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. sick of christian phonies

    As a recovering catholic atheist, I must say that this fella impresses me. Now to see if action in the bureaucracy actually follows words.
    Did he address birth control at all, or is that still taboo, even though 98% of American catholics are in favor of it?

    November 27, 2013 at 7:08 am |
  2. Sara

    I think one of the most important changes they are going to have to introduce is a mechanism that allows for future change in dogma. Right now we could see changes on marriage for priests, but can never evolve to having women priests unless some very interesting changes on the issue of revealed doctrine take place. That one change would allow the church to continue to evolve with credibility and perhaps to survive another century.

    November 27, 2013 at 7:05 am |
    • Science Works

      Yeah Sara that dang dogma heaven and hell ?

      Remember what the pope said. What a Joke.

      November 27, 2013 at 7:15 am |
  3. Mike

    What!? No more burning witches at the stake!?

    November 27, 2013 at 7:04 am |
  4. quadrophenia1

    It's giong to take a long time to change the dogma, especially in America. It was only 50 years ago that the Mass was done 100 percent in Latin and we spent an entire hour beating our chests, kneeling and standing up every half-minute for a solid hour. We've already come a long way, but there's a lot more to be done.

    November 27, 2013 at 6:40 am |
  5. OldMo

    It all sounds so noble on the surface but I'd like to know this Jesuit's definition of "evangelizing". Does he believe the focus should be an earth-bound social justice message or is he a true Bible believer that knows the focus should be on the gospel of Jesus Christ? Sadly, I think I know the answer to that one already. Jesuits are notoriously devious, fork-tongued wordsmiths so it'd be very interesting to hear him preach the gospel.

    November 27, 2013 at 6:37 am |
  6. saggyroy

    This is a great example of how religion makes up its nature as it goes along. It is either true or it isn't. Why does it have to change?

    November 27, 2013 at 6:33 am |
  7. Eric Hoilder

    Does this mean the priests and bishops will also be molesting girls too?

    November 27, 2013 at 6:32 am |
    • Elena

      why always with the child molestation thing? may be you are a child molester?

      November 27, 2013 at 6:39 am |
      • jim g

        Perhaps i could send you the phone numbers, or email addresses, of two of my friends molested by catholic priests? you could share with them how you pass off child molestation so easily?

        November 27, 2013 at 7:00 am |
  8. jim g


    November 27, 2013 at 6:30 am |
    • Eric Hoilder

      These mods could easily transition to China or North Korea.

      November 27, 2013 at 6:34 am |
    • Sara

      In a world in which you can start your own internationally visible blog in 10 minutes griping about "censorship" when anther private enti.ty chooses whenther or not to publish you words is a tad melodramatic.

      November 27, 2013 at 6:35 am |
      • jim g

        So so sorry. i will give you my email address and you can send me more of your judgements, perhaps daily??

        November 27, 2013 at 6:56 am |
  9. lainnj

    This pope almost has me convinced that they are somehow going to turn themselves around and become decent people. But, I was raised Catholic and didn't escape until well into adulthood, so I know them. This organization is all about deceit and hypocrisy.

    November 27, 2013 at 6:29 am |
    • saggyroy

      Sales are down. The Vatican marketing department gets to work....

      November 27, 2013 at 6:34 am |
      • Sara

        They'll need a big bang, and allowing more priests to marry is the only one they've left open. I'm wondering whether anyone is taking bets yet on this.

        November 27, 2013 at 6:39 am |
        • saggyroy

          I hope they don't – it keeps these lunatics out of the gene pool.

          November 27, 2013 at 6:40 am |
  10. TG

    Is Pope Francis really making changes or is he just continuing the same page of religious doctrine but just with a "new coat of paint" ? Why is Thomas Aquinas (1225-74 C.E.) quoted, since he promoted a Greek "hybridized Aristotle" theology, making it the "bedrock dogma of the Church of Rome" ?(Galileo's Mistake, by Wade Rowland, pub. 2001)

    Or why is Augustine (354-430 C.E.) brought into the picture, since it was he that advocated that the apocrypha be added to the canon of sacred books of the Bible in 397 C.E., though Jerome (about 347-420 C.E.), translator of the Latin Vulgate, at the same time called them "mud" and was the first to use the word "Apocrypha" for noncanonical writings (Select Letters, CVII), as well as John Wycliffe (1330?-1384 C.E.), Roman Catholic priest and scholar, said these were "without authority of belief " as well as Dominican Cardinal Cajetan (about 1469-1534 C.E.) who was called by Clement VII the "lamp of the church", rejecting the apocrypha ?

    The Catholic church has continued to promote that which is not based on the Bible, but a continuation of "tradition" rather than "on every word that comes from Jehovah's mouth".(Matt 4:4) Is Pope Francis really wanting to establish that which is "the truth" or just "white wash" the Catholic church to make it more appealing to the masses ? Is this any different than the Jewish Pharisees that Jesus said "resemble whitewashed graves, which outwardly appear beautiful but inside are full of dead men's bones and every sort of uncleanness" ?(Matt 23:27)

    Is Pope Francis working to pattern the Catholic church after the 1st century Christian congregation ? To do that, he would have to do what Jesus told John the Baptist disciples: "Nobody sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old outer garment, for the new piece pulls away from the garment and the tear becomes worse. Nor do people put new wine into old wineskins. If they do, then the wineskins burst and the wine spills out and the wineskins are ruined. But people put new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved."(Matt 9:16, 17)

    Hence, Jesus said that his "new" teachings could not be mixed in with the corrupted Jewish teachings and traditions, but "new wine" of his truthful teachings must be put in "new wineskins", starting off fresh. So likewise, the corrupt Catholic church and its teachings cannot be "reformed", but must be discarded, like an old wineskin.

    November 27, 2013 at 6:27 am |
  11. pbernasc

    WOW A real Christian for Pope .. now the question is how long till they kill him

    November 27, 2013 at 6:03 am |
    • Elena

      A spanish newspaper recently published an article that "la mafia calabresa" is really upset at the pope's cleansing of the Vatican bank affairs!

      November 27, 2013 at 6:33 am |
  12. Thomas Nichols

    Of course he has to mention gays! He loves little boys!

    November 27, 2013 at 6:02 am |
  13. adrifter

    Religion is so ridiculous and funny. Reading religious stories is like watching a Monty Python skit. I'm not always sure what it's about, but it's funny anyway. It's hilarious to think that this new Pope is going to make any significant changes to the Roman Catholic Church. One man is going to change 2000 years of dogma and tradition, and power over the sheep??? Not a chance.

    November 27, 2013 at 5:12 am |
    • BigBankTheory

      Heck, he could star ion a new TV show, called Pope's sheep!

      November 27, 2013 at 6:02 am |
    • JimW Statesville, NC

      It's not just one man. It's tens of thousands in the Church who think like him and want the same thing. Don't forget, Pope Francis is from the Jesuit side of the Church and they are a very formidable army of nuns, priests, bishops and cardinals who will carry out his wishes and make the necessary changes. They will make it happen and rid the Church of those who have carried on like royalty instead of true Christians as they should have been doing in the past. And you know what? I'm not even a Catholic. I'm probably closer to being an atheist who is watching this unfold from afar and hoping he succeeds in his quest to reform the Church.

      November 27, 2013 at 6:27 am |
      • Sara

        It may eventually lead to a point where they can hide their more repugnant beliefs from the majority. Bahai hid theirs by concentrating on their positive aspects like racial equality and Falun Gong used free meditation sessions to con the world For Catholicism it will take time and maybe a generation or two, but they can probably likewise survive as an small, obscure sect viewed as relatively harmless.

        November 27, 2013 at 6:47 am |
  14. ghostdansing

    If people would be more familiar with the Social Teachings of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis would not be so surprising. Unfortunately, Catholicism in America has been associated with a couple conservative wedge issues. The Social Teachings would make political ideologues more uncomfortable. The Pope is correct the root of its blame in the scandals involving pedophilia is its obsession with its own self preservation which led to very bad decisions.

    November 27, 2013 at 5:03 am |
  15. adrifter

    Robert, it's spelled blasphemous. If you're going to accuse people of blasphemy, at least get the spelling right.

    November 27, 2013 at 5:03 am |
  16. jim g

    the catholic church is the same immoral and criminal organization it has been for many centuries.

    November 27, 2013 at 4:53 am |
    • robert

      I'm about to throw up. You are wrong jim about all of that.!

      November 27, 2013 at 4:55 am |
      • Karloff

        Nope, Jim is spot on.

        November 27, 2013 at 5:04 am |
      • jim g

        i grew up in the catholic church. 13 years in catholic schools. i was and altar boy and a choir boy. i saw the immorality, hypocrisy, and criminality of the the church. it is a crime against humanity.

        November 27, 2013 at 5:07 am |
      • truthprevails1

        robert: How is he wrong? Are you saying that the covering up and protection of pedophiles is not immoral or criminal?

        November 27, 2013 at 6:42 am |
    • Seyedibar

      I applaud his efforts to bring modernity and social progress to the church, but why don't we start by ditching the bronze age fairy tales and anti-science propaganda altogether. We don't have to collectively worship historical cartoons to spread goodwill.

      November 27, 2013 at 5:08 am |
    • John T.

      Just like Mother Theresa who has help hundreds of thousands of people. Just like all the Catholic organizations that help the poor in Nigeria, Bangledesh, Somalia etc...

      November 27, 2013 at 5:35 am |
      • saggyroy

        They always have the solution for the problems they cause. Do you think those countries you mentioned would benefit from birth control so we can put some kind of limit on the number of mouths to feed?

        November 27, 2013 at 6:27 am |
      • truthprevails1

        Mother Teresa left people to die without proper care or medical attention, she wasn't so good.

        November 27, 2013 at 6:44 am |
        • Sara

          Worst of all, the represented an organization that fought the distribution of family planning services in India. Once on an equal developmental footing, China and India are now so far apart there is no realistic competi.tion. And just what was the one major policy difference that allowed China to beat its previously more liberal neighbor? The Catholic church holds a very heavy burden of blame.

          November 27, 2013 at 8:17 am |
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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.