Editor’s note: This article was first published in February 2013 but its relevance continues…

The news services have been busy this week reporting on Pope Benedict XVI’s announcing his retirement. The last pope to resign was Pope Gregory XII, who stepped down almost 600 years ago in 1415.

The coverage of the story has run the gamut. There was the official story that he was retiring due to age and health reasons. Then there was the speculation that the Catholic church’s child-abuse scandals had led to his downfall.  This tragedy has been further highlighted by a recent HBO documentary laying much blame at the feet of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger before he became pope. (Having recently viewed the documentary, Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God, I can understand such speculation.  It paints the Vatican as an institution as more concerned with protecting its organization and priests than with the egregious harm caused to victims of the priests around the world.)

There were stories criticizing the Pope and there were stories praising his leadership. And, of course, there’s been a lot of speculation about his eventual successor.
What we have not heard too much about though is how this change might be serving our evolution. Evolution comes into play here in two ways – in our consciousness and in the changes in the church.

First, humanity is evolving in the realm of our consciousness. This shows up in our prominent worldviews held by individuals and reflected in their culture at any point in time. Our collective needs and view of life are different now than they were at the genesis of the Catholic Church. We have evolved. What many people need now from their spiritual organizations is much different than it was 1700 years ago.

There were two predominant worldviews at play back at the time the Catholic Church was formed. Humanity had just evolved through an age where we had created strong city states led by powerful rulers. This was the time of Kings and their subjects, the haves and the have-nots. There was an expectation that the commoners lives would be protected and directed by those in charge. In Spiral Dynamics language, this is the red worldview.

However, humanity had also evolved into a more advanced level of consciousness. Frustrated with the inequities in the world, a new worldview had emerged that brought with it a desire for clear-cut rules, laws, and institutions with a degree of fairness. The view of God changed also– previously multiple powerful gods coexisted, all needing to be appeased. Now God was seen as one all-powerful God. This shift brought the major monotheistic traditions such as Christianity. In Spiral Dynamics language, this is the blue worldview.

The origins of the Catholic Church were forged at a time when humanity sought a powerful presence to serve as an intermediary between us and an external God as well as the entity that would lay down the clear-cut rules we needed to overcome the chaos and inequities of the past. For the past 1700 years, the church has played that role.

However in that same span of time, humanity has continued evolving. The Enlightenment brought the rise of the scientific method and governmental democracy. People sought both evidence for those things they accepted as true. They sought a personal role in determining the direction of their individual and our collective lives. This new worldview sought to see life through a material lens. Here, belief in an external God was seen as an outdated myth. Life became about material success. In Spiral Dynamics language, this is the orange worldview.

The 20th century allowed a new worldview to emerge. This one placed its emphasis on the specialness of all humans. It recognized the limitations of materialism – that there is more to life than riches. A new birth of non-dogmatic spirituality arose. God was no longer an external being needing to be neither appeased nor altogether non-existent. Now God was Spirit, an energetic and intelligent connecting force of all of life. External entities that served as intermediaries between us and the spiritual realm were no longer important. In Spiral Dynamics language, this is the green worldview.

Even now, a small group of humans are on the cusp of a new birth of consciousness, a new worldview. Here they see the complete interconnectedness of all of life and all of our systems. Here they see the perfection in the evolutionary path and how all of the worldviews have served to bring us to where humanity is now. They see that all of these earlier worldviews are still at play on the planet, frequently disagreeing simply because their view of life is so totally different. These individuals recognize that we play a role in our evolutionary unfoldment. We have the power to consciously co-create the world we wish to live in. Sometimes this small group of people is called integral thinkers. In Spiral Dynamics language, this is the second tier of consciousness – the yellow and turquoise and higher worldviews.

Humanity has continued evolving and although the Catholic Church has changed to a degree from its beginnings, it has in no way kept up with the evolution in consciousness of the vast majority of people on the planet. Yes, many people still draw comfort and a sense of spiritual deepening from the teachings of the Catholic Church. The church is still growing in areas of the world where earlier worldviews are still more prevalent. However, their numbers are shrinking in the modern world.  Yes, part of the exodus can be explained by the fact that people are enraged by the church’s pedophile problem.  Yet many more people are leaving because they are evolving into the more advanced worldviews while the church remains mired in tradition and meeting the needs of humanity as it existed 1700 years ago.

The Catholic Church is at an interesting crossroads – evolve or die. Pope Benedict XVI represented too much of the old. He protected the establishment of the church at the expense of the needs of the people. The crimes of the priests against innocent young victims and the longtime cover up and silence of the Church are inexcusable   No matter what his reason for his resignation, the Catholic Church must decide whether they wish to remain relevant in the 21st century or go the way of every other human institution who met a need at one point in times long past. No matter what they choose, humanity will continue exist and to evolve.

Mark Gilbert


Check out all of Mark Gilbert’s books—available at Amazon. Click here to visit his Author Page. This includes his recent one Our Spiritual Rights and Responsibilities. In this book, he offers what he suggests are the 5 basic rights we all possess by virtue of our being these spiritual beings on planet Earth — and our 2 responsibilities we all hold in relation to one another! Check it out!