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. Jon

    I find this pope very refreshing. I love my Catholic faith, but I also agree that some things need to change in order to further the Church's mission. We can never change our beliefs and core teachings, but it is good to be open-minded to changing traditions and rules that once served a purpose, but do little to advance the Gospel today. I am excited to see what Pope Francis does for the Church, I hope it will draw more people to the Church, and I hope to do my part in advancing that mission. People need to know who Christ is, people need to better understand the Church, and people need to draw closer to the Sacraments. We must be marketing agents for the Gospel, drawing people to it with love and forgivness in Christ Jesus our Lord.

    November 26, 2013 at 1:35 pm |
  2. cribbooky

    It will be interesting to see if the Pope leaves Rome as prophesied.

    November 26, 2013 at 1:34 pm |
    • Topher

      What prophesy is that?

      November 26, 2013 at 1:36 pm |
  3. tony

    He'll be a pope for honest change when he admits publicly that god is a made up fairy story from a few thousand years ago.

    November 26, 2013 at 1:33 pm |
  4. IndyMike

    He needs to start by cleaning out EVERY priest, bishop cardinal and any other funtionary of the church that was in any way involved in the abuse of others or the covering up of those abuses. Until the church comes clean and owns up to these atrocities, anything that comes out of any pope's mouth is hypocrisy.

    November 26, 2013 at 1:25 pm |
    • TC

      He is and has. And the dioceses that abuse has happened has become public, victims compensated and changes implemented.

      November 26, 2013 at 1:28 pm |
      • Charm Quark

        Check out the inquiry in Australia, something the USA did not have the guts/balls to inquire into and don't forget Dolan hiding church money to prevent paying damages. They handled it the most self serving way they could, so don't pretend it was all about healing the victims, it was not.

        November 26, 2013 at 1:36 pm |
  5. Ralph_in_FL

    "Spreading the gospel"? No thanks. I already have enough Protestants coming to my front door and annoying me.

    November 26, 2013 at 1:25 pm |
    • Ken

      Spreading the Gospel does not necessarily mean 'preaching' to people and knocking on doors. It means allowing the grace of God to flow through us to reach other people in their need

      November 26, 2013 at 1:36 pm |
  6. t_wicker

    Seems obvious that the Pope is attempting to restore the churches credibility, diminished reputation, and practical role in an increasingly cynical social climate. Is the Pope exaggerating the importance of the church and embellishing on the misery of the less fortunate in message with a foreboding tone that appeals to compassion rather than to the consequences of a iniquity? Decentralizing the papacy seems like a good move if the exhortation can be confirmed and expanded at the lower levels. My advice? Weighing in on an ideological battle with science can only hurt, don't go that route.

    November 26, 2013 at 1:25 pm |
  7. blf83

    I hope he succeeds.

    November 26, 2013 at 1:24 pm |
    • Reality

      as long as he maintains the child abuse cover ups, he'll be successful as a pope and cheered by the bishops

      November 26, 2013 at 1:25 pm |
      • Alix47

        You seem to miss the point, he's not interested in the status quo of pleasing the Bishops! He's intent on shaking up the status quo!

        November 26, 2013 at 1:45 pm |
  8. Mopery

    Soon he'll introduce the new Catholic 401k salvation option, they're bringing back the old "pay off your sins" deal where no sin is too big, no fee is too big.

    November 26, 2013 at 1:23 pm |
    • TC

      Where did you read that? Oh, I get it, you making up stuff.

      November 26, 2013 at 1:25 pm |
    • Ralph_in_FL

      As I recall (from reading history), the last time the Catholic Church tried selling indulgences, it inspired a minor fuss called the Protestant Reformation.

      November 26, 2013 at 1:27 pm |
      • Vox Humana

        In my childhood, we were "sold" plenary indulgences and often told to pray for a priest at the time of our death. When my father died, or was about to, the parish priest at the parish where he attended for fifteen years in his retirement, was too busy to come see him in the hospital. He told us to call the Baptist minister, who was on chaplain duty at the hospital that day. My father's disappointment was great, and I'm sure that's not what he was praying for all those first Fridays and extra donations. A trail of broken promises, abuses and disappointments, as well as robbing from the poor to give to the rich parish priests for fancy cars and crystal goblets. That's the legacy that must be overcome by this pope.

        November 26, 2013 at 1:47 pm |
    • Susan StoHelit

      So, you didn't read the article. Not sure why you needed to post to inform everyone that you couldn't read it.

      November 26, 2013 at 1:34 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      What's wrong with selling brand name salvation at discount prices?

      November 26, 2013 at 1:43 pm |
  9. Mopery

    Ireland already has anti-blasphemy laws, how long until the next Inquisition?

    November 26, 2013 at 1:20 pm |
  10. Doc Vestibule

    He has a long way to go before the RCC is no longer primarily concerned with the maintenance of secrecy, the avoidance of scandal, the protection of the reputation of the Church, and the preservation of its as.sets.

    November 26, 2013 at 1:19 pm |
  11. SamB19

    He really doesn't like women, does he.

    November 26, 2013 at 1:19 pm |
    • steve

      you really haven't read the article, have you?

      November 26, 2013 at 1:21 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      A good Christian woman should be silent, submissive, subservient and filled with shame for the curse her gender forced on humanity.

      "Sin began with a woman and thanks to her we all must die"
      – Ecclesiasticus, 25:19

      As I Timothy 2:11-14 reminds us, "Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor."

      The Protestant theologan Calvin described women as
      "... more guilty than the man, because she was seduced by Satan, and so diverted her husband from obedience to God that she was an instrument of death leading all to perdition. It is necessary that woman recognize this, and that she learn to what she is subjected; and not only against her husband. This is reason enough why today she is placed below and that she bears within her ignominy and shame."

      November 26, 2013 at 1:22 pm |
      • Ralph_in_FL

        This is why my daughter will have nothing to do with religion. It is nothing but organized misogyny.

        November 26, 2013 at 2:20 pm |
    • NM

      I agree with you SamB19. Everyone is "in" except women and I thought we were the least controversial of them all! Its always a man's church and we just live in it.

      November 26, 2013 at 1:33 pm |
  12. ScottCA

    Does this mean he plans to stop indoctrinating children with irrational dogma and blatant lies about deities he has no evidence for existing? The indoctrination of children into these cults is child abuse.

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

      Are you insinuating he is kidnapping children and indoctrinating them or that he, personally, is indoctrinating children against their parents and their wishes, or are you being an ignorant hater?

      November 26, 2013 at 1:19 pm |
      • Reality

        likely he's against the abuse to small children

        November 26, 2013 at 1:22 pm |
    • ScottCA

      I'd be happy to come to anyone's Thanksgiving and ruin it with my longwinded, sanctimonious screeds, guarantee to bore those who agree with me and deeply offend everyone else.

      November 26, 2013 at 1:24 pm |
      • ScottCA

        I'll bring a Tofurkey. I am vegan.

        November 26, 2013 at 1:25 pm |
        • ScottCA

          And free range mash potatoes made with soy butter. Better have something to drink handy!

          November 26, 2013 at 1:30 pm |
        • ScottCA

          I put some walnuts in the spuds. It gives them some 'zing'.

          November 26, 2013 at 1:37 pm |
  13. HH

    Let he who is not guilty of sin cast the first stone. Lots of rock throwing here from all of these good moral people with all of the answers to the worlds problems. Just what I would expect from a bunch of CNN adorers.

    November 26, 2013 at 1:12 pm |
    • Maddy

      Of which you must be one, because here you are posting, also.

      Take your own advice.

      November 26, 2013 at 1:14 pm |
    • Observer

      "Just what I would expect from a bunch of CNN adorers."

      Brainless comment.

      November 26, 2013 at 1:14 pm |
    • Reality

      yeah,, the heck with abused children. Distract everyone since those lives are an inconvenience for the catholic church

      November 26, 2013 at 1:15 pm |
  14. Dyslexic doG

    it's pope overdose here at the belief blog. should be re-named the Catholic Blog.

    quick, someone get me an article on any one of the hundreds of other world religions.

    November 26, 2013 at 1:11 pm |
    • TC

      I love it – Pope has much more interesting things to say and convey than any other person on the planet right now. All elected leaders have failed us, celebrities contribute nothing past entertainment but the Pope points us to the number one leader Christ and how we should treat each other.

      November 26, 2013 at 1:24 pm |
      • Dyslexic doG

        "number one leader" ... LOLOLOLOLOLOLOL

        you poor deluded soul

        November 26, 2013 at 2:09 pm |
    • MrApplesauce

      There's one on Buddha right over there ---->

      November 26, 2013 at 1:44 pm |
    • a reasonable atheist

      You are very close to coining the colloquialism "Poperdose." Press on!

      November 26, 2013 at 4:28 pm |
  15. Wren

    When he is ready to embrace women as men's equal in the pulpit, I'll listen. Till then, he and the church have nothing to offer me, and I have nothing to give back.

    November 26, 2013 at 1:09 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      To be be fair, most Christiand denominations are misogynist.
      Martin Luther, the great Protestant reformed, was virulently anti-semitic and misogynistic.

      November 26, 2013 at 1:18 pm |
      • PortOurTroops

        That seems to go with a traditional side of religion–made up by men. Most of us know better now, and it looks like Francis wants to correct that drift in the Catholic church.

        November 26, 2013 at 1:36 pm |
    • MrApplesauce

      A pragmatic look at what he's doing points to him paving the way for it eventually. Maybe the next Pope. He can't turn over too many applecarts at once.

      November 26, 2013 at 1:45 pm |
  16. Reality

    ...thanks to the pope, 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. So what, trim a bit of the donations and so what if children die of painful starvation. Jesus will have GOLD!!!!

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

      an jesus wouldn't want to help the abused children anyways,, they are such a nuisance.

      November 26, 2013 at 1:09 pm |
  17. da pope

    now we need him to come out and say "hey everyone, the church has been lying to the people for thousands of years. God doesn't exist. thanks for the billions of dollars though!"

    November 26, 2013 at 1:08 pm |
  18. Lionly Lamb

    Pope Francis...

    Good things are nice yet the very best of things are found within the very smallest of places... We call these 'very smallest of places' as being atoms while all the generations of God call these atoms their planets...

    Luke 17:21 Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.

    November 26, 2013 at 1:08 pm |
  19. TC

    This guy is awesome! I'm very interested to see how he unfolds the new evangelization.

    November 26, 2013 at 1:07 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.