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. Duke

    Every step I see, I like him more and more.

    Lovely – um, yeah, um, If I get your point, you are a fire and brimstone beliver. Ok, but fewer words make the message clearer. I get you know your bible, but writing a homily doesn't make your pint more or less valid.

    November 26, 2013 at 12:49 pm |
    • Reality

      as Hustler magazine owner, I love this pope.

      November 26, 2013 at 12:53 pm |
  2. PortOurTroops

    Jesus was crucified because he spoke out against the "establishment" of his day–the Pharisees. He gave a wonderful imagery predicting it at The Last Supper. He knew very well what he was doing.

    Francis is not afraid, either.

    November 26, 2013 at 12:47 pm |
    • Reality

      hes, and he's saving jesus all the gold and the enormous empire. Jesus will have nice gold lined robes too.

      Oops, not to forget jesus will have stock in companies as Bank of America.

      November 26, 2013 at 12:50 pm |
    • D. Vader

      He is part of the rebel alliance and a traitor.

      November 26, 2013 at 12:51 pm |
  3. Jason V

    I was not baptized in the Catholic faith, raised in Boston, Ma were everyone looks down on you if you are not Catholic. I have never looked at the Catholic Church as if there main goal was to spread the word of GOD!!! I thought it was steel and corrupt. I can honestly say this new pope, makes me want to join in the Catholic faith. I believe he is actually trying to do God’s work. I think he is a true messenger of GOD, and is not concerned with his own best interest or the Catholic church’s best interest, however he acts in God’s best interest and truly trying to spread the word as it was meant to spread, TO ALL!!!!

    This POPE will be the SAVIOR of the Catholic Church!!!! You are NOT a Catholic; you are a Christian, Never Forget That!!

    November 26, 2013 at 12:46 pm |
    • Reality

      as a dear friend of Hitler, I feel the same

      November 26, 2013 at 12:47 pm |
    • Edward

      Francis is behaving nothing like a Pope. He is behaving like Christ's representative on earth. Despite hating the catholic church my entire life, I like Pope Francis very much.

      November 26, 2013 at 12:57 pm |
    • SS

      Jason, I am sorry that you had such a negative experience with Catholics in Boston. We are not all like that.

      November 26, 2013 at 1:27 pm |
  4. Bill

    Boy...WAY too many angry and hurting people posting on this site. Sure hope that they discover some peace in their lives!

    November 26, 2013 at 12:46 pm |
    • igaftr

      angry and hurting? Which ones. I see a lot of disagreement, and some rudeness, not anger or hurting.

      November 26, 2013 at 12:49 pm |
      • Just the Facts Ma'am...

        You have to remember that to some people just saying "I don't believe like you do" makes them think you are angry and hurting because they project all their invisible fears onto the unknown, and there is nothing more unknown than a person who doesn't believe in the same God as a zealot does.

        November 26, 2013 at 12:55 pm |
    • Susan StoHelit

      I see only two – and while I sympathize with the hurt of Abused – it's one person, with a valid grudge, that is unfortunately going to keep him from being able to trust anything having to do with the church. Don't count posts – count posters, and you'll see the numbers change dramatically.

      November 26, 2013 at 7:13 pm |
  5. Reality

    the #1 issue this pope should have taken care of.. and first,, are the child abuse cover ups and to stop the bishops from lobbying to stop laws that would expose pedos

    November 26, 2013 at 12:45 pm |
    • Reality

      everything else is a deflection, a con

      November 26, 2013 at 12:46 pm |
    • FindTheTruth

      Dear Reality – I am not sure where all your anger is coming from but I will pray for you. Please catch up on the news and you will see that the Pope and the Catholic church have done a lot of this area. These abuses were terrible and these priests will answer to God. Just like we all will for our sins. But we cannot turn against the Church and faith because of a handful of bad priests. Although that was the devil's plan.

      November 26, 2013 at 1:04 pm |
    • Susan StoHelit

      Issue #1 was one of the first things this pope talked about, and progress has been made. And no, I'm not talking about the pretty marketing fluff from JPII nor Benedict.

      November 26, 2013 at 7:19 pm |
  6. Ann C

    Could be the best Pope ever.

    November 26, 2013 at 12:41 pm |
    • Greg

      benedict was bad – francis is doing what benedict should have done years ago......

      November 26, 2013 at 12:52 pm |
    • If I had a hammer... I'd whack you in the morning

      here's to the movers and shakers of men! Blessings be upon you all. It is certainly a time of change and this Church needs its foundations rattled to the core ...good on you pope ...good on you sir! I'm a westerner of middle eastern esoteric practice and I hear you loud and clear, you lift me up and move me. I can say I live in times of remarkable men.

      November 26, 2013 at 12:56 pm |
  7. ObjectiveGuy

    Of course there are many religion haters posting here, who wouldn't give any religious leader or lay person the benefit of the doubt, just because they are anti-religion. But those people aside, I think it is great that the Pope is taking an aggressive stance toward change. On the surface, it sounds like he is planning to make changes to church policies that are more "user-friendly", while not caving in on the fundamental teachings of the church. After all, the most basic, fundamental beliefs were determined by Jesus, and trying to get the church to back off on Jesus' teachings because they are not "convenient" to some people's lifestyles would be wrong. I'm pretty sure Jesus knew what he was doing, and knew what the future held. People's actions need to bend to Jesus' teachings, not the other way around. I also applaud the Pope's plan to work harder to help those around the world who are in dire need. That goes to the basic premise of "Love thy neighbor as thyself", which is should be a fundamental principle of any true religion.

    November 26, 2013 at 12:40 pm |
  8. Iceman 83

    Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
    Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

    November 26, 2013 at 12:39 pm |
    • Reality

      you sound like a hooked fish

      November 26, 2013 at 12:39 pm |
      • Pam

        Interesting that you call yourself "reality" yet speak about talking fish. Whatever you're taking, I'd like some!

        November 26, 2013 at 12:54 pm |
  9. Gerri

    I agree with Reality...they're still covering up. The 'Rules of God' are ok to change now...for the convenience of the church. If they wern't loosing their flock...nothing would change at all....so....again....as with any business...bottom line is the MONEY AND POWER!!

    November 26, 2013 at 12:38 pm |
    • ObjectiveGuy

      Cynical much???

      November 26, 2013 at 12:42 pm |
    • Pam

      Rather than concerning yourself with the Catholic Church perhaps you could focus on some grammar and spelling lessons. Loosing? Wern't? It should be losing and weren't.

      November 26, 2013 at 12:49 pm |
    • Profesr

      Another cheek, perhaps...?

      November 26, 2013 at 12:51 pm |
  10. Phyllis MacAfee

    Pope Francis cannot reverse overnight the corruption that has built up over so many years in the Catholic church. He is moving in the right direction. Let him continue.

    November 26, 2013 at 12:38 pm |
  11. Woody

    "The Pope said he expects other parts of the church to change, however, and called on Catholics to be unafraid of trying new things."

    Maybe one of the new "things" should be questioning the myth of the invisible guy in the sky and the rest of the nonsense built upon that myth.

    November 26, 2013 at 12:37 pm |
    • ObjectiveGuy

      Thanks for chiming in, Barack.

      November 26, 2013 at 12:43 pm |
      • Reality


        November 26, 2013 at 12:46 pm |
      • smc0047

        There it is! The first one to mention the American President in a subject that has nothing to do with the President. Everyone, welcome the troll.

        November 26, 2013 at 12:54 pm |
      • Woody

        OK, you blew my cover. Now you can expect an extensive IRS audit in the near future.

        November 26, 2013 at 12:58 pm |
  12. John

    Ed – This pope isn't concerned with "money in their pockets". He is concerned about the flock he has to sheperd and how the church is not reflecting the welcoming arms of Jesus to them. He is truly a gift from God at this time in history.

    November 26, 2013 at 12:36 pm |
    • Reality

      wealth and power preservation is all this pope wants. A con man using 'humility' as the marketing tool

      November 26, 2013 at 12:37 pm |
  13. Dave

    Sarah Palin, "Gosh, this pope's too liberal."

    So was Jesus.

    November 26, 2013 at 12:36 pm |
    • Susan StoHelit

      Palin's usual ignorance – she read headlines, didn't pay attention to the fact that he's not changing doctrine, and jumped to conclusions.

      November 26, 2013 at 7:20 pm |
  14. griz5106

    "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."
    Pretty much sums it all up. The last thing I need is for the catholic church, or any religion, to direct and shape my life. That whole free will thing I guess.

    November 26, 2013 at 12:36 pm |
    • Old Enough

      griz, you beat me to it, I agree... Well put

      November 26, 2013 at 12:43 pm |
    • Patrick

      We all adopt philosophies, ethical standards, and moral codes that direct and shape our lives. The Catholic Church just offers one you don't happen to subscribe to.

      Free will allows us to chose a way of living. At some point we all chose what we consider right from wrong. If you're honest, you'll admit that you have, which means you adopted some moral code of some kind.

      November 26, 2013 at 12:44 pm |
      • griz5106

        Patrick, I could not agree more. Because I have free will, and without divine influence, I have chosen to live a moral life. Unless a person is insane, all know the difference between right and wrong.

        November 26, 2013 at 1:04 pm |
  15. Nodack

    I thought all these rules were set in stone. I guess when the flock starts to leave it makes it ok to change the rules.

    November 26, 2013 at 12:33 pm |
    • Ricky

      Rules create by men can be change by other men.

      November 26, 2013 at 12:41 pm |
  16. Lionly Lamb

    Pope Francis...

    Why is it you and yours' still promote the 'here it is' and no, 'there it is' philosophies instead of publically proclaiming that the real and true whereabouts domains of the kingdoms of God are internally inside each and every body of cellular Life..?

    November 26, 2013 at 12:31 pm |
    • Charm Quark

      Is that you blowing a little of the good smoke in Frankie's face?

      November 26, 2013 at 12:59 pm |
  17. Don Kemper

    Hooray for Pope Frank!! Its about time somebody kicked some ass in the Vatican. Get these people up off their butts and start getting their hands dirty.

    November 26, 2013 at 12:30 pm |
  18. James

    RAYMOND CARDINAL BURKE – this article is for YOU! Glad you're out of St. Louis, you arrogant, self-righteous clown!

    November 26, 2013 at 12:29 pm |
  19. Deb Braun

    "His comments could also be taken as another sign that he plans to reform church rules that prevent divorced Catholics from receiving the Eucharist." This, unfortunately, is yet another way that the news media misrepresents Church teaching. Divorced Catholics CAN receive Eucharist as long as they are not in a state of mortal sin, just like everyone else!!!

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

      You are correct, but some Bishops encourage that divorced Catholics do not receive communion; this is who Pope Francis is calling out.

      November 26, 2013 at 12:36 pm |
      • Chi(Easternsailor) Tran

        Actually! No Catholic family divorced! Only the Stiff neck wanna change and wanna have the Eucharist for themselves and Never work that way! But Jesus' Way!

        November 26, 2013 at 1:00 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      Divorce is just fine so long you consign yourself to celibacy for the rest of your life.
      Re-marriage and/or thinknig about s.ex with anyone other than your ex-spouse = eternal damnation.

      November 26, 2013 at 12:42 pm |
      • SS

        See your nearest Catholic Tribunal...

        November 26, 2013 at 1:30 pm |
  20. LoveThyNeighbor

    I left the Catholic Church becasue I didn't see tehm living through works as hey did when I was a boy. The Pope understands where the church has gone wrong and I comend him.
    When I first saw te picture of the Pope embracing this man, it reminded me of a man at my church who is in a wheelchair. I have learned many humbling lessons from that man. However my daughter who is a toddler is afraid of him. I could see it hurt the man that the children in the church are afraid of him becasue of the way he looks. He even commented that she would not hug him. It made me sad. The Pope inspired me to encourage my daughter to give him a hug. It took three sundays. But this sunday she looked everywhere for him and when she saw the man she ran up to him and hugged him. He was very happy and I was very proud of her for spreading God's love. The Pope inspired me to make that happen. Living through works

    November 26, 2013 at 12:27 pm |
    • Reality

      how has he embraced the 10's of thousand of children abused, worldwide? Oh,, the cover ups continue.

      November 26, 2013 at 12:30 pm |
      • Patrick

        Curious. Why don't you list the top 5 things you'd like the pope to do in response to the clergy abuse problem?

        I suspect either the church has already done them, is in the process of doing them, or simply can't do them (like one ridiculous suggestion I recently read, that the Vatican should sell all their art and give the proceeds to the abuse victims.)

        November 26, 2013 at 12:37 pm |
      • LoveThyNeighbor

        Troll on. I am not Catholic, but his act of grace inspired me. If it dos not inspire you, I am sorry and i will pray for you

        November 26, 2013 at 12:50 pm |
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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.