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. Mad Dog Mike

    There's a New Pope in Town ..

    November 26, 2013 at 1:07 pm |
    • Mopery

      And an old one there, too.

      November 26, 2013 at 1:21 pm |
  2. anonymous

    Would just like to say how can Peter be the first pope as the Roman Church claims when Peter had a mother in in law, thus he was married. Isn't that one of the things the church teaches that the pope and the priests have to go by? The papacy didn't come around for a few hundred years and so Peter being the first pope is simply church tradition.

    November 26, 2013 at 1:06 pm |
    • joe916

      Any Catholic male who has reached the age of reason, is not a heretic, is not in schism, and is not “notorious” for simony can be elected pope — there is no other requirement for election (although there are several requirements before a person can actually assume the papacy once elected).

      November 26, 2013 at 1:15 pm |
      • Reality

        and they must have taken the cardinal oath,, states: It's OK to lie if protecting the vatican

        November 26, 2013 at 1:17 pm |
    • Maddy

      That celibacy discipline didn't come about until centuries later.

      November 26, 2013 at 1:18 pm |
  3. Milly

    This guy is the coolest Pope EVER!! Finally a Pope that's living in the 21st century instead of the 16th.

    November 26, 2013 at 1:06 pm |
  4. ThisIsNot4U2

    Too little, too late.

    November 26, 2013 at 1:05 pm |
  5. fedupwithla

    Give 'em hell, Pope!

    November 26, 2013 at 1:04 pm |
  6. Pete

    Now can we do something about the Southern Baptist?

    November 26, 2013 at 1:04 pm |
  7. Allen


    November 26, 2013 at 1:02 pm |
  8. keith

    Darn no more finger banging little boys...

    November 26, 2013 at 1:02 pm |
  9. Sal Martorano

    I also like and admire this man. The church has to change to reflect the modern times, and he realizes the church has to change to be viable. I'm not a religious person but I really like this man and the way he thinks. 

    November 26, 2013 at 1:01 pm |
  10. Damien

    He's the best pope since Anthony Quinn !

    November 26, 2013 at 1:01 pm |
  11. Charlie

    Christ, God in the flesh, to Christians, took a whip to drive the money changers away from the walls of the great temple in Jerusalem. He was unfazed by the high priests who would kill him for his actions. He told the men who's job for centuries had been to take your impure money, and for a small fee, give you back pure money that could then be donated to temple. It had been a practice with deep roots in his faith at that time, deeply steeped in notions of ritual purity. He took a whip to tradition. You can imagine the shock on the faces of simple faithful people trying to follow age old rules pertaining to what you do when you go to the one temple allowed in ancient Israel in those few centuries before Hadrien destroyed ancient Israel. The chief priests forced the Romans to crucify him for blasphemy- no doubt it was to them. But Christ is all about whipping the money changers out of the temple. His message was married to Rome by Constantine 390. There can never be a divorce, too much water under that bridge. But once in a while a pope or a saint or a heretic comes along and reminds us what God's message was and why the people around him crucified him. It's odd that a man who took a whip to tradition without any authority other than his divinity, is believed in by a billion people, at least in their prayers. What do you think he would do on Wall Street? Take a guess.

    November 26, 2013 at 1:00 pm |
    • Keleynal

      Well, given that Wall Street isn't inside of a church, I don't think He'd have too much to say about it. He wasn't opposed to taxes or monetary systems in general. It was corruption in the church that He was after. I think He'd still have a few things to say about that today.

      November 26, 2013 at 1:12 pm |
  12. Paula

    Hurrah! or as another commenter noted, Hallelujah!

    November 26, 2013 at 1:00 pm |
  13. Jim

    Sell off the treasures of the Vatican first, and then this might have some credibility.

    November 26, 2013 at 12:59 pm |
  14. simplyput

    Catholics have been out of step since the Bible was translated and read by the common man. Give your blessings and rites in English, and you'll be in line with the rest of the sheep. I've never understood what kind of leadership could be given in a dead language. Women were leaders in the church until the Catholics came along. Read your history, people.

    November 26, 2013 at 12:59 pm |
    • PaulJ

      What church are you even talking about? Mass has been in English (in the US anyway) since Vatican II in the 1960's. There still are some masses held in traditional Latin but they are hard to find.

      November 26, 2013 at 1:10 pm |
  15. Man of his word

    He is taking action: Vatican suspends bishop over 40 million home renovation. http://www.forbes.com/sites/kellyphillipserb/2013/10/24/vatican-suspends-bishop-of-bling-over-40-million-home-renovation/

    November 26, 2013 at 12:58 pm |
    • Reality

      but not OVER COVERING up child abuse. Or for lobbying to stop laws that would help children victims.

      I see his morals are in order.. all about $$$

      November 26, 2013 at 1:00 pm |
  16. Ricky

    Conservatives in the US are not going to like this new Pope.

    He is preaching the same he has preached his whole life; focus on the poor, and fight inequality and the worship of money. He does not like to be judgmental of people who do not follow the church's doctrine either, so that will really upset conservatives.

    He might even allow women to be priests, and priests to get married. Those are the two main "traditions" that were implemented a few centuries after the foundation of the Church. There is nothing in the bible that says that a woman can't be a priest, or that a priest can't get married.

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

      and let's not forget the Cardinal Oath,, it's OK too lie when protecting the church. They stand by that one

      November 26, 2013 at 12:59 pm |
    • Bubba

      Of course Conservatives are not going to like this Pope. Conservatives do nothing but hate, and worship the Money that they hide from the Government.
      This Pope is calling for a Christianity that reaches out and loves, which is in direct contrast to the GOP Christianity defined by hating minorities (Gays, Mexicans, Arabs, etc) and hoarding Money.

      November 26, 2013 at 1:10 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      "Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church's divine consti.tution itself, in virtue of our ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk. 22:32) we declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful."

      – Ordinatio Sacerdotalis

      November 26, 2013 at 1:15 pm |
  17. Ricky

    Conservatives in the US are not going to like this new Pope.

    He is preaching the same he has preached his whole life; focus on the poor, and fight inequality and the worship of money. He does not like to judgmental of people who do not follow the church's doctrine either, so that will really upset conservatives.

    He might even allow women to be priests, and priests to get married. Those are the two main "traditions" that were implemented a few century after the foundation of the Church. There is nothing in the bible that says that a woman can't be a priest, or that a priest can't get married.

    November 26, 2013 at 12:56 pm |
    • KC

      I f you read the entire article, it states that he will follow the doctrine of NOT allowing women to be come priests.

      November 26, 2013 at 12:59 pm |
  18. DC

    I was thinking about the comment someone said..."If the situation were reversed, I would hope that they would do the same for me." That action to me is better than the commandments, golden rule, etc. since the person takes the initiative to do something right. This change the pope is speaking of, regardless of reason, needs to get people back on that path. Any other action by any other religious or non religious group is a waste of time.

    November 26, 2013 at 12:55 pm |
    • Reality

      yeah,, to keep denying the abused children. Perfect path,, stay on it now.

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

      Well, think about what Jesus said when He was asked what is the greatest law. "Love the lord God with all your heart and and all your soul and all your mind. This is the greatest law. The second is like it. Love your neighbor as you love yourself."

      The thing is that this is an *active* command. Love each other. The golden rule is passive and simply says "Don't hurt each other". If one is to try and lead a Christlike life you can't just say "I have not harmed anyone!" you have to be able to say "I did good things for people. I loved them. I sheltered them. I forgave them. I fed them. I cared for them." That's why being a good Christian is so hard and why so few people are really good Christians. Personally, I like that the Pope is reminding Chistians of their duties.

      November 26, 2013 at 1:09 pm |
      • k_r_l

        chrisrapier – well summarized! This Pope is certainly making me think more about how I love others (not just how I treat others: be active, not passive) and might actually bring me back to mass again.

        November 26, 2013 at 1:22 pm |
  19. rl

    I am not Catholic, but I must say I am impressed with the Pope. So far for the short time he has been in that position, he has done more to transform the Catholic church in my opinion, to appeal to the people, not just Catholics.

    November 26, 2013 at 12:54 pm |
    • Just the Facts Ma'am...

      I've seen this sentiment often about this new Pope, but I have to wonder, would it really change anything if say the KKK had a very nice charismatic leader if they didn't actually change the core policies? Would it change what they stand for? Does a nice Pope change the anti-condom stance of the Church that has possibly cost countless lives? Does it make the cover ups and relocations of pedophile priests just disappear?

      November 26, 2013 at 1:07 pm |
      • chrisrapier

        Of course it doesn't change the excesses and mistakes of the past. New behaviour doesn't and cannot be an excuse for past crimes. However, this doesn't mean that the new behaviour isn't laudable.

        November 26, 2013 at 1:10 pm |
      • SS

        The Church teaches abstinence instead of fornication and adultery. It is against anything (condoms included) that blocks Life. The fact that countless lives were lost (to AIDS) is due to the person's own choice of fornication.

        November 26, 2013 at 1:24 pm |
        • Just the Facts Ma'am...

          The Church teaches ignorance and sells it as divine teaching which harms millions, one day it will pay for its crimes regardless of how nice its leader is.

          November 26, 2013 at 2:35 pm |
  20. PaulJ

    There is nothing quite as ugly as one Christian denomination's interpretation of anothers. The misunderstanding of the true teachings of the Catholic Church are comical if not based on simple ignorance and the rantings of uninformed, bigoted protestant pastors. For every biblical quote thrown around I have others to prove my point in support of my church but one of my favorite sayings is "never try and teach a pig to sing - it wastes your time and annoys the pig." Most Catholic haters love the fact that they are and are closed to any other idea. I won't enter the debate but I do love the conversation with the new Pope. There are equally important things in life and the gospel of Christ other than gays, abortion and immigration. Yes, they are important but they aren't the entire gospel of Christ. Where he goes with this remains unclear but any leader willing to question the policies (not doctrines) of the past to make sure they still fit the Gospel is a person worth listening to.

    November 26, 2013 at 12:52 pm |
    • Hmmm

      Misunderstanding of church doctrines? Come man life after death in hell or heaven? just read Ecc 9:5 Tells you perfectly clear what happens when we die.

      November 26, 2013 at 1:35 pm |
      • PaulJ

        I somehow am missing your point. The Bible is quite clear on the wages of sin and the reconciliation to God through Christ. I'm missing something here.

        November 26, 2013 at 5:33 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.