Pope Francis lays down his blueprint for reformed church

Pope Francis says that market capitalism is a new tyranny. Photo: Reuters

Pope Francis has called for the Vatican to give up some of its power and control, and has attacked free-market capitalism as “a new tyranny”.

In his first major message since his election in March, Francis lays out his blueprint for the Catholic Church, which he wants to give a different impetus – less concerned with its own status, more compassionate and people-centred, merciful and braver in taking risks and making changes.

He pleads with politicians to fight poverty, urges rich people to share their wealth, and recognises that the Pope too must be open to change.

“Since I am called to put into practice what I ask of others, I too must think about a conversion of the papacy,” he says.

“It is my duty, as the Bishop of Rome, to be open to suggestions which can help make the exercise of my ministry more faithful.”

Most popes have been judged, in part, by how strongly they centralised power around themselves and exercised it. Francis’ vision statement, calling for radical renewal, reverses a trend of centuries. But it will take time to filter down to the faithful in the pews.

The US National Catholic Reporter called the document – Evangelii Gaudium, The Joy of the Gospel – his “I have a dream speech”, a reference to the groundbreaking speech by Martin Luther King 50 years ago.

Pope Francis too outlined a dream. “I dream of a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channelled for the evangelisation of today’s world, rather than for her self-preservation.”

He has already advocated many of the changes proposed, including moving the Vatican from an attitude of power and control to one of a servant of the church, but this 48,000-word document lays out his plan.

It reflects his own practices, which gathered worldwide attention when he was elected Pope in March, when he rejected the papal palace for a small apartment, payed his own hotel bill and carried his own luggage.

As former Archbishop of Buenos Aries, Jorge Bergoglio also took public transport and did his own cooking.

Catholic reaction has been enthusiastic. New Canberra Archbishop Christopher Prowse said the document offered wisdom for believers other than Catholics.

“This is good for an Australian audience. We may tend to think we love God, but helping my neighbour? ‘I’ll find some time for that in the future’.”

Leading Catholic commentator Paul Collins said the document marked a profound shift in the church and would take time to filter down.

“There won’t be any change in church next Sunday,” he said. In the document, Francis was taking seriously the idea of collegiality, rather than the Pope answering every question.

Melbourne Jesuit Andy Hamilton said Catholics would find his message liberating, it would take them “out of the straitjacket”.

The emphasis had moved to compassion from orthodoxy, he said, though the doctrines remained. “Now the challenge is still to move from rhetoric to enabling people”.

In the document, Pope Francis says: “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.”

Using the direct and personal language familiar from his sermons, Pope Francis seeks a “revolution of tenderness” through Christians opening their hearts to God’s unfailing love and forgiveness.

Materialism brings “desolation and anguish” from a “covetous heart, he says, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience.”


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