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. rob

    Very cool Pope, SO....How about selling off ALL of the "art and treasures" you hold, to actually take care of the poor worldwide???

    November 28, 2013 at 10:26 am |
    • fwk

      The European Union has valued the art of the Church at 1 euro. It is the patrimony of the EU.

      November 28, 2013 at 3:23 pm |
  2. 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.

    Cardinal Dolan compared the children abused to prost-t-itutes

    Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, paid for a full page advertisement in the Detroit newspaper stating clergy abuse victims are liars.

    This IS who the catholics follow and they donate the money enabling further destruction to those dealt a horrible blow. Many mentally ill and others committed suicide, this is how the catholics treat those whose lives were destroyed.

    November 28, 2013 at 8:12 am |
    • Got Away

      As reprehensible as this is, the current Pope wasn't even elected yet.
      Please present any evidence at all stating his express approval.
      Lying to make a point makes your whole post suspect.
      Also, stop with your generalizing about Catholics. It isn't indicative if all Catholics, any more than it is of Christianity in general.
      You do a disservice to all when you lie using generalizations.

      November 28, 2013 at 3:10 pm |
      • get the facts

        he was a cardinal.. Cardinals and bishops were key in the cover ups, or they wouldn't have been successful.

        Abused children suffering today from the mental illness caused. He deflects and does nothing. The cover ups continue

        November 28, 2013 at 8:03 pm |
    • TNT

      I can believe it of Ratzinger. He wrote the manual in cover-up.

      The current Pope? Not so much.

      November 28, 2013 at 3:12 pm |
      • get the facts

        the cover ups continue, the pope deflects and does nothing. Also, bishops and cardinals were the ones who executed the cover ups

        November 28, 2013 at 8:04 pm |
  3. Reality # 2

    Off topic but appropriate for the occasion:

    "Ah! on Thanksgiving day, when from East and from West, From North and from South comes the pilgrim and guest; When the gray-haired New Englander sees round his board The old broken links of affection restored, When the care-wearied man seeks his mother once more, And the worn matron smiles where the girl smiled before, What moistens the lip and what brightens the eye? What calls back the past, like the rich Pumpkin pie? -"

    John Greenleaf Whittier

    November 28, 2013 at 7:18 am |
    • lol??

      Pumpkin pie?? Some prefer fruitcake or headcheese.

      Gen 28:14
      And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south: and in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed.

      November 28, 2013 at 8:40 am |
      • Science works

        lol?? and fruitcake from xmas past is out dated.

        Richard Dawkins answers the question: what makes us human? | BBC Radio 2

        by Jeremy Vine posted on November 28, 2013 03:24PM GMT


        November 28, 2013 at 3:09 pm |
  4. Mario

    Funny how the pope is facilitating to the masses, the evolution of ideology.. lol

    November 28, 2013 at 1:33 am |
    • SusanStoHelit

      Only funny if you don't know that Catholics have no problem with evolution. You're thinking fundamentalist evangelicals. Catholics – several Popes have explicitly endorsed evolution, and it is taught in Catholic schools.

      November 28, 2013 at 3:07 am |
      • get the facts

        we DO have a problem with child abuse cover ups. The cover ups denied children needed help and enabled more children to be abused.

        The catholic church is a filthpit

        November 28, 2013 at 8:40 am |
        • Susan StoHelit

          Yes – but we should have the facts – not pick every negative issue with religion and attribute them all out of ignorance. As much as they've done many awful things, the church is not anti-evolution.

          And I've been all over the forums calling the church out about their coverup and outright enabling of child abuse, for a solid decade. Electing Benedict was an outright support of the coverup by the whole church. But Francis IS making real changes, and I have seen some real change in the news, in this area.

          November 28, 2013 at 9:43 pm |
  5. anthrogirl

    When I received 1st communion, we (the girls) were told by the nuns that we needed to wear white dresses and veils because we were marrying God. We really did look like little brides. When my daughter received first communion, she wore an straight ivory dress. No frills. Very sleek and stylish. Another little girl wore a beautiful pink dress made for her by her mom. Most girls did not have veils. Guess they changed their position on the marrying thing.

    November 27, 2013 at 10:16 pm |
    • sam stone

      When I became a god-hating Nazi, I had to kiss dodo's rear.

      November 27, 2013 at 10:18 pm |
    • anthrogirl

      This was a response to another commenter. PEBKAC for you computer geeks out there.

      November 27, 2013 at 10:20 pm |
    • doobzz

      Yeah, I went through the "bride of Christ" crap when I was seven years old too. It's creepy, having all those little girls dressed like tiny brides, telling them that they are marrying a grown man.

      November 28, 2013 at 1:44 pm |
      • Over It


        I don't recall that "bride of Christ" bit being emphasized too much when I did First Communion (maybe I've repressed it!), but I do remember when I was around 12 years old my sister entered the convent and the novices all dressed up in wedding gowns and veils to marry Christ & the Church (some even wore wedding rings), and I thought that was pretty depressing, even though I was a devout believer at the time.

        p.s. My sister did not stay in the convent, and neither did my brother who entered the seminary.

        November 28, 2013 at 5:26 pm |
        • doobzz

          My brother and my father both went into the seminary (my brother was only 13 at the time!). My mom was devastated when my brother decided after eight years that it wasn't the life for him. I don't think she ever really forgave him, even though he went on to a very successful military career, married a wonderful woman and has two great kids.

          I hadn't heard about novices wearing wedding dresses. Amazing that even children recognize deep down how creepy the RCC is, we were just too young to have any choice about it.

          November 29, 2013 at 12:03 pm |
  6. sam stone

    Observer debates herself with different names. Repeating the same failed arguments.

    November 27, 2013 at 10:12 pm |
    • Observer

      faith / hharri / fake sam stone PROVES again that there are CHRISTIANS with NO HONESTY, MORALS or INTEGRITY.

      Well done.

      November 27, 2013 at 10:28 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.