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. Lar 5

    This Pope is scaring the heck out of those who claim to be conservative and compassionate Christians but act in an other manner. Greed,hate and bigotry seems to be the the new religion of many

    November 26, 2013 at 1:58 pm |
  2. Lucas

    It is sad to me that so many people are not truly waiting to see what will change before chiming in with "screw them." I *want* to give people a chance to make things better. I would rather someone try to improve and try to make changes than sit back and allow things to progress in a manner I do not approve of. Maybe just once, we could all withhold our judgements on these changes until they are announced. Once that happens, everyone can continue to deride them as not enough or not the right ones.

    November 26, 2013 at 1:57 pm |
    • Susan StoHelit

      Remember – most are silent here. Most who are waiting to see – they just don't comment. And don't ignore the positive voices – and notice how many of the negative are the same person posting over and over again.

      The church has many issues, there's reason for cynicism, but also reason for hope.

      November 26, 2013 at 2:22 pm |
  3. Bit Torrent

    And the Catholic religion again fails to uphold what the Bible actually has to say and teach. It's no longer about what God's word really teach, but a popularity contest.

    November 26, 2013 at 1:57 pm |
    • Bit Torrent

      Correction...It was never about what the Bible teaches. Hell fire, Idolatry, Trinity, Crusades, Inquisition, Reichskonkordat, etc. All unfounded Biblically.

      November 26, 2013 at 2:06 pm |
  4. Johnny

    Oh boy. Catholics proclaim the gospel?? They don't even know it!!!! First you'd have to teach them it!!! I should know. I am a lifelong Catholic who knows the Bible, and I am an enigma in the church. LONG WAY TO GO.

    November 26, 2013 at 1:57 pm |
    • capiers

      So when it comes to matters of the church you are saying that you know more than the Pope and that maybe he should take some lessons from you.

      November 26, 2013 at 2:07 pm |
      • Bit Torrent

        I believe what he's saying is that when it comes to what the Bible says, he doubts the Pope has actually read it.

        November 26, 2013 at 2:11 pm |
  5. Stephen Jones

    Sounds like same ol', same ol' to me with some superficial pretty trappings.

    November 26, 2013 at 1:55 pm |
  6. kspn

    Rhetorical message! Why don't the Rev..Pope donate a few billion dollars to the Philippines which is 95% Catholics to assist help those millions suffering from the calamity caused by the recent typhoon. After all he is only paying back some of their own money collected from them for his blessings!

    November 26, 2013 at 1:55 pm |
    • Lucas

      Speaking of rhetoric, about 80% catholic.

      November 26, 2013 at 2:00 pm |
    • Brother Maynard

      I think that is a great idea.
      The RCC should liquidate it's capital and invest it in natural disaster relief.
      Buy medicine, food, water, temporary shelters, and the means to deliver these to the needy after a huricane (sp?), tornado, earth quake, volcanic eruption. Invest in boats, helicopters, large cargo planes and the individuals to work them. Train first responders, doctors, rescue dogs and enginieers to aid the victims of these tragic events.
      Seriously that would be a great start. ( AND really if you think about it ... NOT that difficult to develop ).

      November 26, 2013 at 5:08 pm |
    • Did you

      Know this is what was donated by the Bishops.

      While at least $300 million has been pledged by nations around the world to help survivors of Super Typhoon Haiyan, the Catholic Bishop Conference of the Philippines, a billion-dollar non-government organization, has responded to the disaster by sending 1,000 bibles and 12,000 rosaries to survivors, according to CBS News. Additionally, the Pope tweeted for Catholics to pray for the typhoon victims. His message was retweeted 30,000 times.

      November 26, 2013 at 5:12 pm |
      • Did you


        November 26, 2013 at 5:14 pm |
  7. mtc

    You know I consider myself quite the agnostic, ever pursuant to some kind of answers to all of the spirtual questions we all have inside of us. As a child i was baptized luthern, but never even knew what that meant. Went to church on Christmas Day, Easter Day, all weddings and funerals and that was about it. Only remembered the churches coming to our homes during the week promising us that if we went to Sunday School, they would take us for ice cream, or there would be this activity or that activity, and I remember thinking even as a child that I wasn´t going to be BRIBED or BRAINWASHED into believeing any of this.
    Fast forward 40 years later, and I still consider myself quite the agnostic pursuant to answers – Not atheist, but not a bible toter either – still somewhere in the middle – and I will have to admit, I like this guy. I think he´s genuine, and relevant, and very in-tune with a lot of the issues which prohibit our generation from being so accepting to the church – especially, the Catholic Church. I live in Brazil, and he is quickly becoming verated down here. The young, Catholic religious movement is quite relevant and I believe most of it is due to the messages that he gave during his recent visit here. Everything I have read, seen, or heard about him suggests someone who is looking to try to direct the church into this next millenium. I wish them well.

    November 26, 2013 at 1:54 pm |
  8. davecu

    Behold! A softening of a structure that had become so ridgedly un-Christ like.
    This IS exciting.

    November 26, 2013 at 1:51 pm |
  9. Len A.

    If he wants to revolutionize the Church's evangelical mission, Pope Francis can start by reconfirming John XXIII's Popularum Progressio, declaring Health Care as a basic human right. No one can live a gospel on a death bed.

    November 26, 2013 at 1:47 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      Tell that to Mother Theresa and all the people that lay in agony without painkillers in her Houses for the Dying, denied so much as a familial visit as they waste away on tiny cots in unsanitary conditions.
      It was her opinion that horrible, debilitating, mind crushing agony is nothing more than the kiss of Christ.

      November 26, 2013 at 1:51 pm |
      • TDM

        She was nuts.

        November 26, 2013 at 1:55 pm |
  10. Lucky

    I'm not a catholic but I can get behind what the pope is trying to do with the church.

    November 26, 2013 at 1:46 pm |
    • igaftr

      A poor choice of words considering the subject.

      November 26, 2013 at 2:18 pm |
  11. MashaSobaka

    Interesting spectacle, but I won't hold my breath. His calls for changes may be radical from the highly conservative and exclusionary perspective of the Church as it is now but in comparison to the rest of the planet he's still far, far behind. I highly doubt he'll be changing any ideas on LGBT equality (other than "let them do what they want because they'll be punished in the afterlife anyway," which is, in fact, his official stance, no matter how touching his "who am I to judge" words may have seemed on the surface) or the rights of women (dear Pope: when women cannot hold positions of actual authority and when you do not want them to be in control of their own bodies, it does indeed mean that you value men more than women – sorry) or any of the other major social issues of the time. "We need to stop forgetting the poor" is nice, but let's see if he's willing to follow through with any of the social changes that will actually help eradicate poverty. If I had to put money on the question, I'd bet that he's not going to change much. But at least surface glances at his speeches have been nice?

    November 26, 2013 at 1:46 pm |
  12. cdub2k

    There are Christians being executed publicly for possessing bibles in North Korea why isn't there any national response to this from it's "leaders". The Pope hasn't even addressed it and it's been 2 weeks since the story was reported

    November 26, 2013 at 1:43 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      When you've been around for as long as the RCC, you can take your time responding to crises.
      After all, it took them 300 years or so to admit that Copernicus might've had a valid point.

      November 26, 2013 at 1:45 pm |
    • joe222

      The Pope is not the leader of Christianity. Nor is the Roman Catholic church.

      November 26, 2013 at 2:02 pm |
    • igaftr

      Why do you think anyone would have the power to do anything about what N. Korea does?
      If it is a capital law that says they cannot own a bible, and they know it, it is their fault for commiting the crime.

      November 26, 2013 at 2:02 pm |
    • Lucas

      I hate to tell you this, but it does not just happen in North Korea. That happens all over the world. It happens to Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists. There is no one safe from persecution. In north Korea alone it is not just the Christians being killed.

      November 26, 2013 at 2:03 pm |
  13. currency1896

    still thinks women are 2nd class huh ? ..... just can't make things right ever

    November 26, 2013 at 1:39 pm |
  14. Susan StoHelit

    As an atheist – this is a guy I can respect.

    I don't believe what he does – but unlike most in the Catholic (AND Christian) hierarchy, he seems to actually believe the best parts of his religion, and lives it. I don't expect the church to change it's positions – they have what they think is wrong (abortion, same gender marriage, atheism) – but to treat it properly, as everyone's choice, rather than something they can force the world to change – that is all ANYONE should ever expect. That is how we all live and let live, when we all think someone else is wrong, and we all have others who think our choices are wrong.

    November 26, 2013 at 1:39 pm |
    • Observer


      November 26, 2013 at 1:41 pm |
    • Jenny

      Took the words out of my mouth. 🙂

      November 26, 2013 at 2:27 pm |
  15. Name*monica

    Change is inevitable and good if thought through and handled humbly and carefully and with keeping the core of the Catholic faith in tact. Times change, people change, societies change. God will remain the same.

    November 26, 2013 at 1:39 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      Except that God changed quite a bit between his first appearance to the Hebrews and his fleshly incarnation during Roman times. He went from being exclusivist, bloodthirsty, vengeful and smitey to compassionate, accepting and forgiving.

      November 26, 2013 at 1:49 pm |
  16. jroth420

    Pope: Look how progressive I am! I'm shaking things up.

    Society: So you're going to start treating women equally and let them participate fully in the clergy?

    Pope: Let's not get crazy now...

    November 26, 2013 at 1:37 pm |
    • Becca


      November 26, 2013 at 1:39 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      If we could exclude men from the clergy as well...

      I see trees of green........ red roses too
      I see em bloom..... for me and for you
      And I think to myself.... what a wonderful world.

      I see skies of blue..... clouds of white
      Bright blessed days....dark sacred nights
      And I think to myself .....what a wonderful world.

      The colors of a rainbow.....so pretty ..in the sky
      Are also on the faces.....of people ..going by
      I see friends shaking hands.....sayin.. how do you do
      They're really sayin......i love you.

      I hear babies cry...... I watch them grow
      They'll learn much more.....than I'll never know
      And I think to myself .....what a wonderful world

      November 26, 2013 at 1:39 pm |
  17. tony

    The only honest change will be when he admits publicly that god is a made up fairy story from a few thousand years ago.

    November 26, 2013 at 1:37 pm |
    • Debbie Kelly

      Now why would the Head of the Church founded by Jesus Christ deny him?

      November 26, 2013 at 1:41 pm |
      • joe222

        Jesus did not found the Roman Catholic church. Nor is the Pope the head of Christianity.

        Jesus Christ is the head of the Body. Not the fallible and blasphemous Pope.

        November 26, 2013 at 2:05 pm |
    • columbus

      Just as you have a right not to believe, people of faith have a right to their belief.

      November 26, 2013 at 5:01 pm |
  18. Richard Hicks

    The greatest con game that has ever been perpetrated on the human race is the existence of a god.

    November 26, 2013 at 1:36 pm |
    • Debbie Kelly

      No, the greatest con game ever perpetuated on the human race is the class system

      November 26, 2013 at 1:42 pm |
    • Shaun

      Can you imagine the incredible complexity of a living creature? Self-healing tissue, the nervous system, the respiratory system, the digestive tract, self awareness, the brain, etc... It's almost unfathomable.

      How did everything, even with billions of years of evolution, just suddenly appear out of nowhere?

      What are the odds that you, out of millions of sperm, were the one to make it? Multiple that times your father, and his father, and his father, etc...

      November 26, 2013 at 1:42 pm |
      • cmnsns

        It's been replicated millions of times. It isn't a miracle.

        November 26, 2013 at 1:53 pm |
      • yellowmosquito

        "What are the odds that you, out of millions of sperm, were the one to make it? Multiple that times your father, and his father, and his father, etc..."

        This is a flawed argument. You can't argue that something being improbable is the same as it being impossible. Look at your argument in the opposite direction to see the flaw in your logic: "What are the odds that out of millions of sperm, no one ever made it?" Obviously, the answer to this is zero. Even though you've never won the lottery, somebody else always does.

        As unlikely as your existence is from the chain of your ancestors, it is still possible. So possible, in fact, that everyone you see today was a lucky winner in the game of passing on their genes.

        November 26, 2013 at 2:15 pm |
      • Susan StoHelit

        It didn't just appear, it wasn't sudden, nor was it out of nowhere.

        Maybe you should read up on what the scientific theories say happened, before you reject it and mock your own incorrect understanding of it.

        November 26, 2013 at 3:01 pm |
    • Ben Moore

      A sky fairy god that is. God is love. One of the things I respect about the catholic church is that god is open to interpretation. I kinow this hasn't always been the case but acceptance is a big step in the right direction. So is denouncing the greed of our capiatlist society. I have despised the church for most of my life. Lately though, not so much.

      November 26, 2013 at 1:45 pm |
    • columbus

      At some point in time something happened that began to build a universe, maybe just two atoms flying around and finally colliding to set this universe in motion. God doesn't need to be a "man" in the sky with a big booming voice, nor some benevolent all powerful being. Perhaps God will eventually be discovered to be just two very small atoms. To think about the possibilities of things bigger then ourselves, you'll need to escape your prejudices of man made idols.

      November 26, 2013 at 5:10 pm |
  19. Dr. Dave

    Amen to change. Time to add women priests – maybe it will evolve into that.

    November 26, 2013 at 1:35 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.