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The 5 stories to expect in 2010

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles ) | Dec 31, 2009

My lists of the five worst stories of 2009 and the year’s five most positive developments included dozens of links to our news coverage. Today’s rundown contains very few links, since I am engaged in speculation rather than reporting, trying to predict five important news stories that will break in the coming year.

Headline stories are, by their very nature, hard to predict. During the pontificate of Benedict XVI—in sharp contrast to that of John Paul II—major announcements have frequently come without advance warning. The apostolic palace seems leak-proof; journalists are not given a week or more to discuss and “spin” a document before its release.

Even when a topic has been discussed for months around the Vatican, Pope Benedict has been able to catch the press corps off guard with the timing of his announcements. In 2009 for example, his lifting of the excommunications on SSPX bishops and his invitation to Anglicans (#3 and #2, respectively, on yesterday’s “good news” countdown) were surprises—even though reports on the Holy See’s relations with traditionalists and with conservative Anglicans had fueled the rumor mills for several years. Similarly, although it was well known that the Congregation for the Causes of Saints had prepared a decree recognizing the heroic virtue of Pope Pius XII, no Vatican journalists anticipated that the Pope would approve that decree for release in December.

Clearly, Pope Benedict makes his policy moves when he judges that the time is ripe—not when he thinks the media have been forewarned. So in predicting the major news developments of 2010, I am trying to read the Pope’s mind. That’s a risky business, obviously. But it may be fun.

So without further ado, here are my predictions for 2010. A year from now, we can look back and see how accurate they were.

5. Pope Benedict will unveil new proposals for the restoration of the Latin liturgy.

For many years then-Cardinal Ratzinger was identified as one of the Vatican’s most prominent advocates for a “reform of the reform.” He wrote often about the liturgy, stressing the need to restore a sense of the sacred. When he was elected Roman Pontiff, his liturgical allies looked forward to important policy changes. Thus far, there have been few. But Pope Benedict moves deliberately, and there is no reason to believe that he lost interest in liturgical renewal. On the contrary, when he released Summorum Pontificum, advocating wider use of the traditional Latin liturgy, the Holy Father made the point that a broader acquaintance with the extraordinary form could help generate movement toward needed reforms of the Novus Ordo.

During the summer of 2009 there were persistent rumors around Rome that the Congregation for Divine Worship was studying new liturgical proposals. The rumors were so widespread, in fact, that the Vatican press office released a disclaimer of sorts: a carefully worded denial that no “institutional proposals” were under active consideration.

Later Andrea Tornielli, perhaps the most consistently accurate of Vatican journalists, asserted in Il Giornale that proposals for the “reform of the reform” were indeed under consideration, the official Vatican denial notwithstanding. A few weeks later, Tornielli’s report was essentially confirmed by an even more authoritative source: Cardinal Antonio Cañizares Llovera, the prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship.

Something is afoot. I don’t know what proposals the Vatican is weighing, and I don’t know when a new initiative will be launched. But I’m expecting an announcement in 2010.

4. Pope John Paul II and Cardinal John Henry Newman will be beatified

This, I admit, is not a bold prediction. Pope John Paul II has already been declared venerable, and the approval of a miracle will clear the way for his beatification. With several reported miracles already being investigated, and millions of Catholics still pushing for quick action, beatification in the fall of 2010 is a fairly safe bet. On this question, the world will have ample advance notice; there has been abundant publicity—including both authorized statements and unofficial leaks—at every stage of the cause for the late Pontiff’s beatification.

The beatification of Cardinal Newman is only a matter of time. The Vatican has already confirmed the authenticity of a miracle through his intercession; all that remains is the scheduling of the ceremony. Since the miracle was approved in July, the beatification might already have taken place; at least a date could have been set. Why the delay? Some English Catholics suggested that Pope Benedict might want to break with his usual policy, and preside at the beatification ceremony himself. The latest reports from London indicate that those suggestions were right on target, and the beatification will take place in September 2010 during the Pope’s visit to Great Britain.

3. The Vatican will have an important policy conflict with the newly muscular European Union

Americans barely noticed this year when the Lisbon Treaty took effect and the European Union became a sovereign body, with sweeping new powers over its member states.

Although the Vatican has strongly supported the cause of European unity, the leadership of the European Union has consistently opposed the Church on issues such as abortion, same-sex marriage, religious education, and even the treatment of religion in the EU’s founding documents. For a decade the Holy See has fought against secularist European political leaders on particular issues, while continuing to uphold the general goal of European unity. Now that the EU has molded itself into a potentially powerful body, a direct confrontation is more likely.

Will that clash arise when a European court condemns Ireland’s legal ban on abortion? Such a ruling would be highly ironic, since the Irish Catholic bishops strongly supported approval of the Lisbon Treaty in the only popular vote on the new constitution for the European Union. Or will the fight develop over a decision already issued by the European Court of Human Rights: that the display of a crucifix in Italian schoolrooms is a violation of human rights? Or maybe some entirely new dispute will arise. A showdown is inevitable.

2. Pope Benedict will make a dramatic ecumenical overture to the Eastern churches.

We knew that the Pope had a keen interest in reconciliation with traditionalist Catholics, and last January he made his move, lifting the excommunications of the SSPX bishops. We knew that he had a keen interest in drawing tradition-minded Anglicans into the Catholic Church, and in October he advanced on that front, too. We know that the Holy Father takes a keen interest in closer ties with the Orthodox churches, and… we’re waiting.

With the election of Patriarch Kirill as head of the Russian Orthodox Church, the Pope now has an interlocutor in Moscow who is equally interested in ecumenical affairs. Although the Moscow patriarchate continues to release its boilerplate criticisms of Catholic “proselytism,” the statements no longer contain the same degree of rancor, and the hints of a willingness to engage in further dialogue are more frequent and more pointed.

(If a major conflict arises between the European Union and the Catholic Church, the Russian Church will surely join in the battle. The Orthodox leadership has frequently underlined the need for Catholic and Orthodox faithful to stand together against the power of European secularism.)

The late Pope John Paul II made no secret of his longing to visit Moscow. But each time plans for a “summit meeting” with Patriarch Alexei II were advanced, Russian officials slammed the door shut. Pope Benedict has never openly spoken of a desire to travel to Russia, but the Moscow patriarchate has begun dropping hints that a “summit meeting” may now be a realistic prospect. For 2010?

1. Pope Benedict will name new cardinals.

Another easy prediction to make. The last consistory for the naming of new cardinals was in November 2007. Age and deaths have gradually been whittling away at the number of cardinal-electors, and several important prelates now hold posts—either at the Vatican or as the head of major metropolitan archdioceses—that are usually occupied by a cardinal.

There are now 112 cardinals below the age of 80 and thus eligible to participate in a papal election. By the end of March that number will fall to 108, as four more cardinals celebrate their 80th birthdays. By September the number will be down to 103—even assuming that there are no deaths among the electors. Pope Benedict will probably want to fill some of those available spots, thus indirectly influencing the choice of his own successor.

Archbishop Raymond Burke, the head of the Apostolic Signatura, would be a near-certain choice to receive a red hat at the next consistory. It would be surprising, however, if any other American name appeared on the list of new cardinals.

Even before calling a consistory, the Pope may make a key change in the Roman Curia. Rumors about the possible replacement of Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, the prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, have been circulating for most of the year. Some Vatican insiders now believe that Cardinal Re—an insider who has worked in the Roman Curia for over 20 years, and now holds one of the Vatican’s most important posts, supervising the appointment of bishops—will be replaced by the time he marks his 76th birthday on January 30.


Previous in this series: The 5 most positive developments in 2009

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Show 6 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: phil L - Jan. 02, 2010 9:14 AM ET USA

    jmjusa, would you really want 14 Americans voting in the next conclave? I sure wouldn't. That has to be a consideration for the pope as well.

  • Posted by: jmjusa - Jan. 01, 2010 10:49 PM ET USA

    I think you are wrong about who will be given a promotion to cardinal. Dolan will certainly be named cardinal (although Egan is a few years away from 80), and it is likely Vigneron will be (Maida will soon be 80). Wuerl may not be elevated, although McCarrick will be 80 this year. Keeler is almost 79, so perhaps O'Brien will be elevated.

  • Posted by: jeremiahjj - Jan. 01, 2010 9:28 PM ET USA

    I would not be surprised if a cardinal's hat is waiting for Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver. Denver's loss would be the church's gain.

  • Posted by: - Jan. 01, 2010 2:05 PM ET USA

    It is always inspiring to look into the future with hope and your report reinforces that need among us. Thanks! Liturgy restoration as a means of placing again the due worship for God is not to be confused with a conservationist position or sorts. For I believe that Pope Benedict XVI wants to restore worshipness more that tradition. And that is NOT the same thing. Worshipness from the Church is to restore the due acceptance of us humans that God is in charge and we are to act FOR HIM ALWAYS.

  • Posted by: Chestertonian - Dec. 31, 2009 11:21 PM ET USA

    And what of the women religious in the US after the visitation is concluded? I'd be willing to bet there will be some housecleaning as a result. Of course, I'm hoping for something similar in regard to the seminaries, too. May God continue to find reasons to bless the US in the new year!

  • Posted by: tmsharel5764 - Dec. 31, 2009 5:35 PM ET USA

    I hate to sound like a scratched disk that keeps playing the same thing over and over (well, I don't really HATE it), but Pope Benedict will close down most of the diocesan marriage tribunals in 2010 that are issuing most of the lack of due discretion declarations of nullity because we all know we all lack it.

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