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. devent

    the expected change is toward a unified global faith."GOD is not FAITH selective but PERFORMANCE appreciatve."All of the present religions is His.the common purpose is service to humanity because 'Service to humanity is Service to God".the advent of advance science and technology will enhance communication amongst us,and if almost all the netizens of our planet will be communicating with each other this reality will be at hand,it will be the greatest event in all of history


    December 13, 2013 at 9:56 am |
  2. truthteller

    Are we not in a changing world? If we refuse to not change with it, shall we not be left behind? Christ loves us all, and he loves when we spred his word. So what is the issue with change if it is to promote god and his wish?

    December 12, 2013 at 9:22 pm |
  3. John

    Hell is necessary to remind people of how wrong they were.
    It's not enough just to annihilate them, because then they will never know.

    December 10, 2013 at 1:10 pm |
    • igaftr

      Hell is necessary to threaten people into following the rules your book of propoganda dictates. Children don't behave unless they are threatened.
      Your god is like a schoolyard bully.

      December 12, 2013 at 10:39 am |
  4. Aardman

    Supposedly devout Roman Catholics Paul Ryan and Rick Santorum, fall in line gentlemen!

    December 9, 2013 at 10:42 pm |
  5. Humility

    May the Grace and Peace of our LORD the Saving Grace of God be with you all. There is no representation of our LORD on earth. The HOLY SPIRIT of God is in all who accepts the Saving GRACE of GOD to man, that is our LORD Jesus Christ death on the cross for all our sins. All men who accepts the TRUTH will receive the seal of God the Father, the HOLY SPIRIT, he will be the temple of God, the REAL BODY of CHRIST, proclaiming the TRUTH and not teaching the people to eat the food sacrificed to idols, . The Catholic Church and all churches who deviates from the doctrines of GOD, practice man's doctrines, such as idolatry and are stumbling blocks to the TRUTH are false prophets. We should pray to GOD the Father, God the Son and to the HOLY SPIRIT only. Even St. John was not allowed to kneel to the angel, but only to GOD. Read the WORDS of GOD everyday, HIS WORD is the TRUE BREAD of LIFE.
    Christianity is following the teachings of our LORD, and all His teachings is about the Truth about His Father in Heaven and how he has been sent to proclaim this TRUTH, that all who believes in this plan of God for our salvation will be saved by the GRACE of God and not by man's deed. If you believe and read our LORD's Words, spoken in the Gospels, the Scriptures, the Letters of the Apostles, you will see the TRUTH. None of those doctrines teaches man to practice idolatry, none of those teachings says, man should pray to man, no indulgence, only HOPE, FAITH and LOVE as taught by our LORD. The other churches are making profit from the ministry of our LORD at the expense of their brothers and sisters, this is what is meant in Scriptures and the Gospels " When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots" (Matthew 27:35, Mark 15:24, Luke 23:34, John 19:24, Psalm 22:18). If you are a true Christian then proclaim the Good News of our LORD, do not be muted by the false church. When Peter asked our LORD to make tabernacles for Moses, Elijah and our LORD, this was not understanding the meaning of our LORD's ministry. The teachings of some church about Pope as the directly lined up with Peter, is false. There are 12 apostles and non of them are higher than the other. St. Paul was appointed by our LORD to proclaim the Good News to the Pagans. The miracle of the 5 loaves of bread and the two fishes are symbolic of all Christians to proclaim the Scripture and the Gospels (5 Loaves of bread), the Human and Divine Lord Jesus (the two fishes), the bread and fishes were handed by 12 Apostles to the 5000 men, not to mention the women and children, this is what is commanded by our LORD that we break His Bread for all so that those who are called may believe.

    Your Brother in Faith with the Saving Grace of God, the beloved son, our LORD Jesus Christ and HIS Holy Spirit.

    December 8, 2013 at 7:29 pm |
    • deventt

      yes the traditional cocept God is he is like a kimg ,because during those times in the biblical past there was no science like what we have now.so its very understandable

      December 12, 2013 at 10:21 am |
  6. devent

    history of religion started thousands of years ago in animism,hundreds of gods,spirits are worshiped those times in rivers,trees,mountains etc.hundreds of them.Then came the Greeks and Romans and the Gods was reduced to twelve,Polytheism,then when the Jews came it was reduced to one Monotheism,then Christianity,and Islam dominated it.Buddhism,hinduism and the news religions ,Scientology and a variety of monistic faith surfaced.I believe the culminatiom of this evolution is PANTHROTHEISM.It is the belief that God give to humanity the power and responsibilty to chart our own detiny

    December 7, 2013 at 11:53 am |
  7. truthprevails1

    He spoke and here we are. Glory.

    December 5, 2013 at 9:00 am |
  8. truthprevails1

    He created time. In him we live and move and have our being. Worm holes were known to him before he started the clock.

    December 5, 2013 at 8:59 am |
  9. evabbb

    give me a

    December 4, 2013 at 7:36 pm |
  10. Ralph

    From what is written about what Christ taught and his challenges to the religions of that time, I could believe, if He were here, He would endorse what this Pope is trying to accomplish.

    December 4, 2013 at 2:31 pm |
  11. Anna


    December 4, 2013 at 11:23 am |
  12. sam stone

    This dude might be a christian!

    December 4, 2013 at 11:17 am |
  13. sam stone

    This dude might be a christian

    December 4, 2013 at 11:11 am |
    • Christine Preston

      Sam Stone of Damariscotta, ME?

      December 12, 2013 at 7:42 pm |
  14. Jesse Christ

    A lot of this message goes out to Protestant faiths as well. Wrapped up in self-righteousness, scorn, greed, hatred and vengeance, so called Holy men write laws profiting themselves and hurting the most vulnerable among us to do so.. Where does the founder of this religion fit in here? No where. And what is the initial reaction? Not, oh let us help the sick and poor. It's You're not getting MY money, you Marxist!

    December 4, 2013 at 1:20 am |
  15. simplyput

    The Catholic church has interfered with women leading in the Church since it's inception. Until Catholicism, women were teaching and leading in church. What a hypocrite....picking and choosing interpretation for the masses, when we have the original greek to learn from. Move on to China, if you believe so strongly in your evangelism, Papa. The type of government you seek will not allow the Bible. My high priest is Jesus Christ.

    December 4, 2013 at 1:01 am |
    • Logical default

      Very true. How long do you suppose it will be before we see a female pope? Probably never.

      December 4, 2013 at 3:49 pm |
    • Jeremy

      Please clarify "Until Catholicism, women were teaching and leading in church." What Church are you referring to? The Catholic Church and the Early church founded by Christ and carried on by the Apostles are one and the same.

      December 4, 2013 at 5:32 pm |
      • simplyput

        Jeremy, had to check some dates. Around 300 AD the Emperor Constantine allowed the Catholic Doctrine to co-opt the church as it had existed before. Ask yourself why God chose a woman to go and tell the disciples that HE was risen. Women occupied a place of teaching until the paternal doctrine of Catholicism. I don't dispute that Peter was the stone he built his church on, but the cornerstone was Christ himself, the stone the builders rejected. Catholics just came a little late to the party, and withheld scripture from the people for a long, long time. Study to show thyself approved.

        December 9, 2013 at 6:43 pm |
    • Uncle Jed

      In Church "before Catholicism?" Good sir, I do believe that you would be referring to either pagan or Jewish rituals, and neither of them consider their gatherings to be "Church."

      December 13, 2013 at 7:04 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.