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. Name*Dimnwaka francis chibuike

    Pope Francis is a man of God indeed, by having the gospel of our lord and savior JESUS at heart is very wonderful ,it is a plus for Him, not only that, also making effort to change some old method and some unclear practices that bring catholic church which I am also a member to the state of idolatry,I pray for God protection upon his life as he go on to do anything the spirit of God ask Him to do in The name of Jesus amen.

    November 26, 2013 at 2:30 pm |
  2. Mike

    Under Obama, the NSA admits to spying on the Vatican, including the time period of the papal election. Now we suddenly have a Pope who wants to give communion to politicians who believe in killing babies, grinding them up, vacuum suctioning them from the womb and disposing of them as medical waste. Coincidence? I think not.

    November 26, 2013 at 2:30 pm |
    • Richard

      Given you are Roman Catholic, you should listen to the pope, according to:

      Papal infallibility

      From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

      ‘Papal infallibility is a dogma of the Catholic Church which states that, in virtue of the promise of Jesus to Peter, the Pope is preserved from the possibility of error[1] "when, in the exercise of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians, in virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole Church".[2]’

      What’s Obama got to do with it??

      November 26, 2013 at 2:39 pm |
      • Mike

        I am nor Roman Catholic

        November 26, 2013 at 3:58 pm |
    • Tim

      Stay on the same page as the rest of us!

      November 26, 2013 at 2:40 pm |
  3. children of Israel

    Who are the redeemed? Jacob and Joseph (Psalm 77:15) Christ never preached to any church, he came for the house of Israel (St. Matthew 15:24) What god are Roman Catholics worshipping? (Micah 4:5) Religion is division, who killed Christ, Peter and Paul? The prophecies are coming true now in these latter days -Genesis 49:1-2

    November 26, 2013 at 2:28 pm |
  4. onepercenter

    Got to change. Nice thought. Perhaps a change you might consider is letting your priests marry so they would leave the kids alone. You claim the apostle Peter was the first pope. Well...even he was married.

    November 26, 2013 at 2:28 pm |
    • myweightinwords

      Pedophiles will molest children regardless of whether or not they are married.

      Priests don't become molesters because they are not married. Priests become molesters because they are pedophiles.

      November 26, 2013 at 2:36 pm |
    • truthprevails1

      Pedophilia is a corrupt mind, it will occur whether one is married or not, gay or not.

      November 26, 2013 at 2:42 pm |
  5. Sandra

    From an agnostic, I have to say... this is a breath of fresh air and something I think we of all beliefs can live peacefully with!

    November 26, 2013 at 2:28 pm |
    • jlibbey

      So you are an agnostic and you like what he says? Is he really leading people to God, or to humanism. I am all for humility and helping the poor, but a spiritual leader that makes it comfortable to sin is not leading people to God.

      November 26, 2013 at 2:44 pm |
  6. DRJJ

    Martin Luther (1483-1546).
    While studying law, Luther, fearing death in a thunderstorm, promised God he would become a monk if God spared him. As a monk and professor of Bible at the University of Wittenberg, Luther attempted to secure his salvation by adhering to a very strict code of ethics, obedience to the monastic order, and ceaseless confession. This proved unsatisfactory and Luther continued to have intense emotional struggles with his own salvation until an epiphany struck him in the tower of his Augustinian monastery. It was during this “tower experience” that Luther realized that salvation was a free gift imputed to man through Christ’s righteousness. We are justified by the grace of God through the atoning death of Jesus on the cross. Our good works, then, do not cause our salvation, but rather they are a result of our salvation. God does not love us because we are good—we are good because God loves us. With this new understanding of salvation, Luther went on to criticize the Catholic Church for, among other things, selling indulgences to people with the promise that these purchases would help assure their salvation. Luther protested this and other things in his famous This eventually led to a major conflict between Luther and his German supporters and the Catholic Church in Rome. The end result was the Protestant Reformation, although Luther saw himself not as the creator of a new church, but as a reformer of the Catholic Church, leading her back to the Pauline doctrine of justification by faith alone.

    November 26, 2013 at 2:25 pm |
  7. Dr Tod Policandriotes

    This actually brought tears to my eyes in joy that someone in power actually appears GOOD!!

    November 26, 2013 at 2:25 pm |
  8. JM

    Sell the treasures. Feed the poor.

    November 26, 2013 at 2:24 pm |
  9. styx

    First time we've ever had a pope more popular amongst nonbelievers than amongst the more zealous members of the Catholic Church.

    Which is a good thing.

    November 26, 2013 at 2:24 pm |
  10. Theo

    Why this thinking could bring brainwashing and ignorance for centuries to come !

    November 26, 2013 at 2:23 pm |
  11. Dyslexic doG

    I wonder if god minds getting overruled by the pope?

    does god mind getting told "I know you said one thing in your book but we want to do these parts a little differently and these other parts we're just going to ignore..." ?

    god can't have really meant what he said in the first place, eh?

    November 26, 2013 at 2:21 pm |
    • Dyslexic doG


      November 26, 2013 at 2:23 pm |
  12. Dyslexic doG

    does god mind getting overruled by the pope?

    does god mind getting told "I know you said one thing in your book but we want to do these parts a little differently and these other parts we're just going to ignore..." ?

    god can't have really meant what he said in the first place, eh?

    November 26, 2013 at 2:21 pm |
  13. 1968billsfan

    Many in the Church have been there forever.

    November 26, 2013 at 2:21 pm |
  14. topi

    This is awesome. The gospel is the center of it all. The only thing that matters which is the death for our sins burial and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ and believing that he did this for you is the ONLY WAY TO HEAVEN! in Christ alone is salvation found.

    November 26, 2013 at 2:19 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      And all those unfortunate souls who never heard of Jesus?
      Straight to Hell I guess.
      You'd think God would've found a slightly more universal and far less ambiguous way in which to reveal His divine plan.

      November 26, 2013 at 2:21 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      Why do you consider rewarding and punishing people based on belief and non-belief to be ethical and moral?

      Why am I required to believe in order to get rewarded?

      November 26, 2013 at 2:22 pm |
      • Oregonian

        Pope Francis has already said you don't have to believe, you just have to do good things. Why people have a problem with that baffles me.

        November 26, 2013 at 2:33 pm |
        • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

          That is not what he said, that is what was interpreted. He used soft language to say atheists have the same opportunity as anyone else. And even if I were to agree he did say that, it contradicts the message in the bible.

          November 26, 2013 at 2:54 pm |
        • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

          Not to mention my response was to topi (original poster) who obviously does think belief is central to salvation. Can you explain who would be correct, topi or the Pope?

          November 26, 2013 at 3:03 pm |
      • For They Will Inherit the Curds

        Well, if everyone just got in automatically, there'd be way to scare anyone into religion.

        November 26, 2013 at 2:41 pm |
    • igaftr

      So what you are saying is it is OK for you to let someone else take your just punishment.
      What if that is a test to see if you have morals, and only those who won't let another stand in for them actually go through. Just because the bible says something does not make it true. It is false in many areas, why not this one?

      November 26, 2013 at 2:23 pm |
    • The Greatest Commandment Matthew 22:37

      Don't forget about the unforgivable sin. http://www.Mark329.org

      November 26, 2013 at 2:29 pm |

    Sure, the popes wrote the standards and laws. They are like the Pharisis where they show off their nice clothes and wrote the laws, but did not go by the Gospels...

    If laws of the church are men written then men have the authority to change them with the times, lower standard to gain popularity and numbers, needless to say more money.

    If the laws were God's breath those cannot be changed no matter what people say or do.

    November 26, 2013 at 2:17 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      You're not a woman are you?
      Remember what the Bible says about women-folk trying to teach men about the gospel.

      November 26, 2013 at 2:19 pm |
      • PEPTALK

        Like I said men's laws can be changed, but God's laws cannot be changed. If it is on the Gospel and the pope wants to change them he will do it on his own peril.

        November 26, 2013 at 2:22 pm |
        • Doc Vestibule

          You haven't answered as to your gender.
          If you're a woman, you should keep quiet and let the men folk discuss theology, for it is a shame for you to speak.

          November 26, 2013 at 2:24 pm |
      • PEPTALK

        You don't have a clue what you are talking about. How can you assume what gender I am. Do we know each other? Or, you are just trying to score points here. I believe it is the latter.

        November 26, 2013 at 2:31 pm |
    • 1968billsfan

      That is silly, you have made no attempt at understanding .

      November 26, 2013 at 2:23 pm |
  16. Dave Snow

    Let's get our metaphors straight. Maybe instead of "diving in feet first" they could "jump in head first".

    November 26, 2013 at 2:17 pm |

      I don't think the pope wants a mess of brain matter and blood splutter everywhere. He got it right.

      November 26, 2013 at 2:20 pm |
  17. Paul "Barry" Kaen

    "dive in feet first."

    Wouldn't diving be head first & feet first be jumping in?

    November 26, 2013 at 2:16 pm |
  18. meagain

    Finally. Fresh air in the papacy. Rock on new pope... and look out old, worn out, and sheltered religious guys who haven't helped the sick, the poor, or the hungry in many many years.

    November 26, 2013 at 2:14 pm |
    • BUD

      They need to get current on birth control which is devastating third world nations.

      You don't see the big Catholic family's anymore here so someone is slipping birth control in their coffee or the faithful have more sense than their leaders.

      November 26, 2013 at 2:21 pm |
    • 1968billsfan

      You are ignoring the charitable work of the Church. Look up how many hospitals there are and nursing orders.

      November 26, 2013 at 2:24 pm |
      • myweightinwords

        An evil man can do charity work and give all his money away to take care of the sick and dying. Does that make him any less evil?

        November 26, 2013 at 2:40 pm |
  19. the blood

    The sad thing is, it's not either/or......it's not "either orthodoxy OR a more compassionate/social Gospel" - IT'S BOTH. Just once I wish there was a pope who understood this. JP2 came the closest I think.

    November 26, 2013 at 2:13 pm |
    • Susan StoHelit

      JP2 was political – photo ops, but not good.

      This guy gets it – he tells them to focus on the gospel and helping while not bending on your church's guidelines – he's doing just what you say.

      November 26, 2013 at 2:52 pm |
  20. TomGI

    "Pope: We must change"

    OK so change but I don't care because I'm not catholic so I don't revere you.

    November 26, 2013 at 2:13 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.