A recent poll by the people at Quinnipiac University tells a tale of American Catholics who seem to believe, by a paper thin margin, that the Vatican in general and next Pope in particular has to moderate. The Church is moving in the right direction, they say, but needs to alter its stance on contraception, gay marriage, women priests in order to become more in step with the modern world. All of that would be okay: if the Church cared about what the modern world thought.
Fortunately, She does not. Nor should She. If religion is to be of any real significance then it must do what it can to lead its flocks toward becoming better people. This cannot mean telling them to do whatever they want. In a sense, a seriously religious institute is analogous to being a parent: we cannot allow our kids to do anything they want or they will become vain and selfish adults. Neither should the Church follow poll results when considering doctrine, because it just doesn't matter what individual Catholics believe about eternal and unchanging morals any more than what a eight year old might believe about doing his chores or homework. Morality doesn't change simply because Catholics as a group may want it too. It doesn't change for non-Catholics either, of course, but that is a bit of a separate question right this minute.
In areas where the poll may have real meaning, it might well be good for Church leaders to step up and take notice; the priestly sex abuse scandal comes to mind. But there are three things which matter with such issues. First and foremost, sexual abuse is minors is an affront to morality and ought to be eradicated; Church doctrine teaches as much. This leads to point two: where such sins have occurred, up to and including any possible cover ups, we are not dealing with propagating dogma so much as with individuals within the Church doing heinous things. When Church leaders violate dogma, and this is point three by the way, then the laity have the right to call them out. The non-clerical members of the Church have an obligation to remind Church leaders to set things right when they err. Such is working within rather than against the Church.
All the bother about what type of leader the next Pope ought to be, then, is only so much blather. It doesn't matter what the people think, Catholic or not. It would very interesting to see how many of the poll respondents are in the pew week in and week out serious Catholics or simply folks who say they're Catholic. Would that not skew the poll numbers against the Vatican? Yet even that doesn't matter with regard to eternal truth. But it would interesting to hear, as an academic exercise.
Be all that as it may, what we should want in a Pope is a solid traditionalist from wherever in the globe the Spirit drives the Cardinals in conclave to find him. Polls will not affect that decision. Nor should they.