It couldn’t last forever.

Sure, things were giddy for awhile. Pope Francis certainly seemed to have the stuff of a rock star pope. No wonder he was on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine!

But for all the cool things he said, there was still a church to run, a church to drag – perhaps kicking and screaming – into the 21st century.

Well, the dragging has begun. And so has the kicking and screaming.

Over in Cincinnati, the lay organization Voice of the Faithful, which rose to prominence in the wake of the horrors of the sex abuse scandals, has taken on a new battle. The group has paid for numerous billboards throughout the Ohio city asking: “Would Pope Francis Sign the New Catholic Teacher Contract?”

The city’s 2,000-plus teachers have been asked to sign an expanded contract which ensures that in and out of the classroom – in their private lives – they maintain rigid adherence to Catholic doctrine.

This includes not promoting “homosexual lifestyles,” not engaging in pre-marital sex and not publicly supporting other issues which go against church teaching.

Do we really want Catholic schools teachers fired because they were overheard supporting gay marriage or birth control or because they become pregnant while unmarried?

This has already led to one teacher quitting her job because her own son is gay.

“In my eyes, there is nothing wrong with my son,” teacher Molly Shumate was quoted as saying in the Cincinnati Enquirer. “This is what God gave me and what God created and someone I should never be asked to not support.”

Shumate has refused to sign the contract, saying it would send a bad message to her 22-year-old son.

Cincinnati Catholic officials suggest that there is no reason for this to split a family up.

“Our culture is changing rapidly in this area, and many of our school employees, including me, have family members who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender,” Catholic School Superintendent Jim Rigg was quoted as saying.

“As Christians, we are called to love and serve all people. While the church’s stance on homosexual marriage is well-known, this does not mean that our teachers will be asked to cast away loved family members.”

No, but didn’t a certain fairly important fellow in Rome once say “who am I to judge?” when asked about gays? Well, it does appear there is quite a bit of judging going on here.

Meanwhile, also this week, Irish American New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd wrote a piece unfavorably comparing Pope Francis’ treatment of nuns to that of his grim predecessor, Pope Benedict.

“Pope Francis appears guilty of condoning that most base Vatican sport: bullying nuns,” Dowd writes. “The cool pope suddenly doesn’t seem so cool, allowing Rome’s grand inquisitors to torque up the derogation this Mother’s Day of the American sisters who have mothered so many — even as an endless parade of ghoulish priests were shielded as they defiled vulnerable kids in their care.”

Dowd is referring to German Cardinal Gerhard Müller’s recent criticism of the largest group of American nuns, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. They had been planning to honor Fordham theologian Sister Elizabeth Johnson, who has been critical of the inferior position of women in the church.

As Dowd wrote: “Last year Pope Francis said he would let the Vatican’s coercive reform of the nuns’ group continue. And this past week, he was silent following Müller’s mauling of the nuns.”

For all of the goodwill Pope Francis has fostered, people are starting to wonder how much of this is about style and how much of this is about real substance.

How different will the church really be after Pope Francis’ papacy? Will it be reformed in a way that is relevant for the 21st Century? Will the church continue to deny leadership roles to women, disregarding all of the talent and experience nuns have?

And will it remain obsessed with the sex lives of the dwindling number of folks in the pews? (This after years and years of ignoring the sex lives of its priests.)

It’s time for parishioners to judge Pope Francis on issues of real substance.

(Contact “Sidewalks” at