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. BubblesB

    I'm not Catholic, but I LOVE this guy. He's amazing. I think he will bring more people back to the church and increase newcomer membership. He seems rooted in the current and present and not in some haughty "how it always was".
    Good for him.

    November 26, 2013 at 12:26 pm |
    • Reality

      I'm a personal friend of hitler and love this pope.

      November 26, 2013 at 12:28 pm |
    • Apple Bush

      Name ONE thing that is amazing about this pope. You can't.

      November 26, 2013 at 12:28 pm |
      • CosmicC

        When he did the traditional washing of the feet of prisoners he washed the feet of a Muslim and a woman. Given the context and how drastic a break from tradition this was, I'd say it counts as two.

        November 26, 2013 at 12:33 pm |
        • Apple Bush

          Washing feet is amazing? You are easily impressed.

          November 26, 2013 at 12:38 pm |
      • Susan StoHelit

        He's rejecting much of the traditional wealth and opulence of his role – from robes to ring to security.
        He's having people investigate Vatican Bank
        He suspends a Bishop who is spending a mountain of money on his personal residence
        A child abusing priest is reported to the Vatican, and for the first time ever, they send the report to the police.

        Nor are words empty – when it's the boss's words, Cardinals, Bishops and Priests will listen.

        November 26, 2013 at 7:02 pm |
  2. Mrs. Travis

    Is this his quest to rule the world? I am no part of the world sayeth the Lord. :

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

      You are wise in your comment, you see the true reason. The plot unfolds before us.

      November 26, 2013 at 12:41 pm |
  3. Jack

    Maybe now the Catholics at least can get back to helping people and stop wasting time political oabsessions. Leave that to the Fundamentalists. Real Christians are about helping the poor, the incarcerated, the sick of all faiths. The crazy
    Christian right want to run governments and dictate beliefs.

    November 26, 2013 at 12:24 pm |
    • Reality

      helping people? Oh, you mean with the billion dollars of grants they get to make it look as if it's their own money. Our tax dollar at waste.

      How about they get back to, or at least start, taking care of the victims of abuse. Do THAT before anything else, or it's just more escape from the crimes

      November 26, 2013 at 12:27 pm |
  4. Tony

    Powerful..."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.". This pope is "inclusive", a true Jesuit, a true Christian. It feels like he is full of forgiveness and wants the Church to realize its true purpose. I hope I am right.

    November 26, 2013 at 12:23 pm |
    • Reality

      nope,, he's a con man as the rest. All faking to care

      November 26, 2013 at 12:27 pm |
  5. James Clarkin

    Thank God, there is finally ia Jesuit in charge of this operation and one with the brains and courage to change it.

    November 26, 2013 at 12:23 pm |
    • JR4mella

      Long overdue...

      November 26, 2013 at 12:27 pm |
  6. Peggy

    The most important change to take place should be that this denomination quite hiding pedophiles by playing a shell game with where they serve. They each need to be surrendered to the law for proper punishment. Shame on ANY church that protects these perverts for ANY reason. They belong behind bars. Once you get rid of these you have a better chance of showing your pure intent to rehab the church.
    Former Catholic – Now a Bible believing, committed follower of Jesus Christ

    November 26, 2013 at 12:23 pm |
  7. Bill

    While I shun all religions, this Pope is sounding better and better to me as a person.

    November 26, 2013 at 12:23 pm |
    • Doris


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

      Amen, Brother.

      November 26, 2013 at 12:26 pm |
  8. Reality # 2

    Why Francis will fail:

    Only for the new members of this blog:

    Saving Christians from the Infamous Resurrection Con/

    From that famous passage: In 1 Corinthians 15: 14, Paul reasoned, "If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith."

    Even now Catholic/Christian professors (e.g.Notre Dame, Catholic U, Georgetown) of theology are questioning the bodily resurrection of the simple, preacher man aka Jesus.

    To wit;

    From a major Catholic university's theology professor’s grad school white-board notes:

    "Heaven is a Spirit state or spiritual reality of union with God in love, without earthly – earth bound distractions.
    Jesus and Mary's bodies are therefore not in Heaven.

    Most believe that it to mean that the personal spiritual self that survives death is in continuity with the self we were while living on earth as an embodied person.

    Again, the physical Resurrection (meaning a resuscitated corpse returning to life), Ascension (of Jesus' crucified corpse), and Assumption (Mary's corpse) into heaven did not take place.

    The Ascension symbolizes the end of Jesus' earthly ministry and the beginning of the Church.

    Only Luke records it. (Luke mentions it in his gospel and Acts, i.e. a single attestation and therefore historically untenable). The Ascension ties Jesus' mission to Pentecost and missionary activity of Jesus' followers.

    The Assumption has multiple layers of symbolism, some are related to Mary's special role as "Christ bearer" (theotokos). It does not seem fitting that Mary, the body of Jesus' Virgin-Mother (another biblically based symbol found in Luke 1) would be derived by worms upon her death. Mary's assumption also shows God's positive regard, not only for Christ's male body, but also for female bodies." "

    "In three controversial Wednesday Audiences, Pope John Paul II pointed out that the essential characteristic of heaven, hell or purgatory is that they are states of being of a spirit (angel/demon) or human soul, rather than places, as commonly perceived and represented in human language. This language of place is, according to the Pope, inadequate to describe the realities involved, since it is tied to the temporal order in which this world and we exist. In this he is applying the philosophical categories used by the Church in her theology and saying what St. Thomas Aquinas said long before him."

    The Vatican quickly embellished this story with a lot CYAP.

    With respect to rising from the dead, we also have this account:

    An added note: As per R.B. Stewart in his introduction to the recent book, The Resurrection of Jesus, Crossan and Wright in Dialogue,


    "Reimarus (1774-1778) posits that Jesus became sidetracked by embracing a political position, sought to force God's hand and that he died alone deserted by his disciples. What began as a call for repentance ended up as a misguided attempt to usher in the earthly political kingdom of God. After Jesus' failure and death, his disciples stole his body and declared his resurrection in order to maintain their financial security and ensure themselves some standing."

    p.168. by Ted Peters:

    Even so, asking historical questions is our responsibility. Did Jesus really rise from the tomb? Is it necessary to have been raised from the tomb and to appear to his disciples in order to explain the rise of early church and the transcription of the bible? Crossan answers no, Wright answers, yes. "

    So where are the bones"? As per Professor Crossan's analyses in his many books, the body of Jesus would have ended up in the mass graves of the crucified, eaten by wild dogs, covered with lime in a shallow grave, or under a pile of stones.

    November 26, 2013 at 12:22 pm |
  9. Rethink

    Filmed at the Royal Geographical Society on 22nd May 2013.

    Daniel Dennett is one of the world's most original and provocative thinkers. A philosopher and cognitive scientist, he is a professor of philosophy at Tufts University.

    On May 22nd he came to Intelligence Squared to share the insights he has acquired over his 40-year career into the nature of how we think, decide and act. Dennett revealed his favourite thinking tools, or 'intuition pumps', that he and others have developed for addressing life's most fundamental questions. As well as taking a fresh look at familiar moves - Occam's Razor, reductio ad absurdum - he discussed new cognitive solutions designed for the most treacherous subject matter: evolution, meaning, consciousness and free will.

    By acquiring these tools and learning to use them wisely, we can all aspire to better understand the world around us and our place in it.


    November 26, 2013 at 12:21 pm |
  10. Ian

    "dive in feet first"? That's called jumping not diving.

    November 26, 2013 at 12:20 pm |
  11. TexasCatholic

    It upsets me when these writers like Mr. Burke make statements that are both false and misleading. There are no rules which allow a priest to, on his own authority, excommunicate anyone by caveat. These priests who are denying the Eucharist to people because of their political positions are abusing their position as a priest and making spurious interpretations of the Catechism. For Mr. Burke to perpetuate a falsehood that such a rule exists harms not only his own integrity and standing as having any authority as a religion writer, but it does harm to God's work by keeping people away from the Church. I know you write for CNN but try and raise the journalistic integrity of the organization not lower yourself to it.

    November 26, 2013 at 12:20 pm |
    • Reality

      catholic church is a huge con,, parishioners are customers buying the vapor.

      November 26, 2013 at 12:23 pm |
    • CNN Belief Blog Co-EditorCNN

      I said the Pope hinted that he would reform rules for divorced Catholic receiving the Eucharist. I never said, nor meant to suggest, that such rules exist for politicians, or anyone else, who supports abortion rights.


      November 26, 2013 at 4:06 pm |
  12. Mark Anane

    what is hidden from the wise and the prudent, he review to the babies

    I pray for more revelation.

    November 26, 2013 at 12:20 pm |
  13. Cynthia

    I love this pope! Thanks be to god, he is going in right direction.

    November 26, 2013 at 12:18 pm |
    • doobzz

      The all talk and no actual reform direction.

      November 26, 2013 at 12:27 pm |
  14. Reality

    Business as usual, no help for the children victims. Cover up and ignore the destroyed lives

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

      Exactly. He's got a great PR department.

      He hints at change, but so far, no action.

      November 26, 2013 at 12:20 pm |
  15. davelja1

    Jesus was a radical who set out to change perceptions and end the "business as usual." I don't care what your personal beliefs are in this. The simple fact is that Pope Francis is out to end the status quo. When he says money is our idol, he is right. We are too much in love with thngs, and we forget people. Reading some of the jaded, jaundiced, and bitter comments contained herein, there are many people who believe in the divinity of Christ. To criticize anyone for their faith is asinine. Are we so high on ourselves that we have the audacity to think that we have all the answers? If you really think you have all the answers go on out there and cure cancer. End the fighting in the Middle East. After all, you have all the answers. When we all finally realize that we are all in this together and realize that it's wrong to turn out backs on others so that they fail, and maybe we don't need the iPhone 27 and that money would be better spent on feeding a family this Thanksgiving, we'll come to know that what this Pope is talking about, makes a whole lot of sense.

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


      November 26, 2013 at 12:24 pm |
    • doobzz

      When is he going to have the pedophiles that are hidden away at the Vatican arrested and tried for their crimes? Instead, he hugs a deformed man for the cameras and tells us that we are too fixated on money, while he lives in a place of obscene wealth and luxury.

      So far he's just saying pretty words and you are lapping it up.

      November 26, 2013 at 12:24 pm |
    • aubrie

      VERY well said. I commend you for saying it... It needs to be said.

      November 26, 2013 at 12:26 pm |
    • WASP

      " When we all finally realize that we are all in this together and realize that it's wrong to turn out backs on others so that they fail, and maybe we don't need the iPhone 27 and that money would be better spent on feeding a family this Thanksgiving, we'll come to know that what this Pope is talking about, makes a whole lot of sense."

      i love this section of what you wrote because the other article on this site named " prosperity preachers of l.a."
      i think they should read what you wrote along with the bible passage about "a camel can walk through the head of a needle easier than a rich man can make it into heaven"

      November 26, 2013 at 12:26 pm |
  16. Chi(Easternsailor) Tran

    The Teaching of the Vatican II has established so No Man can change! The Clown Pope Francis wanna change! But Not the Faith of the Christians as my father said, The enemy can kill us! But it Can Not Destroy Faith!

    November 26, 2013 at 12:14 pm |
  17. steve

    ok Pope, im glad you are inching in the right direction. but I'll hold out believing you are for real until you start sending your child rapist priests to jail.

    November 26, 2013 at 12:13 pm |
  18. Dean

    First substantive leadership I've seen from the Catholic Church in my lifetime.

    November 26, 2013 at 12:13 pm |
  19. Paul

    Not surprised.
    No wonder Jesuits were never elected Popes. They're college educated AND gospel educated and can practice the famous response from Jesus :"Give to God what's God's and Caesar's what's Caesar's" not an easy concept to be accepted by religious extremists.
    I foresee big changes.

    November 26, 2013 at 12:13 pm |
  20. Ed - Spring, TX

    If people weren't running away from the church by the droves there wouldn't be any ideological rethinking. This just goes to show that there isn't anything ideological about these changes. It's purely money in their pockets is all they're worried about.

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

      The Jesuits have been fighting this battle for centuries. The current awakening is making traditional, belief-centered religions less relevant. In order for religions to maintain relevance they must drive the social action that has long been the justification for the ideological slavery. Forget what Jesus said about why you should do good (eternal salvation) and pay attention to what he said about the good that you should do. In most cases I think religion does more harm than good, but I think this pope can do more good than harm. At least he's trying.

      November 26, 2013 at 12:28 pm |
      • CosmicC

        I was trying to reply to Paul, but Discus posted it here. Oh well, the reply still applies. Jesuits finally have a Pope because of external pressures to do good in the real world.

        November 26, 2013 at 12:30 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.