Kenan Malik in the New York Times:
They call it the Francis effect: the impact of Pope Francis in galvanizing the Catholic faithful. Since he arrived at the Vatican, church attendance has surged across the world, while in his homeland of Argentina, the number of people defining themselves as believers has risen by a reported 12 percent.
Not just Catholics but those of other faiths, and of no faith, have fallen under Francis’ spell. “Even atheists should be praying for Pope Francis,” as the Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland put it recently.
Yet how much has really changed? Francis may be transforming the perception of the church and its mission, but not its core doctrines. He has called for a church more welcoming to gay people and women, but he will not challenge the idea that homosexual acts are sinful, refuses to embrace the possibility of same-sex marriage and insists that the ordination of women as priests is not “open to discussion.”
None of this should be surprising. Religious institutions necessarily spurn the modern and the fashionable, in favor of the traditional and the sacred. But it points up the dilemma in which religion finds itself in the modern world. If religious institutions do not change, they risk becoming obsolete. If they do change, they may imperil their authority. This quandary is faced not just by the Catholic Church but by all religious institutions today.