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. Susan StoHelit

    As an atheist – this is a guy I can respect.

    I don't believe what he does – but unlike most in the Catholic (AND Christian) hierarchy, he seems to actually believe the best parts of his religion, and lives it. I don't expect the church to change it's positions – they have what they think is wrong (abortion, same gender marriage, atheism) – but to treat it properly, as everyone's choice, rather than something they can force the world to change – that is all ANYONE should ever expect. That is how we all live and let live, when we all think someone else is wrong, and we all have others who think our choices are wrong.

    I grew up in a Catholic family, and what the church became hurt many people I love. I never believed, but they did, so for them this was awful. To see someone FINALLY really working on what the church should be, if they act like they believe what they preach, is a good thing. I still don't believe – it's myth – but it can be a myth with a positive effect on the world, for once, if this keeps up.

    November 26, 2013 at 3:40 pm |
    • peshwar

      I don't care how it changes. I left the church decades ago, and will never return

      November 26, 2013 at 3:43 pm |
      • Susan StoHelit

        I'm an atheist – I wouldn't be encouraging anyone to return. But as an organization that billions do believe in, positive changes are a VERY good thing. And he is doing good.

        November 26, 2013 at 4:45 pm |
      • Susan StoHelit

        I'm an atheist – I wouldn't be encouraging anyone to return. But as that billions do believe, positive changes are a VERY good thing. And he is doing good.

        November 26, 2013 at 4:46 pm |
  2. cristian

    nice man, nice ideas.
    but will he have the guts to allow priests to marry?
    because without that...

    November 26, 2013 at 3:37 pm |
    • Sara

      That's the most likely change the church will see and it might just slow the rapid decline of the church, but not enough to keep it from reaching obscurity within a few decades.

      November 26, 2013 at 3:40 pm |
    • peshwar

      How can you get marriage counseling from a person who has never been married or had a relationship with the opposite gender?

      November 26, 2013 at 3:45 pm |
  3. Catholic in CT

    Slight error – Divorced Catholics are allowed to receive Holy Communion.

    November 26, 2013 at 3:37 pm |
    • Jerry

      Without ab annulment?

      November 26, 2013 at 3:39 pm |
    • Sara

      Sure, you are only denied communion if you remarry.

      November 26, 2013 at 3:41 pm |
  4. God

    hey Mr Pope,

    Satan has been telling me that you are running around saying you know me.

    I have no idea who you are. Please stop lying.


    November 26, 2013 at 3:35 pm |
    • Cpt. Obvious

      Just because the pope knows some liars doesn't mean he knows them all. I doubt he knows you, human.

      November 26, 2013 at 3:37 pm |
      • Realist

        I'd say the pope makes for a good liar. God was right on. Glad he showed up he to put the pope in his place

        November 26, 2013 at 3:45 pm |
    • skytag

      Someone on the Internet posing as God telling someone else to stop lying. Too funny.

      November 26, 2013 at 3:53 pm |
  5. Mad Dog Mike

    Here comes The Pope !!

    November 26, 2013 at 3:27 pm |
  6. Dave E

    Mixing metaphors! One can "dive in" or "jump in feet first," but it is physically impossible to "dive in feet first."

    November 26, 2013 at 3:27 pm |
  7. jut thinking outloud

    Mmmmm! I as a Roman Catholic ~ soldier of GOD follow HIS teachings, not Man made and to their interpretation.
    HIS teaching are very simple: Be Good to yourself and Others.......... simple! All else will fall in it's proper place as a result of being GOOD! We call these: BLESSINGS

    November 26, 2013 at 3:26 pm |
  8. blake

    The last big shake up was Vatican 2. Its time that the church recognise that to stay current it must evolve and that is what this pontiff must do regardless of thoes that are unwilling to change

    November 26, 2013 at 3:26 pm |
  9. mary anne Howerter

    Well it sure has been a long time coming, and his words about remaining shut up within structures to give us a false sense of security. How prolific is that?
    I think the good Lord himself would indeed be pleased with this Pope. This may keep me practicing after all in a Church I have had a lot of serious questions about.

    November 26, 2013 at 3:25 pm |
  10. Eternally Inquisitive Catholic

    Since my graduation from a catholic high school in New York, I've drifted away for a number of reasons: laziness, yes, but also because of a thirst for meaning that I couldn't get from 'blind faith', which is a convenient tool that the authority uses to explain the unexplainable so that you can fall in line and comply. Blind faith was never one of my crutches because, if one desires to follow a religion for lifetime, he must be comfortable with it. I'm not saying that we all should fill-in the blanks our own way, but that we should be hearing that the blanks are just there for us to accept or not but not to castigate those who make an attempt to explain them. I never forget that the most powerful cafeteria catholics were some of the bishops from the 1st and 2nd centuries as they picked and choosed which writings were in and which were out. So much more has been discovered in the past 65 or so years that the church maintains under quarantine. Yes, I'm in a free-all and drifting away from the church but I never drifted away from Jesus as the most important individual that this world has even seen, although I'm not quite sure if all the tales of him are true. Those tales don't matter to me in my attempts to follow his lead.
    Therefore, kudos to Pope Francis for trying to find ways to re-unite all of us. Be it known that I'll be out there listening and reading.

    November 26, 2013 at 3:23 pm |
    • Marcus

      One should never follow a religion but follow Christ..........I do agree with a lot of what you've written about.

      November 26, 2013 at 3:25 pm |
      • m

        In case you didn't notice christ is dead.

        November 26, 2013 at 3:29 pm |
        • peshwar

          There is no God, only reality! Only the universe created from nothing and by no one!

          November 26, 2013 at 3:49 pm |
      • Madtown

        If you follow the teachings of Christ, are you not following a religion(christianity)?

        November 26, 2013 at 3:35 pm |
        • chieftrainer

          No...religion is supposed to follow the teachings of Christ as well. A Christian is not supposed to follow a religion.

          November 26, 2013 at 3:53 pm |
        • Madtown

          Huh? That makes no sense. Christianity(followers of Christ) is a religion.

          November 26, 2013 at 4:38 pm |
        • chieftrainer

          A believer has a personal relationship with Jesus. They follow Jesus and his teachings. In order to label a group of believers, the term Christianity is used which defines the basics of what they believe. However, man has added a lot of things to 'Christianity' which do not necessarily align with what Jesus says. Jesus is who a Christian should follow, not religion.

          November 26, 2013 at 5:04 pm |
    • Greg

      First of all the bible doesn't equate faith to blindness. It calls it the EVIDENT DEMONSTRATION of realities not beheld. Something evident requires evidence to demonstrate.

      I wish you the best in your journey, sorry you have been misled by these Pharisees.

      November 26, 2013 at 3:39 pm |
    • sonny chapman

      Try reading the Four Gospels for yourself. Matthew is only 40 pages long.

      November 26, 2013 at 4:25 pm |
  11. Demigod Vadik, CA

    If I was a Pope...

    ...I wouldn't have been this good of a Pope...

    November 26, 2013 at 3:23 pm |
    • truth

      If you were a pope or a poor idiot like the pope you would still need to repent

      November 26, 2013 at 3:28 pm |
      • cristian

        am not a cath myslef, but this pope is far from being an idiot...
        y do u need to insult him?

        November 26, 2013 at 3:45 pm |
  12. notsosweetsue

    Changes all around–except for women, who, as in all organized religions, are still subject to rules that are made by the men who declare themselves in charge, but do not affect men. Won't be returning to organized religion any time soon.

    November 26, 2013 at 3:22 pm |
    • Demigod Vadik, CA

      What's wrong with men ruling women???

      ...someone needs to rule y'all...

      November 26, 2013 at 3:24 pm |
    • sportsdrenched

      This statement is incorrect. There are many in fact, maybe the majority of North American Denominations that do not have these rules, and in fact have women clergy. I encorage you to check them out, if for no other reason that to understand that there are more "liberal" organized people of faith out there.

      November 26, 2013 at 3:40 pm |
      • notsosweetsue

        You're partially right–the Episcopalians, for one. And they allow gay priests as well–you're right, I stand corrected. Thanks for the reminder.

        November 26, 2013 at 3:42 pm |
        • sportsdrenched

          This is the one I belong to.


          Check it out. If you still don't like religion after that...I hope you find what you're looking for.

          November 26, 2013 at 3:58 pm |
    • monocle88

      There is a whole section on women and their participation. You should check it out, and then reply again.

      November 26, 2013 at 3:41 pm |
  13. QS

    Unfortunately, what this church really needs to rethink is precisely what this Pope actually insists that his "flock" continue doing...evangelizing; spreading the gospel, as it were.

    The concept of "spreading the word" is the basis for all that is wrong with religion.

    If your beliefs dictate to you that you must go around and try to "convert" people to your way of thinking in order to "save" them, your beliefs are inherently starting you off from a foundation of immediately looking down on others and seeing them as things that need to be fixed rather than as fellow humans who should not have to be made to feel guilty just because they don't believe your particular brand of delusion.

    November 26, 2013 at 3:18 pm |
    • Andy

      As St. Francis said, "Preach the Gospel always. When necessary, use words."

      I believe that the evangelizing Pope Francis will be calling for will be more along the lines of LIVING what you believe, not really a focus on conversion.

      November 26, 2013 at 3:34 pm |
      • QS

        It may be what you interpret him to be calling for, sadly most religious people tend to interpret the messages of tolerance to mean they need to focus MORE on conversion.

        November 26, 2013 at 5:22 pm |
    • monocle88

      You should read what the Pope said, which is much more than this article. Then you might change your comment.

      November 26, 2013 at 3:43 pm |
      • QS

        I see no reason to change my comment regardless of what this Pope may say as my comment reflects the very basic, fundamental problem that I see inherent in most, if not all religions.

        This Pope may think he's trying to change this, but it won't change. And even if he genuinely thinks he can, after he's gone it will revert back with the next conservative Pope they pick.

        I appreciate the sentiment this Pope seems to be embracing about tolerance, I just don't see most Catholics seeing it similarly.

        November 26, 2013 at 5:24 pm |
    • chieftrainer

      When you buy a new car, do you tell no one or do you tell your friends something like, "I got a great deal. This care is sharp, runs smooth, gets great gas mileage". When you get a new smartphone, do you hide it from others or do you show it off and share what features you like, what it can do, etc. In a similar way for Christians, they found Jesus and are wanting to tell others all the great things about him and what he has done. It's more like they are wanting to spread the good news about what they have found.

      November 26, 2013 at 4:02 pm |
      • QS

        And how often do those people showing off their new cars or phones annoy you to death with their incessant jabbering and obsessing over their new toy that they think is the best ever but really it's just a new version of an old idea?

        November 26, 2013 at 5:26 pm |
        • chieftrainer

          I didn't say my analogy was perfect. I was simply trying to explain why many Christians speak of it. Have you never shared with a friend or family member about something you found as pretty cool or even life changing, wanting them to share in your enthusiasm?

          November 26, 2013 at 5:58 pm |
      • a reasonable atheist

        How often do you people bragging about their new car or phone point at empty space and then rebuke you for not displaying absolute credulity towards their claims?

        November 26, 2013 at 6:02 pm |
  14. truth

    Catholicism is a man-made, self-centered, dry, invention by the Angel of Light... Satan.

    November 26, 2013 at 3:17 pm |
    • Artifex

      So, to you Jesus is Satan? Weird.

      November 26, 2013 at 3:45 pm |
    • Katherine

      You are so right- God

      November 26, 2013 at 3:51 pm |
  15. NeoKat1

    The Pope is navigating this huge ship in the right direction.

    November 26, 2013 at 3:16 pm |
    • truth

      Yes ..HELL,S MOUTH!!!!!!

      November 26, 2013 at 3:18 pm |
  16. Karl

    As a Catholic I am starting to be not happy with this man.

    November 26, 2013 at 3:15 pm |
    • Fred Evil

      His word is the word of your God. Do you not care for the word of your God? Or are you refusing to accept your own religion's tenets?

      November 26, 2013 at 3:19 pm |
    • David

      Maybe it's time to reexamine your conception of what it is to be Catholic, then? I think that's his core message, at least. Best of luck.

      November 26, 2013 at 3:20 pm |
    • truth

      As a Catholic you desperately NEED to get on your knees and turn to Chist before is to late.

      November 26, 2013 at 3:22 pm |
    • ki_oku

      As a Catholic you don't really have a choice.

      November 26, 2013 at 3:22 pm |
    • b

      Hate change do you?

      November 26, 2013 at 3:25 pm |
    • skytag

      Why? What does it say when you are not happy with the man supposedly chosen by God to lead the church? Did the people who picked him not pick the man God wanted? Is he the right guy but not doing what God expected him to do?

      November 26, 2013 at 3:30 pm |
  17. Richie

    Hard to know where this will end up, but his idea is correct. For the CC to remain in existence it must change dramatically. I really liked someone's comment that the church should use its wealth to take care of the poor. That's more in the spirit of Christ.

    November 26, 2013 at 3:14 pm |
    • Ed - Spring, TX

      It would be interesting to see what percentage of the money the Church receives actually goes to the poor as opposed to keeping the priests fed and the buildings open. And don't forget the big cathedrals that need built.

      November 26, 2013 at 3:37 pm |
  18. truth

    The pope himself need to repent be saved and have eternal life.

    November 26, 2013 at 3:12 pm |
    • NeoKat1

      He is a sinner like you and I.. he has said it many times.

      November 26, 2013 at 3:14 pm |
      • truth

        He is lost and need redemption. ..no sinner will go to heaven unless born again.

        November 26, 2013 at 3:20 pm |
        • Richie

          You are not in a position to judge any man or woman. Your comment is arrogant and baseless–his relationship with God is his business and his business alone–only God knows his true heart.

          November 26, 2013 at 3:21 pm |
        • truth

          Jesus said.. unless you repent you wil likewise perish.
          You can't handle the truth..,

          November 26, 2013 at 3:25 pm |
        • m

          Jesus was Jack Nicholson?

          November 26, 2013 at 3:31 pm |
        • A traveler

          Read your words and see how silly they are.

          November 26, 2013 at 3:41 pm |
    • sly

      Ah, get used to it. Animals are born. Animals die.

      There ain't no fat white man sitting in the clouds, and when you die, it's over.

      But ... certainly can't hurt for you to believe in God, or Santa, or elves, while you are alive, if it makes you feel better.

      I worship sports for entertainment, and that makes me happy, so I can understand someone worshipping some god here or there for amusement. As we say, whatever floats your boat.

      November 26, 2013 at 3:25 pm |
    • skytag

      It's all a fairytale. There is no "eternal life." Period.

      November 26, 2013 at 3:31 pm |
      • chieftrainer

        Since you made the claim I assume you have evidence? Keep in mind that turning the argument around and posing it to me is not evidence.

        November 26, 2013 at 4:17 pm |
  19. kim


    If you want more of what the Pope really said.....

    November 26, 2013 at 3:11 pm |
  20. children of Israel

    The Pope is an abomination (Proverbs 28:9) God rules in Jacob (Psalm 59:13) *Deuteronomy 9:27 Remember thy servants, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob;

    November 26, 2013 at 3:11 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.