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Catholic church to 'reduce' pope's powers

26 November 2013, 15:55

Vatican - Pope Francis called for reform to take powers away from the Vatican and said Catholics should be more engaged in helping the needy as he outlined his vision for the Church in a key Vatican document released on Tuesday.

The Catholic leader said he was "open to suggestions" on how his role should change -- using an informal style in his first "apostolic exhortation", which marked a break from his predecessor Benedict XVI.

Francis said it was time for "a conversion of the papacy", adding that "excessive centralization, rather than proving helpful, complicates the Church's life".

"Nor do I believe that the papal magisterium should be expected to offer a definitive or complete word on every question which affects the Church and the world.

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.

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 re-married divorcees but there was no mention on Tuesday of any changes foreseen on these hot-button issues.

In the document Francis stressed the importance of the Church's social message, which he has made a priority.

"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 catalogue 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.

"I do not want a Church concerned with being at the centre and then ends by being caught up in a web of obsessions and procedures," he said, condemning "structures which give us a false sense of security... while at our door people are starving".



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