I just returned home from a short but awesome trip to Italy. My youngest, a Junior at UNC-Chapel Hill, is studying (you can eliminate this word but it is the rational given by the university for her being there) abroad this semester in Florence. During her Fall break, a week of no class, there exists an opportunity for some extended travel. Perfect time for mom and dad to go visit so my wife and I decided to go see Florence and then Rome. It was all a fantastic experience.
What does this trip have to do with the Vatican, institutions and the AAO? It is said, “when in Rome….” so yes, we did what many that visit Rome do and saw the Vatican with a private tour guide we had hired for the day. As a disclaimer, I’m not Catholic, so this was not a pilgrimage so much as a holy site that was a must see on our list. Where institutions are concerned, there are few more well known, well funded, long lasting, steeped in tradition, and some consider “out of step” institutions than the Roman Catholic Church, the epicenter of which is the Vatican. Some might describe the AAO with a similar description with regards to the orthodontic profession.
So, off we went to Vatican City. The grandeur of the Vatican is really not possible to capture in words or pictures. Like going to the Grand Canyon, experiencing the Vatican is something best done “live” if you have the opportunity. The beauty, opulence, scale, sculpture, art, history, influence and significance of the site regardless of your belief system left me in awe. Quietly and reverently I left the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Cathedral and am now just beginning to process some of the meaning about what I experienced there.
For over two thousand years this institution has been built and led by men. The first pope was the apostle Peter. Over time, 266 different Popes have led the institution, which today is led by an Argentinian, Pope Francis; who is bringing change. As a result, we learned that many of the traditionalists in the Roman Catholic church have reservations about how Pope Francis is leading the institution. He refuses to wear the Ferragamo slippers that were traditionally deemed appropriate for wear inside the Vatican donning simple black shoes instead. He refused to live in the papal apartment area of the Apostolic Palace, choosing instead to live in a modest Vatican Guesthouse. A nightmare for his security detail he does not ride in the protected “Pope mobile”, preferring instead an open topped, less protected vehicle so he can be closer to the people. The Mercedes fleet of Vatican owned cars have been sold in favor of more modest Ford’s and Fiat’s. He set up showers in Vatican city for the homeless to the dismay of many. Recently he married twenty couples, one of which had a child out of wedlock; rocking some hard line traditionalists’ views. He opened the Jubilee doors to St. Peter’s Cathedral which were once only opened every 100 years, then changed to 25, and Francis said – why wait so long; we walked through them ourselves. For devout Catholics, walking through the Jubilee doors is a very big deal. His papacy in a theme is about “Mercy” and he has stripped away some of the window dressing to get his message across. While all these changes are hard pills to swallow for some, the pomp and circumstance and most traditions are still part of his papacy. For a non-Catholic observer, all this information I learned during my visit seemed refreshing and hopeful; and made me think of the changes needed for an institution at home that is relevant and close to my heart, the AAO.
At 55 years old and obviously not a dues paying member since I’m not a doctor, I am nevertheless not in the #AAOFAIL camp and will never be. However, I am aware that some Pope Francis style changes are in order in St. Louis. I have enough touch and communication with the AAO to hold great optimism and hope that the current and future leadership are migrating in the right direction. I also understand why some are fatigued with the pace of change and perhaps it will never be fast enough or enough for the #AAOFAIL campers. However my visit to the Vatican reminded me that tradition has its place, pomp has its place, and that change is hard, slow and necessary for institutions to survive. I think the AAO is needed and needs to change to continue to be a great institution. Whatever your view of the AAO, I say consider #AAOSUCCEED. Food for thought.