Pope Pius XII was conservative; he exercised Papal Infallibility (Mary’s Assumption). Pope Saint John XXIII was a liberal Pope, the founder of Vatican II. And his immediate successor, Pope Paul VI, was a conservative Pope, the author of Humanae Vitae. Pope John Paul I is considered liberal, though he reigned for only 33 days. Pope Saint John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI are often considered conservative, but they perhaps should be called moderates. Pope Francis is a liberal but orthodox Pope.
Notice the pattern above. The papacy is not exclusively held by conservatives, nor by liberals. There is a pendulum effect whereby the papacy goes back and forth between conservatives and liberals. The liberal Popes, by the way, were not heretics; conservatism is not Catholicism and liberalism is not heresy.
Some people are upset that Pope Francis is a liberal; others are in denial. Some are happy that Pope Francis is a liberal. But what many people do not realize is that a liberal Pope tends to be followed by a conservative successor. And the more liberal the Pope, the more conservative the successor.
Most Cardinals today are relatively conservative. There are liberal Cardinals, but conservatives predominate. I think that Pope Francis is turning out to be more liberal than most Cardinal electors (the Cardinals who vote for Pope) had realized. And the result is likely to be an “over-correction”. The next Pope will be very conservative.
The Cardinal electors might also opt for an older Pope. They see that sometimes the Pope turns out to be other than what they had hoped. And there is no way to impeach a Pope. Rarely does a Pope retire. So choosing an older papal candidate is a way to impose a type of “term limit”, in case the Pope does not fulfill the hopes of the Cardinal electors.
Of course, I’m speaking in human terms. And the Cardinal electors are quite human; they have human flaws and limitations. But the Pope should always strive to be what Christ wishes, not what the Cardinal electors imagined.
The Pope Francis Rebound Effect is the tendency for a liberal Pope to be succeeded by a conservative Pope. The more liberal the Pope, the more conservative his successor.
Those voices crying “hosanna” in praise of Pope Francis solely because he is liberal, those commentators who imagine that Pope Francis will transfigure the Church into a liberal paradise, are sadly mistaken. The next Pope will be very conservative.
Those conservatives who consider liberalism to be a betrayal of true Catholicism will also be upset by the next Pope. He will be very conservative, but he will not reject Pope Francis, nor reverse his liberal yet orthodox teachings.
The Church will continue to have some liberal Popes and some conservative Popes. If you have a problem with that, maybe you should change your understanding of the Church and the Faith.