The world--especially the Western world--is in tremendous cultural turmoil where fundamental personal relationships are undergoing dizzying cultural change at tremendous speed. That is why the calling of a Synod on the family by Pope Francis was the right move. The Pope has decried those who wish to stick their heads in the sand. Certainly, Francis has not done that but has taken the bull by the horns by opening a debate and consultation concerning the tremendous cultural shifts taking place in the West (in which I include Latin America and not just Europe, the U.S., Canada, and Oceania).
The future of Catholicism will likely carry on the legacy of Pope Francis in several ways:
1. Scripted synods and other gatherings will be replaced by open and frank debate. There is no need to present a false face of monolithic unanimity on all matters. Such debate will keep at bay the dangers of denial. Otherwise, such events will be rightly discounted both within and outside the Church.
2. The pastoral revolution of Francis makes clear that creative ways of approaching and accompanying the wounded are consistent with traditional doctrine. Doctrinal loyalty does not mean pastoral rigor mortis. In fact, doctrine, especially under the rubric of mercy, calls for continual pastoral creativity. Mercy requires it.
3. The hypernomian (read: overlegalistic) approach of some who call themselves conservatives has exhausted itself in the face of unprecedented and theologically earth-shaking pastoral challenges. As Cardinal Wuerl of Washington, D.C., noted, the pastoral framework has shifted from the code of canon law to the Gospel, the Magna Carta of Catholicism. All else must adjust and adapt to the Gospel.
The Church always renews herself, semper renovanda, a renewal which is a necessity of the future.