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. Byrd

    A couple of questions for you, Francis, concerning the Menorah:

    Question 1: Men or Ra?- Which choice do you think they made, Francis?

    Question 2: How does someone make one day of fuel last for eight?
    Answer: It's easy if you know how to fold space and time, around singular objects, and other things...

    December 2, 2013 at 11:35 am |
  2. Erasmus

    Here's irony:
    Acts 3:6 "Then Peter said, Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk."

    Seems we have come a long was from having "NONE". First order of reform for the Vatiican: let go of the silver and gold, think of how that would help the economy

    December 2, 2013 at 10:49 am |
  3. NehemYah Fuentes.

    unfortunately there's so many things we say and never do, and in this case those who don't read the Word of our Creator may say "Hoooo this is good Whoaaa Yhea! they even will consider to became Catholics," but Prophesy says different !!! I say BEWARE B VERY AWARE THERE'S MAN IN SHEEP DISGUISE AS A WOLFFFFFFFFF. Dont believe me check HIstory, look for who really is the king of the DARK AGES. OK? HAVE A NICE END OF THE WORLD LIFE. DARK AGES dark ages, Amen.

    December 2, 2013 at 8:43 am |
    • brainwashed christians

      "Prophesy says" you're a total and complete nut job!

      December 2, 2013 at 11:56 am |
  4. Maximus Anglicanus: The Old High Churchman

    If they were Protestant you could say that they are catering to degeneracy–the delinquency of postmodern society (a vast majority), but since they are Catholic you can say that they are just being themselves. The fact is, is that Catholics do not have a faith to profess. So no matter what; the nihilism shows.

    December 1, 2013 at 10:55 pm |
  5. One one

    Same old book, new cover.

    December 1, 2013 at 6:43 pm |
  6. Science Works

    The RCC's biblical stand on marriage and procreation is a destructive force for humanity.

    Catholic Church Has Been 'Outmarketed' On Gay Marriage, Says New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan


    December 1, 2013 at 1:04 pm |
  7. Dale

    I have been greatly encouraged by the things this pope has said (and done). I am especially encouraged by his critique of a financial reality that is continuously skewing toward greater and greater inequality.

    December 1, 2013 at 12:05 pm |
  8. valeria joseph

    It is really heartening to note that the present pope is wanting at last a catholic church that follows the gospel of jesus .I pray that he may have the courage to do away with the ,out dated royal structures , the throne and the scpture, the flowing garments , to the simple , humble style of Jesus . The youth of today are earnestly looking for challenges and the church can set a very good example , standing by the poor and being like them .

    December 1, 2013 at 12:02 pm |
  9. Francisco Salinas

    Good incite:
    "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."

    December 1, 2013 at 8:50 am |
  10. Quest ion


    What was the usual business?

    What is the business?

    What was usual?

    November 29, 2013 at 3:48 pm |
    • CNN Boss

      You are all fired!

      November 29, 2013 at 5:19 pm |
      • don Trumpet

        Hey watch it buddy, that's my line! You will be fired.

        November 29, 2013 at 5:33 pm |
  11. webblogusbrownhatter

    http://www.chick.com/reading/tracts/0085/0085_01.asp You cannot handle the truth ..Can You ?

    November 29, 2013 at 2:11 pm |
  12. hearties

    Jhn 21:17
    He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep.

    They had just fished all night, and finally caught 153 great fish and barely got it to shore, Jesus ate with them, and then told Peter 3 times before they walked off together, without the fish. They left the fish, to go feed the sheep, with Jesus.

    November 28, 2013 at 7:50 pm |
    • .

      Jhn 21:17a (left out of the gospel for obvious reasons)
      In the evening having sheltered the sheep, Jesus said onto Simon you know I love you but we shall get a room and consummate our brotherhood. This practice will be followed by those that spread and teach my truth, they will be called priests.

      November 29, 2013 at 7:36 am |
  13. unity100

    I dont even have a religion. But, this person is saying good things, and i support him.

    November 28, 2013 at 5:18 pm |
    • webblogusbrownhatter

      http://www.chick.com/reading/tracts/0085/0085_01.asp Want the truth read this . Unless the truth is to much for you to handle .

      November 29, 2013 at 2:10 pm |
      • .


        November 30, 2013 at 12:11 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.