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. Ruth

    The catholic mafia in the courts are who pirated most men and women. Excommunicate them.

    January 8, 2014 at 7:51 pm |
  2. Ron

    I'm not Catholic but I really like this Pope! You can't go any higher in his profession but he is still a very common person and doesn't seem to view himself as elite. I wish America's political establishment would follow his example.

    January 7, 2014 at 2:57 pm |
  3. Tony

    Amen to this pope's agenda. Our church needs to work to more effectively evangelize.

    January 5, 2014 at 11:03 am |
  4. Hear The Truth


    December 31, 2013 at 10:21 pm |
    • doobzz

      More like "Spam the Lies".

      January 4, 2014 at 3:59 pm |
  5. Mary Healey

    Please support Pope Francis by daring to take a stand in your parish churches. There are so many "traditions" steeped in discrimination, ignorance of Christ's words. We need to start making our parishes resemble Christ on earth today. There is nothing sinful about taking cruises, abundant vacations, luxurious cars and homes; but THESE are NOT the things Christ put first.
    It seems so many parishes have lost their way. Apathy needs to give way to increasing awareness of what it means to be a follower of Christ. I imagine this will take brave people who are willing to suffer the gossip, rejection and other hurtful slings hurled at them for making these changes. It is so easy to let following rituals be our salvation. My prayer is for Pope Francis to be protected and sustained in his cleansing of the Temples of today.

    December 30, 2013 at 5:07 pm |
  6. jenholm25

    I'm atheist and I like this Pope. I can only hope that christians listen to him.

    December 27, 2013 at 4:27 pm |
  7. PJ

    God bless this wonderful man even if Dolan doesn't like him.

    December 24, 2013 at 12:31 pm |
  8. jim g

    Charts: Catholic Hospitals Don't Do Much for the Poor

    —By Stephanie Mencimer
    | Wed Dec. 18, 2013 12:48 PM GMT

    Catholic hospitals have been on a merger spree over the last few years, as Mother Jones reported earlier this year. Ever-expanding swaths of the country are now served only by a Catholic hospital, where patients have no choice but to receive care dictated by Catholic bishops whose religious edicts don't always align with what's best for a patient. Catholic hospitals generally follow the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care, which restrict abortion even in cases where a fetus isn't viable, for instance, a practice that has resulted in hospitals denying proper care for women suffering from miscarriages. The ACLU recently filed suit against the US Conference of Catholic Bishops on behalf of a Michigan woman who was suffering a second-trimester miscarriage and was sent home twice by a Catholic hospital, developing a serious infection because the hospital refused to even talk to her about the possibility of an abortion. Her baby died two hours after she miscarried.

    Despite this heavy mixing of theology and health care, Catholic hospitals in 2011 received $27 billion—nearly half of their revenues—from public sources, according to a new report put out today by the American Civil Liberties Union and MergerWatch, a reproductive rights advocacy group. And that figure doesn't even include other tax subsidies the hospitals receive thanks to their nonprofit status.

    The hospitals have long justified their tax status and restrictions on care by pointing to their religious mission of serving the poor and their delivery of charitable care. But the new ACLU/MergerWatch report suggests, and the chart below illustrates, Pope Francis might be on to something when he's said that the church needs to shift its priorities to focus less on abortion and more on the poor. MergerWatch data show that Catholic hospitals, where executives often earn multimillion-dollar salaries, aren't doing any better providing charity care than other religious non-profit hospitals that don't restrict care. They're barely any better than ordinary secular nonprofits.

    December 22, 2013 at 4:16 pm |
  9. Fleecing the Public

    Charts: Catholic Hospitals Don't Do Much for the Poor

    —By Stephanie Mencimer
    | Wed Dec. 18, 2013 12:48 PM GMT


    December 21, 2013 at 8:00 pm |
    • Paul

      @ Fleecing the Public: Yes, because Mother Jones says so, it must be true. Dumb comment. Perhaps they are not doing as much as you would like, but it is ridiculous to say that they don't do much for the poor. Most have indigent care missions, if not all. But all have financial realities that they must deal with. They do what they can. Are there bad apples. Sure, but absolute statements such as your are hard to take serious.

      December 21, 2013 at 10:41 pm |
      • Fleecing the Public

        The numbers back it up.

        December 21, 2013 at 11:25 pm |
        • Elena

          Then why don't people go to public hospitals... I know because I work in one and people don't want to come to public hospitals. If you are dumb enough not to know that Catholic hospitals do not do abortions, then unfortunately that is what will happen. I have worked in LD for over 30 years and unless the baby is dead, going to a Catholic hospital where they will not take a life is the wrong place for you.

          January 7, 2014 at 3:17 pm |
  10. JackBriss

    They should be telling the GAYS they got the bible wrong.

    December 20, 2013 at 2:14 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.