Anyone who followed media coverage of the papal conclave that elected the Argentine Jorge Mario Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, couldnt help noticing that the same breathless questions were raised again and again by commentators assessing the future of Catholicism. Will the church ever allow priests to marry? Will it ordain women? Will it change its teaching on homosexuality or birth control? Will it permit the divorced and remarried to receive Communion? Is clergy sexual abuse still a problem? Will bishops ever be held accountable for covering up that abuse?When it comes to these persistent conflicts it seems the scrum has barely budged over the past forty years. While most American Catholics think the church should change its positionsor at least moderate its toneon these neuralgic issues, the hierarchy and a group of conservative Catholics influential in Rome remain intent on stressing the countercultural aspect of Catholicism, its power to push back against the overwhelming secularity of American life. The result is a church nearly as polarized as the U.S. Congress.Meanwhile, the church in the United States has lost a third of its members and many doubt such losses can be stanched as long as certain teachingssay, about sexual morality or the role of womendo not change. Conservative Catholics respond that in comparison with the even more dramatic decline of mainline Protestant churches that have embraced supposedly more enlightened attitudes, the Catholic Church is doing fine. Any church that accommodates itself to our individualistic, egalitarian, and morally promiscuous secular culture, they say, is doomed to irrelevance. Better to stay the course; that way, even if losses are high, there wont be a complete collapse. This often seemed to be the default position of Benedict XVI. If Franciss initial remarks and actions are any indication, he promises to engage the larger culture from a less defensive posture.