Vatican City (AFP) – Pope Francis called for reform to take powers from the Vatican and said Catholics should be more engaged in helping the needy, but ruled out allowing women priests in a key document released by the Vatican on Tuesday.
The Catholic leader said he was seeking advice on how his role should change — using an informal style for his first “apostolic exhortation”, in which he outlined his vision for the future of the Roman Catholic Church.
“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 to the meaning which Jesus Christ wished to give it,” the pope wrote.
Francis said it was time for “a conversion of the papacy”, adding that “excessive centralization, rather than proving helpful, complicates the Church’s life”.
Bishops should have “genuine doctrinal authority”, he said in the document — a type of long open letter used by popes to communicate with their faithful.
“We have made little progress in this regard,” he said.
The 84-page document did not address many of the hot-button ethical reforms called for by progressives but Francis did say that the issue of the priesthood being reserved for men was “not a question open to discussion”.
On abortion, he also said the Church “cannot be expected to change its position on this question”.
But he added that it should do more “to adequately accompany women in very difficult situations, where abortion appears as a quick solution”.
Francis has instituted a council of cardinals to advise him on reforms including a shake-up of the Vatican bureaucracy after a series of high-profile scandals in recent years and disgruntlement in many local churches.
The Vatican this month also launched a worldwide consultation of Catholic dioceses including questions about pastoral care for same-sex couples, and Francis on Tuesday underlined the need for churches to keep an open door even without changes to Catholic doctrine.
Observers underlined the simple style of the document, which contrasted with that of Francis’s more academic predecessor, pope emeritus Benedict XVI.
“He has his own style and language. It is almost colloquial in tone, which reflects a deep pastoral inspiration,” said Monsignor Claudio Celli, head of the Vatican’s social communications department.
Monsignor Rino Fisichella, head of the Vatican’s evangelization efforts, said the reform of the papacy meant “moving from a bureaucratic, static administrative vision to a missionary one”.
In the document, Francis stressed the importance of the Church’s social message and launched a wide-ranging condemnation of the injustices of the global economy and modern capitalism — a key priority for his papacy.
“The poor and the poorer peoples are accused of violence, yet without equal opportunities the different forms of aggression and conflict will find a fertile terrain for growth and eventually explode,” he said.
Turning to other faiths, Francis said that ties with Islam had taken on “great importance” for the Catholic Church because of the growing number of Muslim immigrants in many traditionally Christian countries.
“We Christians should embrace with affection and respect Muslim immigrants to our countries in the same way that we hope and ask to be received and respected in countries of Islamic tradition,” he said.
“I ask and I humbly entreat those countries to grant Christians freedom to worship and to practice their faith, in light of the freedom which followers of Islam enjoy in Western countries,” he added.
Much of the exhortation was devoted to spiritual issues, particularly the need for a more joyful approach to faith reflected in the document’s Latin title “Evangelii Gaudium” (The Joy of the Gospel).
“There are Christians whose lives seem like Lent without Easter,” he said, adding that the Christian message should not be “a catalog of sins and faults” and should be about striving for “the good of others”.
The document included practical tips from Francis for priests on how to give better homilies as well as a call for them to be closer to their parishioners.
“Our church doors should always be open, so that if someone, moved by the Spirit, comes there looking for God, he or she will not find a closed door,” he said.
AFP Photo/Andreas Solaro