Change is in the air. It almost feels like a miracle. With these kinds of things going on, it's reasonable to believe that almost any kinds of positive change can be achieved.
Pope Francis greets the enthusiastic crowd in St Peters Piazza. May 8, 2013
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" Francis tells his fellow hierarchs that they are not to think of themselves as "a royal court," as he put it to his first batch of appointed cardinals."
" Bishops are to lead by serving, not dominating. The centralized Curia, too, must not be "an inspector and inquisitor that no longer allows the action of the Holy Spirit and the development of the people of God."
"Hierarchical "careerism" is "a form of cancer," Francis has said, comparing bishops who strut about in church finery to "peacocks." Instead, he wants pastors who act as shepherds and who "smell of the sheep." He does not want "airport bishops" who buzz around the world padding their resumes and preaching a doctrinaire gospel while living the good life. "Little monsters," he calls such clerics."
Top down culture focuses power at the top, and leaders dominate, engaging in rigid, one-way communication and control. Apparently, the leaders of the church were acutely aware of this as Gibson's article reports:
" If there was a single, central dynamic driving the coalition of cardinals that elected Francis in last year's conclave, it was the desire to put an end to the command-and-control style that characterized Rome's management under the papacies of John Paul II and Benedict XVI.
Dissent was quashed and suspect theologians were silenced. Bishops constantly looked over their shoulders, worried about perceived lapses in orthodoxy while Vatican departments tried to micromanage local issues that Rome knew little or nothing about. Dialogue was out, conformity was in, and bishops who toiled outside Rome were fed up."
Pope Francis has replaced that approach with systematic efforts to open up dialogue, encouraging conversations so as to make a group of people who were stultified by top-down institutional control a lot more comfortable just talking to each other and more important, to others.
Another key element that the article describes is Pope Francis' efforts to reach out, even taking risks of having accidents in doing so. Gibson describes how the Pope takes interviews with atheists, reaches out to all kinds o f people, even washing the feet of inmates, women and Muslims, and he quotes the pope pushing the church to go
"out to the periphery" to find the least and the lost. "A church that doesn't get out, sooner or later, gets sick from being locked up," as Francis put it, stressing that he prefers a church that is out in the street and "runs the risk of an accident."
This is risky stuff. But in transitioning the church from rigid, hidebound top-down, hierarchical, centralized, authoritarian ways to flattened, decentralized, far more connected and open ways he is strengthening the church, making it, as Nassim Nicholas Taleb describes, antifragile, meaning having properties that actually gain from disorder and the unexpected.
Gibson describes an exercise, before the conclave that elected Francis Pope, behind closed doors, in which over 150 Cardinals were each given five minutes to talk about where the church was heading. Gibson describes Francis
'diagnosis of a "navel-gazing" church that he said was suffering from a "theological narcissism" that tried to keep Jesus locked inside when in fact "sometimes Jesus knocks from within, wanting to be let out into the wider world."
Not long after that conclave, Cardinal Bergoglio was named the new Pope, "preaching this same message... t hat the church can only be true to itself when it goes outside of itself, and leaves behind all the internal disputes and power struggles that have sapped its spirit."
Apparently, Pope Francis' approach has been so successful that even doubters are backing off from criticism, giving the approach a chance.
There's a theory put forward by Rupert Sheldrake, called morphogenic field theory. It purports that when something is done in the universe it makes it more likely to be repeated, and if a lot of that behavior is manifested, then it is much more likely to be duplicated. Pope Francis is putting out bottom-up ideas and energies that have the potential to produce waves far, far beyond the Catholic Church. Those waves are at similar frequencies that Occupy Wall Street and the Arab spring vibrated at.
Like high-pitched tones that break glass, the energies that the Pope's bottom-up revolution are generating, even when manifested through the reluctant cooperation of old-school, conservative Cardinals and Bishops, will affect people in the furthest corners of the non-Christian world. The idea that an institution as old as the Catholic Church can go through such major changes might have been mocked just a year or two ago.
These changes in the Catholic church will echo in so many ways I won't even try to imagine or describe them. But I'm feeling a lot more hopeful. When the leader of a billion plus people sets examples that will change the way they see the world and the way treat each other, that will have irresistable effects upon the most resistant politicians, fundamentalists, economists, capitalists, authoritarians and other leaders.
I'll say it again. Change is in the air. It almost feels like a miracle. With these kinds of things going on, it's reasonable to believe that almost anything can be achieved.