“I don’t think of all the misery, but of the beauty that still remains.”
― Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl
There are no words, digital photos, videos or sound bites that can completely or adequately describe the totality of what went down during this past week’s historic Papal conclave in Rome.
In the always-on-age of satellite technology and instant access, where the dynamic social media demigods of Facebook and Twitter rule – it was the solemnity and secrecy of the venerable two thousand year old institution of the Catholic Church that won the day.
Through devote prayer, the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the inescapable knowledge that the institutional Church must drastically change its current course or face further global decline, the college of cardinals really had no other choice but to hoist anchor and set sail for the 21st century.
Arguably there have been more pivotal moments of crisis in Church history, the Crusades and Protestant Reformation come to mind. But, today, the fact that the majority of nations throughout the world are defined as ‘democracies’ and that digital technology has reduced the planet to what the late Canadian media guru Marshall McLuhan famously coined (more than 40 years ago) as ‘a global village’, the top-down, authoritarian structure of the Catholic Church is no longer relevant in the 21st century. In other words, the institutional Church in its current form, no longer serves the majority of the people of God.
With much discussion, discernment, prayer and plumes of white smoke – the recent group of cardinals cloistered in the Sistine Chapel recognized this glaring fact. Their choice of the humble Argentinian cardinal Jorge Mario Gregoglio, already dubbed ‘the slum Pope’, speaks volumes of the desire for change. Not for change sake but to, hopefully, reform the Roman Curia in such as way that will allow local bishops more control to meet the expansive and varying needs of their flocks.
Given more autonomy over their local churches, bishops can begin to address pressing issues unique to their own countries, regions and local church communities. North American and Western European bishops can continue, or in some cases, begin to heal the gaping wounds created by past clerical sexual abuse scandals and, finally, be given the freedom to begin open discussions around issues such as redefining the role of women and the priesthood and financial and sexual abuse cover-ups that have caused droves of passionate and talented Catholics to leave the Church they love, behind.
This does not have to mean a watering down of the moral absolutes that the Catholic Church has championed. Catholics can still engage in meaningful, rich discussions and debate about the future of the Church and also effect change, while honoring sacred core values such as the dignity of the human person, the option for the poor and the common good.
Make no mistake, this seemingly abrupt change in direction represents HOPE for many disaffected Catholics. There is a genuine opportunity now for the Vatican II concept of ‘the people of God’ and the sensus fidelium (the sense of the people) to shape and breathe life into a truly bold, new body of Christ on earth.
Despite the best efforts of professional odds-makers and soothsayers to predict the final outcome, ultimately, it was the Holy Spirit that shocked and rocked the multitudes standing in the rain-soaked square outside the opulent house built upon the remains of St. Peter.
Now, it’s up to each individual Catholic in communion with one another, to continue the shakedown, by helping to heal old wounds and rebuild the universal Church and the kingdom of God on earth, one community, one brick and one soul at a time.