at 2:13 pm |
      • Dyslexic doG

        go back over his public positions and statements for the 30 years before he was pope you tool! Not me judging. Just pointing out that the real pope believes something different than what this Vatican PR campaign is professing.

        November 26, 2013 at 2:16 pm |
  7. children of Israel

    The Pope refuses to bow down to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. And our Father I AM chose Jacob as his chosen people. Who names are written on the gates of the kingdom, the new Jerusalem? Revelation 7:4 the children of Israel, Jacob blood lineage – Ezekiel 48:31 and Revelation 21:12

    November 26, 2013 at 2:09 pm |
    • Dyslexic doG

      why post a quote from your book?

      Using the words of someone in the same cult as you, who is just as deluded as you, to prove your point is hilarious!

      November 26, 2013 at 2:12 pm |
  8. joe in VA

    It's interesting to read the comments of people willing to accept sound bites (great though they are) from Pope Francis, and believe that the Church is somehow changing. Being a 'cradle Catholic', and being of a certain age (I remember Latin at Mass), I have seen many changes in the Church, and several Popes. However, with this Pope, all that I have heard so far, as I said earlier, is sound bites. He is very media savvy, no question, but I will withhold my judgement until he does something concrete, rather than just saying wonderful things – anyone can do that. Actions speak louder than words.

    November 26, 2013 at 2:08 pm |
  9. Jeff6187

    I love this man!

    November 26, 2013 at 2:07 pm |
  10. satch99

    "Francis repeats his calls for Catholics to stop "obsessing" about culture war issues and enforcing church rules, and to focus more on spreading the Gospel, especially to the poor and marginalized."

    ...ahh yes, sell your snake oil to the least educated. These type of people have the best chance of buying into your BS!

    November 26, 2013 at 2:07 pm |
  11. BO

    Praise da Lawd and pass the beer. We've got gay and lots of abortions coming up for the Catholics.

    November 26, 2013 at 2:06 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      Pope Strangelove
      Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the RU486

      November 26, 2013 at 2:08 pm |
  12. Lionly Lamb

    I'm grateful to be alive which is more than what can be said regarding the homeless and destitute and hungry that many societies and governments turn a blind eye upon... Seasonal praises and annual thanksgiving does little to curb social and nationalized illnesses... Legalize hemp farming and tax and regulate recreational marijuana use and give freely to the neediest,- their medicinal cannabis…

    Good things are nice yet the very best of things are found within the very smallest of places... We call these 'very smallest of places' as being atoms while all the generations of God call these atoms their planets...

    Luke 17:21, “Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you..”

    Cannabis seed extracts make for a wide variety of industrial products… From bath soaps and shampoos to paper and plastics of all types and all manner of textiles, even bio-fuels, cannabis plant and seed extracts could one day be a main staple for many of our worldly industries including our medical institutions’ medicines …

    November 26, 2013 at 2:06 pm |
  13. Al

    This is not as hard as it seems, my friends, since the entire belief system of the Catholic church and other religions is man-made.

    November 26, 2013 at 2:06 pm |
  14. longtooth

    I've already commented on this pope. I think he's going to be the greatest of all time. I just can't help telling CNN's writer that nobody dives in with both feet. That's called a jump. Picayune, I know. It just bothers me.

    November 26, 2013 at 2:05 pm |
    • Leap of Faith

      He may have misspoke when he said dive but I’ve always heard take a leap of faith and jump in feet first.

      November 26, 2013 at 2:15 pm |
  15. Mike J

    It is refreshing to contrast those like the Pope who are trying to better a situation, even if only as an individual versus those like, say Sarah Palin, who are purely critics that create nothing, only critique.

    November 26, 2013 at 2:04 pm |
    • fattdaddy

      you are equating Palin to the Pope?

      November 26, 2013 at 2:11 pm |
  16. Knucklehead

    "....dive in feet first." Hmmm....when you dive, you dive head first. Otherwise it's just a jump. So just what is the Pope saying here?

    November 26, 2013 at 2:00 pm |
    • Mike J

      He's saying, "don't dwell on the irrelevant."

      November 26, 2013 at 2:06 pm |
    • Youtube - Neil DeGrasse Tyson rebukes Richard Dawkins

      Good grief – enough with the cryptographic messaging. It's straight-forward.

      November 26, 2013 at 2:06 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      Just go back to the standard apologetic arguments:
      1) You're taking it out of context
      2) It isn't meant to be taken literally
      3) it is a mistranslation

      November 26, 2013 at 2:07 pm |
  17. Name*partypeanut

    I'm all for blowing some fresh air into the Catholie Church...long time coming, IMHO.

    November 26, 2013 at 2:00 pm |
  18. buzz

    I I totally agree with bigbendjc....nuff said.

    November 26, 2013 at 2:00 pm |
  19. Gus

    When the pope is a black lesbian, then I'll join.

    November 26, 2013 at 1:58 pm |
  20. bigbendjc

    I hope the Pope makes a phone call to Paul Ryan and inform him what a good Catholic should believe...compassion for the poor and the disadvantaged. What about it Ryan...belief in the Koch Bros and Ayn Rand or a compassionate Pope & Jesus?

    November 26, 2013 at 1:58 pm |
    • sonny chapman

      Tough position to be in , but Jesus said ,"No one can serve two Masters". Matthew 6,24.

      November 26, 2013 at 2:14 pm |
    • Name*partypeanut

      I suspect the Koch Bros ARE Paul Ryans' "Jesus"....money talks and BS walks...

      November 26, 2013 at 2:19 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.