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. Baby Joe

    Yeah, Pope's right, you people need to get out there and start evangelizing. Come on people, get to work and get out there! Me, I'm going to check out what's on tv.

    November 27, 2013 at 9:02 am |
  2. Pixie

    His statements are a step in the right direction, but the refusal to even re-visit the idea of ordination of women is disgusting. Sure, let's keep denying power to half the population. Awesome idea. The church has usually been about 1000 years behind the curve and this is no exception.

    November 27, 2013 at 9:00 am |
    • ltcolbob

      Give it a rest already.

      November 27, 2013 at 9:12 am |
    • lol??

      Older women are supposed to teach the younger to love their children and hubbies. Americult needs that badly.

      November 27, 2013 at 9:28 am |
      • mk

        What does this have to do with women becoming priests? Would they not be able to "love their kids and husbands" if they have another job? Or are you still of the mindset that women should just be sandwich-makers and nothing else?

        November 27, 2013 at 9:39 am |
        • lol??

          You are gonna have to educate yersef. I can't answer every silly question.

          1Cr 14:35
          And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.

          November 27, 2013 at 10:14 am |
        • mk

          Okay, so you are a misogynistic caveman. Got it!

          November 27, 2013 at 10:34 am |
        • lol??

          mk, your women pals kill BOTH male and female children. What are ya, a mental gymnast??

          November 27, 2013 at 10:44 am |
    • igaftr

      Ypur bible is quite clear. Corinthians 14:34
      women are not allowed to speak in church. What good is a preist that cannot speak in church?

      November 27, 2013 at 10:11 am |
  3. Mp jojo





    he's never wrong.

    November 27, 2013 at 8:53 am |
  4. Factoidlover

    No more business as usual? The new declaration is to continue to proselytize – something this faith has done since its inception. Is the message a "revival of faith" message or a message of "let's talk about god more so we won't have to talk about our responsibility to our fellow human beings."

    November 27, 2013 at 8:50 am |
    • lol??

      C'mon now there is only ONE faith, just because this is a gubmint faith doesn't mean you have to get huffy.

      November 27, 2013 at 8:59 am |
      • truthprevails1

        Time to go and visit your nurse for your meds.

        November 27, 2013 at 9:01 am |
        • lol??

          Have you read the latest reports on the Sandy Hook shooter?? Better quit obsessing on big pharma's solutions and build some hospitals.

          November 27, 2013 at 9:22 am |
        • truthprevails1

          What special brand of crack did you have brought in to you at the asylum and why are you off your meds again? What does Sandy Hook and some crazed mass murderer have to do with any of this?

          November 27, 2013 at 9:43 am |
  5. Karla Liebrandt

    Perhaps he may call a Vatican III council?

    November 27, 2013 at 8:46 am |
    • lol??

      Soviets to the rescue??

      November 27, 2013 at 8:54 am |
  6. Doc Vestibule

    I've always found it odd that a Church so replete with arcane rules, proscriptions and cleansing rituals has, buried deep in its offical handbook, a powerful statement about NOT prosthelytizing or forcing others to adhere to Catholic Dogma.
    "Man has the right to act according to his conscience and in freedom so as personally to make moral decisions. He must not be forced to act contrary to his conscience. Nor must he be prevented from acting according to his conscience, especially in religious matters". (catechism of cath. church)

    Kinda odd considering the RCC's history of forced conversion, inquisitions and Holy Wars – but there it is.

    November 27, 2013 at 8:43 am |
  7. Kingsley A. Onwuli

    This is quite a comment from Pope Francis. I agree in totality with his Speech and i enjoin Catholic faithfuls around the world to see reason with Holy Father's views and support him.

    November 27, 2013 at 8:40 am |
  8. lol??

    Churches are very dangerous places. Better get back to basics.

    Mat 18:20
    For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.

    November 27, 2013 at 8:38 am |
  9. weezer

    I think the Pope will be a regular on Letterman.

    November 27, 2013 at 8:33 am |
  10. just wondering

    Sounds like people need something to take their anger and frustration out on. The church and God and anyone who thinks different are the easy targets. Whatever happened introspective thought?

    November 27, 2013 at 8:31 am |
    • One one

      I'm all for religious folks keeping their beliefs to themselves. But they don't. They insist on making a public display of prayer in schools, etc, displaying the 10 commandments in the public space, making kids pledge "one nation UNDER GOD", the list goes on and on.

      November 27, 2013 at 8:42 am |
      • just wondering

        Good for you..we all need to allow others to be themselves without forcing our own belief or views on them. We also need to allow expression of ourselves. It's a fine line to walk. I just find the animosity to be a bigger problem.

        November 27, 2013 at 8:52 am |
        • One one

          I can't imagine more animosity than people preaching to non-believers (and their children) that they will burn in hell for their beliefs while worshiping the guy they believe will send them there.

          November 27, 2013 at 9:15 am |
  11. SouthernCelt

    Despite what CNN and Mr. Burke hope and dream, Pope Francis is not about to change basic Canon Law, particularly about the Eucharist. Mortal Sin is Mortal Sin, always has been, always will be, and is a contraindication of receiving the Eucharist. While emphasising Social Justice and criticising materialism, no Pope in 2000 years has asked for a change to the Eucharistic Rite. Pope Francis won't either.

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

      telling children they are born with original sin, is reducing the victim in preparation for brainwashing. Telling them about mortal sin? They will receive painful third degree burns is hell, mortal sin? Is pure child abuse.

      How disgusting.

      November 27, 2013 at 8:32 am |
    • One one

      The Eucharistic Is one of the church's most popular attractions, they won't get rid of that. Likewise, they will keep the myths of the promise of heaven and threat of hell. They still need a carrot and stick. All the stuff this new guy is talking about just looks like window dressing.

      November 27, 2013 at 8:37 am |
    • john roush

      @southerncelt: I hope he doesnt. CNN is mostly taking this the wrong way. The church's position is love the sinner, hate the sin.

      November 27, 2013 at 8:49 am |
  12. christian4God

    How about the introduction of a law (cannon) to defrock a priest who abuses / molests children and providing full access to the law of the land to run its course in such cases ???

    November 27, 2013 at 8:28 am |
    • Abused

      worse than the abuses were the cover ups, as directed by the vatican from the popes down. Cardinls and bishops were responsible for the success of the cover ups.

      The cover ups denied children and they were to use threats when needed. The child recieved no help and was forced to cope alone. Coping alone is the #1 cause to mental illness and ultimate suicide. This church could care less.

      The cover ups enabled the pedos to damage many more children. Again, the church, this pope when cardinal, didn't care.

      November 27, 2013 at 8:35 am |
      • christian4God

        I whole heartedly and completely agree with you. The Catholic Church, instead of trying to help the victims has turned around and blamed everyone such as the media , the attorneys bringing the lawsuits and even the victims. Oh so sad these older men (priests) are being wrongfully accused.

        That said, you are correct – I should have started my post with the words "For starters.. " and then made the rest of my comment

        November 27, 2013 at 12:43 pm |
  13. One one

    Damage control ! Stop the bleeding ! We must re-cast our brand !

    November 27, 2013 at 8:27 am |
    • Science Works

      According to the information provided so far this has been going on for decades, the brand is ___________ maybe ?

      St. Paul News Conference Tuesday

      First Child Victims Act Lawsuit to Name Treatment Facility Run by Bishops
      Where Known Offenders were Recycled into Ministry

      Father Francis Hoefgen admitted abuse to police, sent to St. Luke’s
      and placed back in Hastings parish where he molested Doe 27

      November 27, 2013 at 8:34 am |
  14. Jerry

    If the Pope wants to help the people do a survey on how many Catholics have read the Bible front to back and how many times. I have asked this question so many times here in Philippines and have not found one who has read all. Very scary

    November 27, 2013 at 8:26 am |
    • Karenmcd

      Jerry, Any Catholic who regularly attends Mass knows that the entire Bible, cover to cover, is read during Mass over a three year period. The Mass includes 3 Biblical readings and 1 Psalm every week.

      November 27, 2013 at 9:07 am |
      • jim g

        religious garbage.

        November 27, 2013 at 9:23 am |
    • igaftr

      What is scarier is people who read the bible and beleive it. That is truly scary.

      November 27, 2013 at 9:24 am |
  15. dnwayl

    Time to let the priests marry. Orthodox priests have been allowed to marry since the beginning. The founder of the Catholic church, St Peter, had a wife. Family is a basic element of a community, and a priest who has a family can better strengthen his community through his own experience. We all know what it may also help stop....

    November 27, 2013 at 8:25 am |

    More people need to earn their living by the sweat of their brow and not by gifts from those who choose to give.

    November 27, 2013 at 8:22 am |

    Sounds like he would be a good running mate for Obama and his ultra liberal. Seems that all liberals who depend on a rich mans money need to bad mouth them.

    November 27, 2013 at 8:19 am |
    • One one

      Biting the hand that feeds them.

      November 27, 2013 at 8:24 am |
  18. The real deal

    " ...saying it needs to rethink old rules and customs that are no longer widely understood or effective... " Translation. We're losing followers due to our archaic beliefs which means we're losing money, power, and control over the flock.

    November 27, 2013 at 8:19 am |
  19. keven

    I hope he got her eminence Sarah Palin's approval before he makes any changes.

    She is self appointed keeper of the faith in the US

    November 27, 2013 at 8:19 am |
  20. lol??

    How come I can't find he RCC in the Bible??

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

      they took the passage of 'upon this rock I will build my church' as a new venture formation. In reality, that statement meant to walk the earth and preach, not build a trillion dollar empire.

      November 27, 2013 at 8:21 am |
      • lol??

        Upon his confession?? If Peter, the circu*mcision apostle was the first pope, the roman church would have been 95% jewish, err not-a-jews.

        November 27, 2013 at 8:26 am |
    • Thomas Masty

      That is because the RCC was the only viable church at the time and everyone knew it

      November 27, 2013 at 8:26 am |
      • lol??

        Somebody didn't check with God.

        November 27, 2013 at 8:28 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.