The welcome and open tone Pope Francis has brought to the Catholic Church will survive him and his papacy, some prominent Catholic writers and America’s most famous “nun on the bus” said at a forum last week at the library of the nation’s first and only Catholic president, John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

“If the Vatican stupidly and self-destructively shuts down what Francis has done, the Catholic people will go on,” said James Carroll, a Boston Globe columnist and author of numerous books on the Church, including the new “Christ Actually: The Son of God for the Secular Age.” (Read an excerpt here.) “But such a move would seal the independence of the Catholic people from the authority structure.”

Sister Simone Campbell, who organized the “Nuns on the Bus” tour pushing for Obamacare, said Church leadership “has been so defined as doing the rules. But he’s inviting people in. He has less of an agenda. He’s trying to build peace in the Church and saying, ‘dialogue is more important than protecting my turf.’ ”

Returning to a pope as great judge with “that tone of punishment,” she said, “I don’t think it’s possible.”

Novelist Mary Gordon said she “cried when I read what the pope said about [not fixating on sex issues],” but that in reality, the Vatican has not been defining women Catholics for years. The author of “The Company of Women” and “Reading Jesus” described the “schizophrenia” among those Catholic women loyal to their faith who nonetheless use birth control and are pro-choice. Pope Francis has also made it less likely she’ll endure the “take 90 IQ points off when they know I’m Catholic” routine, she quipped.

The forum also included Boston Globe writer Neil Swidey, who has movingly chronicled his own Catholic journey and spoke about Francis’ unique combination of “charisma and [political] calculus.” As a Crux columnist, I moderated.

Carroll offered a fascinating theory on the resignation of Pope Benedict, saying he left understanding that “the Church was at a critical point, a sea change was required, and he couldn’t do it. They sensed something in Francis.”

One reason Francis hasn’t moved faster in addressing issues like women’s roles or Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics may be that “he’s profoundly respectful of Benedict.” Said Carroll: “The most important thing is the way (Francis) acts, and the word that comes to mind is kindness.”