The Catholic Church has a new pope in Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina, who will go by the name Francis, and the questions that have been asked since Benedict's resignation will continue.
Will the new pope modernize the Church? Will he make it more liberal and inclusive? Will he soften the Church's stance on birth control, abortion, and sexuality?
Those are the wrong questions to ask any leader of the Catholic Church because they are as leading as "do you plan to stop beating your children? Yes or no?"
The questions about the Church's future amount to asking the Church to renounce its history and its very identity in favour of a liberal, secular vision of the world. That vision is certainly not shared by devout Catholics or the men in charge of the Church.
Modern society has brought many positive changes but it has done so at the expense of morality, Catholics (as well as other Christians and many followers of Islam and Judaism) argue. While some may consider this worldview hopelessly backward and naive, that's simply not the case.
As Jonathan Haidt points out in his excellent book The Righteous Mind, religious individuals embrace a broader and more traditional view of society. While the secular embrace liberty and fairness above all, religious people balance those concepts against respect for authority, tradition and community. Put other way, the secular put the individual first while religion argues that the group, whether it's the family, the community or the society, is paramount over the individual.
That separation happens in other instances. Citizens of North America and Europe value individual rights far greater than residents of Asia, Africa and South America. Same goes for people on the left side of the political spectrum as compared to the right.
Sanctity and sin and immorality are real and serious issues for the religious but they rarely appear in the lives of non-believers, except as matters of situational ethics, to be decided on a case-by-case basus. For the religious, hard and fast rules bind society together but for others, those same inflexible rules and their blanket application are seen as signposts on the road to oppression and tyranny.
Pope Francis will passionately defend the conservative traditions of the Catholic Church, there is no doubt of that.
The only movement the world could see from him will be in the area of social outreach.
He is a Jesuit, an order of the Church that follows Christ's example of providing aid and comfort to the disenfranchised. As Nicole Winfield of The Associated Press pointed out, Francis blasted his fellow church leaders last year, calling them hypocrites and reminding them that Jesus regularly spent time among lepers, prostitutes and other socially shunned individuals, spreading a message of hope that we are all God's children and we are all worth saving.
Historically, Jesuits represent the best and the worst of the Catholic Church. The Jesuit emphasis on education brought residential schools and the effort to eliminate aboriginal culture from Canadian life. That qualifies as an act of genocide under the United Nations definition.
At the same time, Jesuits have been powerful advocates, particularly in the Third World, speaking out and sometimes even becoming martyrs in their noble efforts to end armed conflict, political oppression and poverty.
Most media reports of the election of the new Pope have breathlessly portrayed the Catholic Church as being at a crossroads. That's such a shortsighted view of an institution nearly 2,000 years old and it points the lens in the wrong direction. It's modern society at the crossroads, wrestling with individual versus collective rights, while still working on its identity as a tolerant and secular culture, while deciding whether to respect or reject its religious foundations.