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. Supadave

    This pope is such a media hog. None of the things he did holds any substance. He just enjoys receiving attention through the media.

    November 26, 2013 at 9:57 pm |
    • Heavensent

      U r proof

      November 26, 2013 at 10:22 pm |
  2. Cynthia Avishegnath

    I watched a youtube vid that says that the new Pope was predicted to be the Gorbachev of the RC Church, by a medieval priest.

    November 26, 2013 at 9:53 pm |
    • Stanley

      Because you tube videos are always the harbingers of truth. Right.

      November 26, 2013 at 10:20 pm |
  3. Tony D

    I'm amazed by the level of hate directed by some to pope Francis. It is one thing to disagree with the church and its members and another thing to use nasty and brutish language towards a man who has been nothing but a positive symbol thus far. If some people's hate for the Catholic church runs so deeply,it would seem only logical that they would welcome a man who is trying to make the church better.... I don't know, some people are so sour.

    November 26, 2013 at 9:50 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      I wouldn't do backflips if the Hell's angels got a better leader either...

      November 26, 2013 at 10:44 pm |
  4. Reject Religious Fairy Tales

    Sadly hilarious. These Catholic religionists have been oppressed so long by the mythology that their tortured psychology causes them to adopt that any glimmer of partial rationality from their leader who wears the cone head hat results in their believing that maybe they're not as nuts as their inner voice tells them.

    November 26, 2013 at 9:39 pm |
    • Kerrygivens

      YOur ignorance is on surpassed by your bitterness. YOu should must be a liberal.

      November 26, 2013 at 10:02 pm |
  5. Ricky

    Analysis of the Pope's words yields little substance. Waiting for next Papal shoe to drop.

    November 26, 2013 at 9:20 pm |
  6. Ksmith

    Pope Francis is a true leader and embodies what Catholisism is truly about. He is leading our church into a new era of humility, kindness, and forgiveness. He is the reason I started going back to church. The catholic church is blessed to have him!

    November 26, 2013 at 9:12 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      sounds like you're giving credit where it's barely due...
      he's talked a lot - what has he actually changed?

      November 26, 2013 at 9:13 pm |
      • lol??

        The Big O received a peace prize when?? Socie scientists are schmart.

        November 26, 2013 at 9:18 pm |
    • JJ

      You're exactly what this effort is all about, to get you "ex-cats" back on the coffers. The pedophiles are still in charge. Why did you leave in the first place?

      November 26, 2013 at 9:17 pm |
  7. Allen

    Now if he could just come to terms with exactly who Jesus the Christ is?

    November 26, 2013 at 9:11 pm |
  8. one step

    Pope Francis is either going to start talking to God directly or someone is going to kill him. He's the first Pope to outwardly challenge church thinking. I really hope he makes progress and that the inner machine doesn't stop him.

    November 26, 2013 at 9:09 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      he has nothing to worry about.
      he hasn't changed a thing.
      no change in dogma
      no change in doctrine
      aside from talking, what has he DONE?

      November 26, 2013 at 9:12 pm |
      • Bootyfunk

        maybe she things George W. Bush is still in the white house....

        November 26, 2013 at 9:13 pm |
      • one step

        The Vatican / Catholic church is a HUGE machine so it's going to take time. I am hopeful. I don't expect we'll get a new version of the Bible for Christmas. So you need to get real. Unless you just love talking smack because it makes you feel better.

        November 26, 2013 at 9:18 pm |
  9. HotAirAce

    Did I miss his announcement that the RCC is turning over all pedophile priests and their criminal protectors to civilian authorities? Until that is done, this Pope-A-Dope is just another mentally ill delusional believer, a charlatan shaman and most likely a criminal himself.

    November 26, 2013 at 9:08 pm |
    • JJ

      No, you missed no announcement. The cult is still the same pedophile infested cult as it's always been. It's just lipstick on a pig that all the kool-aide drinkers are falling for as all good sheep do. The RCC are masters at this game since they've been at it for 2000 years.

      November 26, 2013 at 9:15 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      Or that they will stop supporting the blasphemy charges against the Indian skeptic who debunked the Catholic shrine that they claimed was a miracle because a Jesus statue was crying?... it was actually a leaky pipe.

      November 26, 2013 at 9:35 pm |
  10. Bootyfunk

    "Pope Francis: No more business as usual"

    that headline made me laugh.
    the pope says a few flowery words but doesn't actually change church dogma or doctrine.
    a lot of hot air.
    actions count more than words or prayers.
    until the pope actually affects change instead of just talking about it,
    he gets zero points.
    as it stands, it's EXACTLY business as usual.

    November 26, 2013 at 9:08 pm |
    • Tony D

      It has nothing to do with changing doctrine. Doctrine in any religion is considered sacred and should not be changed. The notion of changing doctrinal issues to suit the modern secular world is over reaching and unfortunately assumed by many. Ask any adhering Muslim, Hindu, or Christian about following the doctrines of there faith and they will tell you of its importance. If people do not like the doctrines, there is an easy solution; do not follow the teachings, or be agnostic. What he is trying to do is open up the church to those who feel marginalized because they do not fit the mold of those teachings, and show them the aspects of Catholicism, such as the notion of forgiveness, which apply to them. This is actually very significant and you dismissing it is very typical for someone who would rather insult first than analyze a very complicated and historical rooted situation.

      November 26, 2013 at 10:00 pm |
  11. vinster76

    maybe if all Catholics pray real hard, we just might get our imbecilic president to magically disappear.....C'mon folks, on your knees and PRAY!!!!!!!!!

    November 26, 2013 at 9:07 pm |
    • Observer


      Our president graduated with honors from Harvard Law School.

      How did you do for comparison to an "imbecile"?

      November 26, 2013 at 9:09 pm |
      • vinster76

        Observer, this nation is watching the systematic destruction of our economy, national security, personal freedoms, privacy, and personal wealth.......I rest my case..........

        November 26, 2013 at 9:13 pm |
        • Bootyfunk

          lol. there has never been a safer, more comfortable time to live than right now.

          November 26, 2013 at 9:14 pm |
        • Observer


          The last president started a $2,000,000,000,000 war for FALSE REASONS.

          The economy is doing far better. We keep setting records for the stock market after Bush left it PLUMMETING.

          November 26, 2013 at 9:20 pm |
    • Allen

      Our battle is not with flesh and blood, but with principalities and power, and rulers in dark places.
      Praying is good, especially if you read the Bible and pray in accordance with God's will.

      November 26, 2013 at 9:14 pm |
      • Bootyfunk

        actions cause change; prayer wastes valuable time.

        better to get up off your knees and do something more constructive with your time.
        go outside and help your brothers and sisters instead of wishing for an invisible sky genie to do it.

        November 26, 2013 at 9:16 pm |
        • Jesus freak

          The "invisible sky genie" wants to use people as His hands and feet. Prayer is the communication link between Him and us. We do not know what to do without prayer, nor do we receive the power to do it without prayer.

          November 26, 2013 at 9:27 pm |
  12. Observer

    Christians don't believe and support EVERYTHING in the Bible. They just pick and choose.

    That's why many are upset with the Pope. He CHOOSES to "not judge" and he CHOOSES the hugely important Golden Rule. He doesn't CHOOSE some of the discriminations that many Christians CHOOSE like against gays.

    November 26, 2013 at 9:07 pm |
  13. vinster76

    having once been a Catholic, I came to realize NO ONE could ever forgive my sins except Jesus, and to confess them to a priest who was as big a sinner as I am, made no sense. I don't doubt the Pope is a sincere man, but honestly, he is not divine, he is not the spokesman for Jesus, and he is not to be idolized.....

    November 26, 2013 at 9:05 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      there's no such thing as sin. it's a disgusting concept meant to control you through guilt, fear and ignorance - the pillars of religion.

      November 26, 2013 at 9:11 pm |
      • Jesus freak

        Sin is a reality. It is impossible to understand the world we live in without understanding the reality of sin. No matter how much we advance in money, resources, education or technology we will never overcome our problems until the reality of sin is acknowledged and dealt with.

        November 26, 2013 at 9:32 pm |
        • Observer

          Jesus freak

          "Sin is a reality. It is impossible to understand the world we live in without understanding the reality of sin."

          Nope. "Good" and "bad" exist in every civilization. "Sin" is just a religious construct.

          November 26, 2013 at 9:58 pm |
        • Grateful Catholic

          Well said, Jesus Freak.

          November 26, 2013 at 10:00 pm |
    • JIM

      agree..we pray to jesus..and if the pope represents jesus..would jesus be wearing those robes and those caps..i think he might be in jeans like the common man..he didn't put himself above he came to serve

      November 27, 2013 at 12:17 am |
  14. lol??

    "..........the 85-page statement .................." Wow, shorter than the ACA. Maybe he could help american catholics by loaning out priests to be used as editors in DC?? 11,000 pages will kill ya before any care in the ER when they make ya read em all.

    November 26, 2013 at 9:04 pm |
  15. rofl

    The pope is probably either going to be wrangled out of office by powerful people who want to maintain the status quo, or he'll end up being canonized as the saint who modernized the catholic church.

    November 26, 2013 at 9:00 pm |
  16. AeroSam

    Love this Pope! I admire his sincerity, humbleness, & humility. God bless him!

    November 26, 2013 at 8:56 pm |
    • Grateful Catholic

      I love those qualities of his also, AeroSam. And indeed, God bless him! At the same time though, I miss Benedict XVI. I hope he's in good health & enjoying his retirement

      November 26, 2013 at 10:05 pm |
  17. Heavensent

    Let's c. Y don't I make up something completely absurd and c if it sticks?

    November 26, 2013 at 8:51 pm |
  18. lol??

    Mob pols won't even speak to ya if ya ain't sent. Are popes sent??

    November 26, 2013 at 8:35 pm |
    • troll buster

      popes sent??

      I now pronounce you pompously bent

      November 26, 2013 at 8:59 pm |
  19. Percy

    I love this Pope. He is the real deal and puts in action the teachings of church. He preaches and inspires his parishioners to be true, in whatever difficult way that is, to the values the religion is based on. He is true to the faith. Something not seen in a long, long time.

    November 26, 2013 at 8:34 pm |
  20. dudley

    The guy is shaking things up in a stodgy, old, crusty, cobweb-filled church that has become mostly observed in the Christian world.

    Who knows but that the Pope will cut away the mess and leave an actual, vibrant Christian church on the plate?

    November 26, 2013 at 8:25 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.