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. Laura Wall Klieves

    About time. I'm an ex-Catholic who left because the Church has long dismissed women's rights – including how best to plan a family. I'm pro birth control, pro choice and have felt marginalized by the Catholic church since I was 15. I'm 50, and now Episcopalian. And my new church embraces everyone – gay, straight, purple, short, male, female, unsure. The moment he was selected, I fell in love with Pope Francis – and I've never said that about any Pope, including Pope John Paul II. Rock on Pope Francis. Walk with Jesus.

    November 26, 2013 at 12:08 pm |
    • Apple Bush

      The pope is worthless regardless of who is playing the part.

      November 26, 2013 at 12:13 pm |
    • Apple Bush

      The pope is worthless regardless of who is playing the part

      November 26, 2013 at 12:14 pm |
      • Tyler_Tom

        was that an echo?

        November 26, 2013 at 12:25 pm |
    • FindTheTruth

      Dear Laura – I am really sorry that you chose to follow the world instead of God's teachings. I will pray that you discover the truth and return home. Please note that the Catholic church is not against gays but against the gay lifestyle. There is a difference. We cannot forget that one day God will judge us according to His Law not our point of view. ;o)

      November 26, 2013 at 12:32 pm |
  2. lisa

    So the church is going to give back the billions and billions of dollars they have 'obtained' thru the centuries from the poor and weak willed?
    Are they going to finally pay their share of taxes?
    Open up the Vatican city and let the people see and read all their 'secret' knowledge and truths?

    November 26, 2013 at 12:07 pm |
  3. John

    He's the leader the church was waiting for and he is Christ speaking in the modern language..

    November 26, 2013 at 12:07 pm |
    • sonny chapman


      November 26, 2013 at 12:19 pm |
    • Truth Keeper

      Stop blaspheming, Popes are NOT Christ,...Pontifex Maximus was made by Constantine not Biblical so wasn't Peter the Apostle a "pope"...never was in Rome either.God sent His Spirit Not some popes.

      November 26, 2013 at 5:54 pm |
  4. doobzz

    All he has done so far is talk and kiss a deformed man for the cameras, and people go nuts. Look at what he is actually saying. He hasn't welcomed LGBT's into the church, he's just shrugged his shoulders and said "Eh, who am I to say?" which is a cop out. He hasn't addressed the pedophile scandal. He hasn't addressed the Vatican Bank scandal. All he's done is tickle the ears of people with hints and intimations of change without really producing any.

    This is just a recruitment drive. The RCC is losing members so it's time to "reach out to the poor and disenfranchised". In other words, the only people who are still desperate enough or uneducated enough to believe in this crap.

    November 26, 2013 at 12:06 pm |
    • Science Works

      How can honest people follow this stuff ?

      Follow-up on Bishop Exorcist. and the Pope says NOTHING.

      Bishop Paprocki stages exorcism as gay marriage becomes law: ‘Be gone Satan’

      BY DAVE MCKINNEY Springfield Bureau Chief November 20, 2013 7:22PM


      November 26, 2013 at 12:12 pm |
    • Bobby C

      He hasn't addressed the Vatican Bank scandal? Do you mean, aside from signing and implementing the anti-money laundering treaties and bringing in external consultants to reform the way the Bank does its business? He has addressed the Vatican Bank so thoroughly that senior Italian mafia are apparently musing openly about "doing something about him" because his reforms are hurting their illegal business. You've got that point wrong, I'm afraid.

      November 26, 2013 at 12:31 pm |
      • doobzz

        And you have special insight into what the Italian mafia thinks and does? "musing openly"?? Ridiculous.

        External consultants? LOL! He's only trying to figure out how to deal with international banking laws while still maintaining the Vatican's ability to do what it pleases.

        He's paid lip service to the money laundering issue and has done nothing about the pedophiles living under his roof.

        November 26, 2013 at 12:39 pm |
  5. centeredpiece

    hisgoodteenr – I don't think it's about "updating" anything. It's about cleaning up all the accretions of the 2000 year church history. As the Pope said, some things might have worked in the past but no longer do. That's not "updating" in the sense that you take a poll and change the church (much less the scripture) to fit with the times! If we did that God would be money/stuff and we'd worship at the mall. No, keep the Gospels and the true Traditions of the church (that date from the beginning) and clean off the cobwebs of the centuries.

    November 26, 2013 at 12:06 pm |
  6. jaw

    I am Jewish, my wife Catholic – we are both, I'd say very reformist – in that we believe what's in our own hearts – we are both pro-choice, both left of center politically.

    I personally am not religious – but this Pope – I hope he succeeds – he is a very needed breath of fresh air, not only to the World's Catholics – but to people of all religions no matter how strongly they practice.

    November 26, 2013 at 12:04 pm |
    • FindTheTruth

      Please don't get me wrong but you cannot be a vegetarian and eat meat. 🙂 Someone cannot be a Catholic and be pro-choice and pro other wicked forms of "freedom and rights" which are not only against God's teaching but are also against laws of nature. This is not to offend you or your wife but something to think about. Seek the truth and you shall find it! God bless.

      November 26, 2013 at 12:16 pm |
      • you have

        no "truth".. all you have is your opinion. prove me otherwise..

        November 26, 2013 at 12:17 pm |
      • jaw

        You seem to exemplify all that is wrong with the Church – to blindly obey. I can and my wife can be whatever we want to be in terms of belief (or the absence of it), you can disagree all you wish – that is a right to which you are exercising, but you don't have the same right to tell me what I or my wife is/are – an put a cute happy face smiley in there to make it appear humble.

        November 26, 2013 at 12:58 pm |
      • Susan StoHelit

        Once upon a time, people like you said you cannot be Catholic, and believe the earth goes around the sun.

        But – if you know the ACTUAL Catholic beliefs, you'd know that Catholics are able to differ from the church, if they study and pray and still believe what they believe.

        November 26, 2013 at 5:24 pm |
  7. FindTheTruth

    Remember that the Church was established by Jesus Himself. All bad things about the Church are coming from fallen human nature and from the devil trying to destroy it but he will never succeed as promised by Jesus.

    Whether we like it or not, God does exist and we all will meet Him one day to account for our lives. We can deceive ourselves, live like there is no God and deny the truth but the truth will prevail. It always does.

    I will pray for all of you who are lost in the wilderness of today's wicked material world which will pass sooner or later. Remember – God loves YOU and is waiting for YOU with open arms.

    November 26, 2013 at 12:04 pm |
    • JWT

      Such is your opinion at any rate.

      November 26, 2013 at 12:06 pm |
    • you forgot to talk

      about "fornicators" like you usually do; lol.

      November 26, 2013 at 12:08 pm |
    • TheThinker


      November 26, 2013 at 12:16 pm |
    • Stevep44

      "The "God" concept is nothing more than an ever-decreasing pocket of scientific ignorance." – Neil deGrasse Tyson

      November 26, 2013 at 4:40 pm |
  8. sadlyperturbed

    He said they need to "get out the Gospel". In other words, Get Us the Money.

    November 26, 2013 at 12:03 pm |
    • centeredpiece

      Whyever would you say that about this Pope? Did you read the article? Did you read what the Pope wrote? It seems you did not or you could never say what you said. The Pope is saying quite the opposite about money.

      November 26, 2013 at 12:08 pm |
    • steve

      Then to decentralize which is what he is saying here would make no sense.

      November 26, 2013 at 12:11 pm |
    • TheThinker

      Let me guess. You were raised poorly and you think you're funny.

      Asserting that Pope Francis is about money reveals that you have absolutely no idea what you are talking about. I invite you to educate yourself about Pope Francis.

      November 26, 2013 at 12:18 pm |
    • Ed - Spring, TX

      Amen brother. Amen. Now pass the collection plate and be sure to give BIG. Make it hurt!

      November 26, 2013 at 12:19 pm |
  9. Look at the picture

    I get the feeling this pope has genuine intentions.

    The larger question is, for the church, will it still just be incense and mirrors.

    November 26, 2013 at 12:02 pm |
  10. UpsetVoter

    This is a breath of fresh air. The Catholic Church needs this change in direction back to the roots of Christianity. Christ preached about love, forgiveness, commitment, and caring for the sick and less fortunate. This does not say that the church is going to say that things were wrong are no longer wrong though some things may be clarified and slightly modified. This is says that the Catholic Church should be understanding and welcoming like the example that Jesus made 2000 years ago. We are supposed to encourage the good in others rather than condemn people for things that we disagree with. We are supposed to concentrate on the spirit of the religion rather than get caught up in technicalities.

    November 26, 2013 at 12:01 pm |
    • Dougals

      Indeed – this guy is just what the Catholic church needed. Having been raised Baptist, I wish the Christians on "this" side of the line represented Christ (and their religion) better. It's good to see change that matters, and this does.

      November 26, 2013 at 12:46 pm |
  11. maine liberal

    What say you Sarah Palin: (here is an 85 page message)

    She told interviewer Jake Tapper: “He's had some statements that to me sound kind of liberal, has taken me aback, has kind of surprised me. There again, unless I really dig deep into what his messaging is, and do my own homework, I’m not going to just trust what I hear in the media.”

    November 26, 2013 at 12:00 pm |
  12. Michel Amani

    Good pope

    November 26, 2013 at 11:59 am |
  13. Steve

    While not a Catholic I applaud the steps this Pope is trying to enact to change old, established ways of thinking and bring his vision to those the Gospel was created for who perhaps have been left to the wayside. For those that feel the need to condemn people on these messages for finding positive things about this Pope and their religion perhaps changing the world for better should start with you containing your own bitterness and allowing happiness to blossom instead.

    November 26, 2013 at 11:59 am |
  14. rdg18

    God said He was the same yesterday, today and forever but the church is not.

    November 26, 2013 at 11:58 am |
  15. Rosslaw

    About time they got a Jesuit at the helm.

    November 26, 2013 at 11:57 am |
  16. RC

    Great article – just a heads up that divorced Catholics CAN receive the Eucharist. The only time it's a problem is when a divorced Catholic remarries without receiving an annulment. Then, they are not in good standing and cannot receive. However, if they seek and are granted an annulment, they are again in good standing and may receive the Eucharist. It's an important distinction.

    November 26, 2013 at 11:57 am |
    • Charm Quark

      Ritual cannibalism is important in any humans real life, how exactly? That is one bit of nonsense that should be done away with.

      November 26, 2013 at 12:06 pm |
    • Ed - Spring, TX

      A distinction but total BS nonetheless.

      November 26, 2013 at 12:07 pm |
    • Rayanne


      November 26, 2013 at 12:12 pm |
  17. Angela

    I think that this is great thing that the pope is doing for the chruch! I agree with everything that he is saying!!! He seems like he is down to earth, and for the people and spreading the work of God!

    November 26, 2013 at 11:56 am |
    • Apple Bush

      How does one spread the work of God?

      November 26, 2013 at 12:11 pm |
  18. hisgoodteenr

    he needs to change the church add it is outdated. the bible also changes to keep it updated with the times. if they don't change, common sense and common knowledge will render them obsolete. so much for absolute truth.

    November 26, 2013 at 11:56 am |
  19. jimmy

    He's just a man trying to do the right thing for the first time since I have been around. I wish him luck, because he will need it with all the evil thats in this church.

    November 26, 2013 at 11:54 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.