I am often asked for my opinion on matters of church government, traditions and doctrines of faith, and the transition from Pope Benedict to Pope Francis has increased the amount of inquiries. I try to base my view on patterns in history and remove my own personal feelings when answering because I feel that there are too many who substitute their own opinion for reality.
The religious forecasting by many writers seems more akin to sports gambling than an honest discussion of faith. I have read many columnists who have made some of the most outrageous of predictions for little reason than to stir up their audience or to push a fringe view. It is disappointing to see the church treated in such a manner.
Benedict's legacy will be one of tradition. In his short time as pontiff, he encouraged Catholics to return to a Christ-centered lifestyle that placed Christian ethics above all other considerations.
In his writing and speeches, he fought hard against the secular worship of the body and its placing of the individual above all other considerations. He opposed all forms of moral relativism and defended God as the true source of morality. He was the bulwark from which the church was able to reinvigorate the spirit of virtue among the faithful.
Among Pope Benedict's actions, George Weigel, expert in Catholic ethics and policy, points out that the pontiff finished the reforms of the Catholic Church that were started by Leo XIII more than a hundred years ago. The post-Benedict church is thus established and there is little need for further reform or change. This is an important point to understand, because most of the forecasters who call for dramatic changes in matters of faith will be denied.
One important example is Pope Benedict's demand that the American nuns, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, return to a tradition of devotion to their faith instead of serving secular politics.
Findings by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith revealed that the group of nuns were busy pushing "radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith." Likewise, the nuns were unwilling to support the church's efforts in opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage. To address the matter, Pope Benedict established a transfer of the leadership of the group of nuns to the U.S. bishops, who would ensure the religious integrity of the organization.
With the transfer to Pope Francis, many writers claimed that the hard stance against the wayward group would end. Instead, Pope Francis just reaffirmed the takeover and made it clear that he will be a strong defender of the faith.
Reforms, if there will be any dramatic changes in the church, will happen in terms of leadership. There have been clear problems regarding the personal ethics of individual members of the clergy and Roman Curia. Scandals that have erupted over the years can be attributed to the unwillingness of a few to stand by their vows.
The future of the Catholic Church under Pope Francis should not surprise anyone who understands that the church is ultimately run by those who are serious about their faith. The traditional Catholic identity will continue to hold strong.