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. Kay

    Allow priests to marry. That change alone would really help.

    November 27, 2013 at 8:15 am |
    • JJ

      How would that change anything? So you would now have married pedophiles who can hide even better.

      November 27, 2013 at 8:19 am |
      • Keam

        It would create a vastly larger pool of candidates so the church could actually be selective instead of taking anyone who applies. The priesthood has always been a refuge for pedophiles because they're lack of normal relationships didn't stand out. With a married priesthood, they would stand out again.

        November 27, 2013 at 8:36 am |
  2. cbuhrin

    Hats off to our pope! He's about bringing people closer to God. That is a true disciple of Jesus! God put him there for a reason!

    November 27, 2013 at 8:15 am |
    • Abused

      OK priest, still posting and changing your name. You guys love to deceive.

      November 27, 2013 at 8:16 am |
    • JJ

      You think you guys can dangle a new leader of your pedophile infested cult in front of the world and instantly we all just forget your filthy practices? Thinking people don't fall for this scheme for a second.

      November 27, 2013 at 8:18 am |
  3. Distant Voice

    Love this guy! Not since St. Peter has any Pope so walked in the shoes of the fisherman.

    November 27, 2013 at 8:11 am |
    • Abused

      OK priest

      November 27, 2013 at 8:12 am |
    • Bobpitt

      Lets see how long will he last.. the last liberal Pope die after having a cup of tea.. I think it was prepared by a polish priest..

      November 27, 2013 at 8:13 am |
    • cinderella

      Behold! The fall of Babylon the Great followed by the announcement of peace and security. Finally the end of days. 🙂

      November 27, 2013 at 8:13 am |
  4. rdg18

    God said He was the same yesterday, today and forever. To bad the pope didn't read that part.

    November 27, 2013 at 8:08 am |
    • just wondering

      God doesn't change,people do!

      November 27, 2013 at 8:10 am |
      • One one

        People created god, therefore, god changes as people's image of god changes. It's obvious considering the god of the OT vs. the NT.

        November 27, 2013 at 8:13 am |
    • Bobpitt

      The pope said that about the center of the universe, the earth is flat, and the earth orbits the sun.. sure let continue with that...

      November 27, 2013 at 8:11 am |
      • Abused

        the pope and this religion now divert to the invisible, this way people can't prove them wrong. That is with the exception of intelligent people who laugh at the popes invisible schemes.

        The last pope proved that 'Limbo'. a place between heaven and hell, no longer exists!!! Imagine that. Having a discussion about an invisible place and deciding if it's real or not. THIS IS THE VATICAN.. No different than a bunch of kids in a tree house with made up stories.

        November 27, 2013 at 8:15 am |
    • Silver Back

      He's not talking about God, he's refering to the church. Hello, read and comprehend.

      November 27, 2013 at 8:12 am |
      • rdg18

        Your church ignores what God said and takes what this pope says as gospel.

        November 27, 2013 at 8:15 am |
    • Ben

      So, the God who ordered genocide, destroyed the world with a flood, and sanctioned slavery is the same God that Jesus prayed to and the same one that billions of Christians also worship?

      And you wonder why some people aren't eager to jump on that bandwagon?

      November 27, 2013 at 8:16 am |
    • Philly

      Don't be scared, God'll be ok.

      November 27, 2013 at 8:22 am |
  5. hisgoodteenr

    church must evolve with modern times; otherwise, it will devolve into a myth.

    November 27, 2013 at 8:00 am |
    • One one

      It started as a myth, and continues to be a myth no matter good of a PR man the use as their front man.

      November 27, 2013 at 8:05 am |
    • JJ

      The church is very real. It's the beliefs that are myths.

      November 27, 2013 at 8:16 am |
  6. Abused

    +++** To those who are unaware. PLEASE NOTE!

    The US catholic bishops are actively lobbying to stop laws which would help children victims of abuse. They are doing so under the approval of this pope. All victims now lose, no matter who abused.

    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.

    and then add;

    The Catholic League's president, using catholic donations, paid for a full page advertisement in Detriot claiming victims are liars.

    Cardinal Dolan compared children victims to pros-t-it-utes.

    Many off the children are mentally ill and others have committed suicide, due to the abuses.

    This is your pope and the catholic church, a cruel and selfish bunch. You'd think the pope would have addressed this first and demand the bishops stop, he didn't. In fact he deflects with all his nonsense of pretending 'humility'. Hypocrite is a word that describes him well.

    November 27, 2013 at 8:00 am |
    • K

      I'm truly sorry if you were abused (denoted by your name). But I simply don't believe you have your facts straight. Of course, the Church has a right (in fact, an obligation) to defend itself legally ... just as anyone accused of anything has a right to do (accused until proven). This is how resources have been spent.

      November 27, 2013 at 8:08 am |
      • jim g

        another blind catholic sheep. there is no adequate defense for what the church has done, and is still doing, except to admit its crimes and accept punishment.

        November 27, 2013 at 8:59 am |
    • Silver Back

      And you my friend, what are you doing to change this atrocious act you write of? And please, site your source.

      November 27, 2013 at 8:10 am |
      • jim g

        what a pathetic, blin, catholic sheep you are!! your question should be what is your criminal church going to do about it?

        November 27, 2013 at 8:54 am |
    • JJ

      I'm sorry you were one of the countless victims of this most disgusting of cults. Don't let the supporters and members of this criminal organization get you down. You keep exposing them for what they are for you have many supporters.

      November 27, 2013 at 8:13 am |
  7. Nuts

    Another Obama drone.

    November 27, 2013 at 8:00 am |
  8. just wondering

    For every answer science provides,it raises many more questions. Around every corner lies mystery. Religion is the science of understanding ourselves. This is why religion triggers such passionate comments. As long as there is life this discussion will continue.

    November 27, 2013 at 7:57 am |
    • Abused

      I believe it triggers laughter.

      November 27, 2013 at 8:05 am |
      • just wondering

        Didn't sound like laughter in your other comments....only pain. Humans abuse and that simply sucks.

        November 27, 2013 at 8:08 am |
    • One one

      Religion is not a science, it's mythology. The reason why it triggers passion is because believers try to force everyone else to submit to their beliefs and practices.

      November 27, 2013 at 8:10 am |
  9. One one

    He's putting lipstick on a pig.

    November 27, 2013 at 7:55 am |
  10. reggie53

    I am sure Catholics are upset now with their choice of Pope. He is too liberal for me and I am not Catholic. What the heck is happening to this world when we even have this man who calls himself "Pope" is trying to change the catholic religion to suit the liberal agenda. The whole world is suffering especially in our country because of the liberal agenda and we are seeing more and more disasters occurring because we are heading down the wrong path of life.

    November 27, 2013 at 7:53 am |
    • Gorsh

      I am sure you don't really know much of anything of which you speak.

      I can tell you, as a Catholic this Pope is what American (and most worldwide) Catholics have been hoping for for a long time.

      November 27, 2013 at 8:07 am |
    • Bobpitt

      Where did you buy your blinders?

      November 27, 2013 at 8:08 am |
    • maily8576

      If by 'too liberal' you mean more in tune with your fellow human being's need and wanting to follow the word of God by loving your neighbor like thyself, then yes, he's guilty of some of that. But perhaps you (and people like you) are the problem when you equate compassion with socialism, liberalism and other words your kind fancies. May God (the actual one, not the one your people created) watch over you and yours during this holiday... (hopefully, THAT doesn't make me too liberal to you, kind sir).

      November 27, 2013 at 8:13 am |
    • Susan StoHelit

      So, I'll guess you haven't been listening to what he says.

      He's not liberal – not a policy has changed. He just says that they shouldn't be trying to force religion and batting people on abortion and such, while ignoring the main content of Jesus's message. He still says abortion is wrong – but like any sin, that's between you and your god.

      November 27, 2013 at 4:31 pm |
  11. American

    I am not religious, but I do enjoy Catholic services. Very solemn, very serious. Not crazy like Pentecostal or salesman-ish like Evangelicals or Baptists. Their priests aren't allowed to marry or monetize, so there is definitely a sense of sincerity in the mass that is stronger than others. On the other hand, those restrictions apparently attracted some bad people to the church, which it tried to cover up. If those priests believe in hell, they are definitely going there.

    Either way, I prefer a reformed Catholic Church, the only true Christian Church, to any of these fly-by-night Southern-friend Billy Graham self-promotin', tongue-speakin', money-rakin', wife-cheatin', hypocrites.

    November 27, 2013 at 7:52 am |
    • Abused

      very subtle as they slowly brainwash children with rituals, fears of a painful burning hell and then create a joyous ceremony to place the final blow on the child. All these things are common in brainwashing. This religion should be held accountable for its con.

      November 27, 2013 at 8:07 am |
  12. Eleanor Fitzgerald

    The bold new vision seems to be in line with emphasis on the message of Jesus toward leading a less selfish and more virtuous life as opposed to the ego-centricity of modern times. Women, however, will continue to be second class citizens in the church with only a few crumbs thrown their way, it appears. So, I am not totally jumping up and down with wonder and enthusiasm.

    November 27, 2013 at 7:47 am |
    • K

      I know that's a popular conception (that women are not valued in the Church). But many protestants complain that Catholics "worship" Mary (we don't, by the way) and then, in the same breath, complain that we don't value women. So which is it? Moreover, look at the most influential Catholics of the last century: Mother Teresa, Dorothy Day, Therese of Lisieux, etc. All women. And I look at our parish education program (CCD) ... almost completely run by women. They're the glue that holds the Church together and anybody working with the Church knows that.

      November 27, 2013 at 7:56 am |
    • Jon

      The reason for the inequality of women is a holdover from Jewish law in the Old Testament. Particularly, in Leviticus 27:3-7.

      November 27, 2013 at 7:58 am |
  13. publicdole

    Next step, give me all your money, NOW.

    November 27, 2013 at 7:46 am |
  14. racnem

    It's interesting that the church refers to itself as "her". It is the great harlot in the book of Revelation and doesn't even know it. Destined for destruction.

    November 27, 2013 at 7:41 am |
    • Mike

      You should read the Old Testament. It reveals who the harlot in Revelation is, and it's not who you think. Of the 404 verses in Revelation, there are nearly 300 references to passages in the Old Testament. If you don't know how to read the text for all it's worth, you'll make errors in "guessing" what means what.

      November 27, 2013 at 8:02 am |
  15. Pat

    The pope will do whatever is necessary to keep this age old fraud profitable.

    November 27, 2013 at 7:41 am |
  16. Pa10sion

    Hmmm. I may actually find myself going back to church.

    November 27, 2013 at 7:36 am |
    • RayJacksonMs

      Don't do it! It's a trap!

      November 27, 2013 at 7:42 am |
    • Abused

      OK priest

      November 27, 2013 at 8:08 am |
  17. rplat

    Well, well, well . . . even the Pope is caving to this sick, hedonistic society.

    November 27, 2013 at 7:31 am |
  18. Levi

    So when's the Buddy Christ going up?

    November 27, 2013 at 7:29 am |
  19. jim g

    I grew up in the catholic church. 13 years in catholic schools. i was an altar boy and a choir boy. i saw first hand the immorality, hypocrisy, and criminality of the the church. The chuch is as immoral and phony has been for centuries. the new look of the church, this pope, is just PR/window dressing.

    November 27, 2013 at 7:17 am |
    • Reality # 2

      Ditto the first part but I all saw in retrospect were priests, nuns and brothers who were victims of the one of the great cons ever pulled on humankind. They were mostly Franciscans and lived their lives according to the teachings of Saint Francis to include a vow of poverty. Said Francis was a good man, but also a victim of the resurrection, heaven and atonement con.

      November 27, 2013 at 7:27 am |
    • RecovCatholic899

      I completely agree. The things I saw as a child growing up within the church and as a parochial school student were contrary to any loving, positive message. Until the church recognizes women as priests and true leaders, it will continue to lose relevance in today's society. It astounds me that any woman can dedicate herself to a faith that sees her in a lesser role.

      November 27, 2013 at 7:49 am |
  20. Maranatha

    I'm reading some of the comments about how great this Pope is and how his method of change can bring the Catholic church back to connect with people and it makes me sick.
    Listen, the Catholic church does not need to connect with people. It needs to connect with our King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Through Him, and Him alone, we will get to see the light. John 14:6 "
    Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."
    Wake up people, the Lord is coming!

    November 27, 2013 at 7:14 am |
    • jim g

      religious garbage.

      November 27, 2013 at 7:18 am |
    • truthprevails1

      I love when christians use the bible to prove their god, it just shows the poor thinking ability of these people. If you are incapable of living a good moral life without god then you're not moral to begin with.

      November 27, 2013 at 7:26 am |
      • Ray

        That is actually what the bible says about humans.

        November 27, 2013 at 7:36 am |
        • truthprevails1

          Your point is what? The bible can be debunked so easily, why would anyone with a functioning brain accept it as anything more than stories told by primitive men who had very little knowledge of the world in which they lived?

          November 27, 2013 at 7:40 am |
      • racnem

        Makes no sense. Without guidance from the scriptures mankind is not capable of even knowing right from wrong. The standard for all morality stems from the Bible. The Bible has been misused and abused by most religions and most people that reject the Bible have never read it. Without it, we have the declining society of today's world and only getting worse. Satan's plan is working, but not for much longer. God's kingdom will come.

        November 27, 2013 at 7:49 am |
        • Indubitibly

          Ummm... except that there were societies with morality before the time of the Bible? Even if you accept the ridiculous ~6k year age of the earth postulation there were moral societies and people that existed at the "time" the books were being "written"? Are you saying that there was no person outside the very narrow parameters of the characters in the old testament who were moral?

          November 27, 2013 at 7:59 am |
        • One one

          100 % mythology.

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

          the bible is garbage, for those who have never grown up and need adult fairy tales in their lives.

          November 27, 2013 at 8:06 am |
        • truthprevails1

          So you're saying that before man invented your god, man didn't know right from wrong?
          Actually most people who reject the bible have read it. It is stated that the greatest path to disbelief is to read the bible.

          November 27, 2013 at 8:29 am |
    • Schlo

      Last time I checked, the Jesus I believe in loved connecting with people, especially the poor, the sick, and the sinners...

      November 27, 2013 at 7:31 am |
      • jim g

        more religious garbage.

        November 27, 2013 at 7:36 am |
      • racnem

        But he never abused them and swindled from them.

        November 27, 2013 at 7:51 am |
    • Jay Olson

      Well if this pope is for real i can guess he will have a heart attack or stroke in the next year or two because the catholic church will not stand for this for very long. Some health problem will shorten his term and another hard liner will be in place by the year 2015.

      November 27, 2013 at 7:32 am |
    • Reality # 2

      John 14: 6 fails rigorous historic testing i.e. it was not said by the historic Jesus. See, for example, Professor Gerd Ludemann conclusions in his book, Jesus After 2000 Years, pp. 535-540.

      Actually, all of John's Gospel is of questionable historic value.

      To wit:

      From Professor Bruce Chilton in his book, Rabbi Jesus,

      "Conventionally, scholarship has accorded priority to the first three gospels in historical work on Jesus, putting progressively less credence in works of late date. John's Gospel for example is routinely dismissed as a source......

      From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gospel_of_John#Authorship

      "Since "the higher criticism" of the 19th century, some historians have largely rejected the gospel of John as a reliable source of information about the historical Jesus.[3][4] "[M]ost commentators regard the work as anonymous,"[5] and date it to 90-100."

      "The authorship has been disputed since at least the second century, with mainstream Christianity believing that the author is John the Apostle, son of Zebedee. Modern experts usually consider the author to be an unknown non-eyewitness, though many apologetic Christian scholars still hold to the conservative Johannine view that ascribes authorship to John the Apostle."

      And from Professor Gerd Ludemann, in his book, Jesus After 2000 Years, p. 416,

      "Anyone looking for the historical Jesus will not find him in the Gospel of John. "

      See also http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/john.html

      November 27, 2013 at 7:39 am |
      • racnem

        Wow. What a bunch of nonsense.

        November 27, 2013 at 7:53 am |
        • Reality # 2

          Obviously, you did not read any of the cited references.

          November 27, 2013 at 11:27 am |
    • Mr.dayahan

      The point of the Pope's message is that there is MORE TO LIFE than preaching. Obsessing about your connection to your God and telling everyone to follow your norms while justifying that you are more connected to God is different compared to reaching out to people and doing God's work to people that needs it the most, I hope this is clear Meg.

      November 27, 2013 at 8:23 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.