From what I can tell from interviewing numerous people over Pope Francis' first anniversary in office, he still has a broad swath of admirers, and they tend to come in two categories: Those hoping he'll change some of the church's approaches to sexuality and those emphasizing that he hasn't done such a thing amid his conciliatory words.
In fact, the latter group argues, Francis is calling everyone to repentance, not affirming such things as gay unions. Yet according to a recent Pew Research Center survey, a stunning number of Catholics expect change in their church on hot-button issues. By the year 2050, more than half of Catholics say, the church will allow married priests and artificial birth control. And 42 percent expect woman priests. All those numbers are up at least a little from before Francis' papacy. Also, more than a third of Catholics expect the church to recognize gay marriages. And in all those categories, even more American Catholics think the church should do those things than think it will.
But Francis' own words would indicate those with such expectations should brace themselves for disappointment. I've been reading through his apostolic exhortation, the "Joy of the Gospel," which is filled with ringing phrases about identifying with the poor and evangelizing through the power of "attraction" rather than obligation.
But there's also this:
"All revealed truths derive from the same divine source and are to be believed with the same faith, yet some of them are more important for giving direct expression to the heart of the Gospel." Briefly put, it reflects how Francis may be putting some of these issues a little lower on the ladder of priorities rather than changing them.
Still, the shift in tone is notable. If anyone's going to get the fire-and-brimstone treatment from Francis, it's not going to be those who don't conform to the church's sexual and marital standards. Francis marshals the words of the ancient St. John Chrysostom to denounce the financial greed of modern globalization: "Not to share one’s wealth with the poor is to steal from them and to take away their livelihood. It is not our own goods which we hold, but theirs."