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. joe don smith

    so no more pedophiles? no more of not letting women be priests?

    November 26, 2013 at 6:25 pm |
    • Abused

      no, there are still pedos. over 80% are still there thanks to the catholic bishops who successfully lobby to stop laws that would expose the truth

      November 26, 2013 at 6:28 pm |
  2. LJ

    I'm LDS but I respect this pope quite a bit. I hope his calls don't go unheeded.

    November 26, 2013 at 6:20 pm |
    • Abused

      his job is to make cash. Whatever it takes.

      And to deny children abused

      November 26, 2013 at 6:25 pm |
  3. Abused

    ..To those who are unaware. PLEASE NOTE!

    The US catholic bishops are actively lobbying to stop laws which help children victims of abuse. They are doing so under the approval of this pope.

    Victims denied, yet the truth is the greatest healer. Nothing like being denied as a child, being called a liar by your once catholic peers and now by laws which deny you again by the successful lobby efforts of this religion.

    This pope is NOT a nice person.

    November 26, 2013 at 6:18 pm |
  4. bluemarine

    Iam always amazed at the magnitude of people whom never question what they are told to believe.

    November 26, 2013 at 6:08 pm |
    • Bob89

      I am always amazed how atheists try to depict theists as 2 dimension inferior cartoon characters that have no mind of their own.

      November 26, 2013 at 6:30 pm |
      • sam stone

        some are, some ain't

        November 26, 2013 at 7:06 pm |
  5. RJay

    The words sound hopeful, but I will reserve judgment until I see what action accompanies them.

    November 26, 2013 at 6:03 pm |
  6. fire.camp

    ...remember the last guy who campaigned for 'change' and the effects that change has had on this country.
    ...so, how much of the church's wealth is the pope going to devote to helping the poor?

    November 26, 2013 at 5:55 pm |
    • Chris

      "The Economist" recently estimated that American Catholic Church spent 98.6 billion on Heath Care, 56 billion on Education, 11 billion on local parishes, 4.7 billion in charitable donations in 2010. Not sure what else you want the Church to do?

      November 26, 2013 at 5:59 pm |
      • martiniano

        The OP just wanted to take a swipe at the neegra in the white house.

        November 26, 2013 at 6:18 pm |
      • Abused

        yes, they pay for their employees in high priced universities and hospitals.. If they profit, they pay HC.

        Now if your numbers are correct. That would place the vatican's wealth in the trillions. Yet all those starving children.

        November 26, 2013 at 6:22 pm |
        • Chris

          Which the church feeds more then any other organization in the world. Really.

          November 26, 2013 at 6:56 pm |
    • Mike

      Before you judge, you should research all the Catholic Church has done from Hospitals, Orphanges to Univisersities. They donate a lot to the poor, feed many. In fact they are one of the worlds largest charities.

      November 26, 2013 at 6:05 pm |
      • Topher

        True. While I disagree with Catholics on theology, it's hard to argue that they are the leaders in hospitals and other charities.

        November 26, 2013 at 6:20 pm |
      • Abused

        catholic church does nothing, unless their are profits to be made.

        BTW: organizations as catholic charities are paid for primarily with our tax dollars, Grants.

        They have destroyed children's lives worldwide, yet that doesn't matter to you

        November 26, 2013 at 6:23 pm |
        • Chris

          And who is making these profits? Priests? They earn at or below the poverty line. Your coffin with be more expensive the PJP's. He had nearly no personal possession. Vatican riches? Those are property of the people. Would you ask the US to sell the statue of liberty to feed it's poor? No, it belongs to the people...just like the "riches of the Vatican" don't belong to clergy, but to the world. Are there bad officials? Sure. But the Church give more to the poor then any other organization in the world. It's not even close.

          November 26, 2013 at 7:03 pm |
    • dave

      If you are talking about our President he caught Bin Laden, ended the war in Iraq, saved the auto industry, and stopped the Republican/Wall Street economic collapse

      November 26, 2013 at 6:14 pm |
  7. realbuckyball

    There will be a schism in the Roman Church.
    Just like the Anglicans, he can push them only so far.
    The last guy who tried this stuff, (JPI), got himself killed.

    November 26, 2013 at 5:51 pm |
  8. Kelly

    I was raised Catholic and for many years have been away from the church. This pope's leadership seems to attract many of us that have left by choice. He is addressing issues that have repelled many from the Catholic Church. The changes he has made/called for are long overdue. As for women in leadership roles, I continue to be disappointed. I believe the church is headed in the right direction (toward God).

    November 26, 2013 at 5:50 pm |
    • Abused

      we know the truth, he's not a good person.

      Unless you are clergy pretending to be otherwise

      November 26, 2013 at 5:55 pm |
    • Mike

      It is nice to see a Pope reaching out to the poor and sick in a way Jesus would. I hope and pray he brings new life to the church and new hop and peace to the rest of the world.

      November 26, 2013 at 5:58 pm |
      • Abused

        with al the vatican's vast wealth.. stocks in Bnk of America, gold chair, billion dollar yacht..

        I imagined many starving children died a slow painful death.

        November 26, 2013 at 6:17 pm |
    • martiniano

      If they keep going in this positive direction they might, over time, become the Episcopal church.

      November 26, 2013 at 6:22 pm |
  9. SciGuy

    "By contrast, in "Evangelii" 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."

    Unfortunately, RC-ism long ago perverted the Gospel. The gospel which they spread is another gospel, as Paul mentions, and it does not lead people to the Savior they so desperately need.

    November 26, 2013 at 5:49 pm |
    • realbuckyball

      Oh, ya mean the gospel Paul hallucinated ? He was confused. He said he got it from "no man", but in other places insisted he had met with the apostles. Christianity should be called Paulianity. When the young man asked Jesus what he had to do to gain eternal life, did Jesus say ANYTHING about dying for sin ? Nope. Paul cooked it all up, later.

      November 26, 2013 at 5:58 pm |
      • SciGuy

        Paul did of course meet The Lord Jesus on his Damascus Road experience. And in other cases was transported to heavenly visions. So, yes, he did not receive the gospel by man. This of course does not at all conflict with Paul engaging other believers in deep and lengthy discussions of and about the gospel.

        November 26, 2013 at 6:11 pm |
        • martiniano

          Paul had a psychotic break on the road to Damascus. In the ignorance of the times he thought he'd seen God. It is a ridiculous fantasy and has done untold harm to Christ's teachings.

          November 26, 2013 at 6:24 pm |
  10. QS

    A conservative reading this article would gloss over everything else and only see this: "Francis reiterated the church's stand against abortion."

    And this is why any message of tolerance directed at religious people and conservatives in general will always fall on deaf ears when those you're trying to get to listen only hear what they want to....and what they typically want to hear is simply whatever reinforces their own preconceived ideas of how others are supposed to be and how if those others aren't that way, they need to be "converted".

    This Pope is asking his "flock" to do something they are simply incapable of doing...changing. Great that he's asking, but it speaks volumes that even he seems oblivious to the success of the indoctrination religious people are put through.

    November 26, 2013 at 5:49 pm |
    • Chris

      Let me tell you what most what you call "conservatives" (really committed Catholics) hear from Francis...go out and be with the poor and spread the Gospel. Do worry too much about the other stuff.

      No "liberal" agenda their. And really you should realize that labels like "conservatives" and "liberals" that so many like yourself love to use are exactly what the Pope is against.

      November 26, 2013 at 5:55 pm |
      • QS

        Unless and until I see conservatives reflecting your statement in their behavior, you have said nothing but what you think you want to believe about your own party.

        November 26, 2013 at 5:58 pm |
        • Chris

          Just can't help it can you?

          November 26, 2013 at 6:59 pm |
  11. Ed Francis

    More Vatican window dressing. The Church needs to grasp that just becaise they've made it to the 21st. Century doesn't mean they'll make it to the 22nd. 2nd. Traditions based on nothing more substantial than 2000 years of biases (refusal to ordain women being the primary one) need to be sewpt away if the Church is to recapture its lost relevancy.

    November 26, 2013 at 5:47 pm |
    • QS

      Fingers crossed that that lost relevancy is never recovered.

      November 26, 2013 at 5:51 pm |
  12. Thomas

    well, a church's leaders are only as good as it followers,

    and if the followers aren't following (and aren't contributing $)

    then i can understand, why.

    and then the change.


    what happened with the last pope?

    don't you die in obedience serving and suffering with what christ is?

    to me,

    it *does* sound like the church, the catholic church, has somehow,

    caught itself in doctrine, and forgotten how to lead the people.

    either that, or they are afraid or not willing to do so.

    i'll buy that part of it.

    but the rest?


    every catholic church i walk into, serves itself, in protective interests and 'community'

    it doesn't go the mile, by saving people. at least what i've seen.



    thomas 🙂

    November 26, 2013 at 5:46 pm |
    • Realist

      really? Blame the followers for the cover ups of abuse? I do agree they let the church deny children.

      However the catholic church is a dictatorship.. your rules don't hold.

      November 26, 2013 at 5:49 pm |
      • Thomas

        >>Blame the followers for the cover ups of abuse?<<

        realist, i never made that claim.

        read again.

        if you need help, there are plenty of lines to call.

        don't mislead others by misleading posts here,

        it makes people wonder if you are just another who is part of the machine here,

        or if you truly need help 🙂

        well, the best to you


        thomas 🙂

        November 26, 2013 at 5:58 pm |
  13. amanda

    I wonder how many Catholics will be in an uproar over this? I also wonder how many Catholics I can point to and say what do you think now? Interesting.

    November 26, 2013 at 5:43 pm |
    • Realist

      yes,, a real con man.

      November 26, 2013 at 5:45 pm |
    • Wildturkey

      I feel like it's the baby-boomers I and II that will have the hardest time with these proposed changes, because they are so set in their ways....I'm in my mid 30's female and I don't have a single male or female friend from Gen X or Y that doesn't have problems with the current catholic rules. Soooo, you would hope the ones that would be in an uproar are the ones that aren't gonna be around much longer....not trying to be mean or distrestpectful, but it's time for some things to change

      November 26, 2013 at 5:56 pm |
      • dave

        Older = wiser

        November 26, 2013 at 6:16 pm |
  14. works4me

    Go Pope!

    November 26, 2013 at 5:42 pm |
    • Realist

      really? How silly. You have been taken. Their marketing is good.

      November 26, 2013 at 5:46 pm |
      • vmoore

        Yes, really. Sorry not everyone subscribes to the theory that your opinion of reality is infallible

        November 26, 2013 at 5:54 pm |
      • Steve

        No, you're just advertising bitterness.

        November 26, 2013 at 5:58 pm |
  15. Wildturkey

    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.

    I like to know how he plans to do this? Actions speak louder...I don't trust a word until I see some action. He seems more politically savvy then his predecessors.

    November 26, 2013 at 5:40 pm |
    • Realist

      women are treated as 2nd class in this organization

      November 26, 2013 at 5:46 pm |
    • doobzz

      He does indeed.

      November 26, 2013 at 5:51 pm |
  16. sybaris

    Religion, the ultimate ponzi scheme

    November 26, 2013 at 5:40 pm |
  17. Nice message.. Pray more

    Despite his denomination , the pope is a man speaking from a place of grace then from a place of leadership rather then the converse. I am not catholic, but I can appreciate any person who believes, walks and tries to live the gospel the best way they can. This does not mean his way or my way is the best way, it is just how his path is lit for him. All roads have only one true way and light and their is only one answer... the Pope, as any good godly leader is just asking you to be in his flock if you will let him shepherd you.

    November 26, 2013 at 5:40 pm |
    • sybaris

      You don't need religion to be a good person however that is religions angle to keep it's coffers full

      November 26, 2013 at 5:42 pm |
      • Realist

        agreed. And to see the destroyed lives of so many children while this pope deflects, is just amazing. What a fil-th p-it

        November 26, 2013 at 5:48 pm |
    • doobzz

      More like non message. Nice words with no real action behind them.

      November 26, 2013 at 5:52 pm |
  18. manwrench

    Wow, this pope is actually sounding like he read what Jesus supposedly said!

    Can't have that, can we Xtians? No money in that!

    Anybody want to guess how long this pope lasts? I say he won't make it 18 mos. Pity, too, as the vast majority of what he's saying has needed to be said for, oh, about 2000 years of Xtianity.

    November 26, 2013 at 5:36 pm |
    • Realist

      OK priest

      November 26, 2013 at 5:40 pm |
  19. umm

    A pope who tries to help the people and doing good, rather than preserving its own image and helping its vip guests.. what is he, a socialist or a liberal? 🙂

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

      Nope,, but a con man

      November 26, 2013 at 5:29 pm |
      • dave

        come on, you liked it

        November 26, 2013 at 6:18 pm |
    • doobzz

      He has an outstanding PR department.

      November 26, 2013 at 5:39 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.