Ten stories that are likely to define the coming year

Egyptian Muslims and Christians in Cairo protest against the bombing of a Coptic church in Alexandria (AP Photo/Ahmed Ali)

For British Catholics, the past 12 months were both unsettling and exhilarating. Will the year ahead be as dramatic? Given the turbulent nature of the times, it is impossible to know for certain which themes will define the year. But here are 10 stories that we believe are likely to dominate 2011 and have a far-reaching impact on the Church.

The ordinariate: In arguably one of most interesting developments in English Christianity since the Oxford Movement, groups of former Anglicans will form the first personal ordinariate. The English ordinariate will become a model for similar ventures around the world.

Persecution in the Middle East: The bombing of the Coptic church in Alexandria was al-Qaeda’s way of saying that no Christian in any Middle Eastern country is safe. The terror network is likely to wage a concerted campaign this year to drive Christianity out of its ancient heartlands.

Post-papal visit renewal: Many of us are still trying to absorb the impact of Benedict XVI’s trip to Britain. There is a danger that, if we continue to simply bathe in the visit’s warm afterglow, we will miss a key opportunity for spiritual renewal.

The Church and the Coalition: Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster has said that the papal visit seemed to herald a new era in relations between Church and state. But will the new spirit of cooperation survive the Coalition’s decision to place abortion at the forefront of overseas aid and to drive through controversial cuts?

Apostolic Visitation to Ireland: This year the Apostolic Visitators will attempt to discover what went wrong with the Irish Church and how it might be corrected. If Rome can draw the right conclusions about the malaise it can ensure that the scandal is not repeated elsewhere.

Reforming the Legion of Christ: No less important is the radical re-shaping of the most dynamic post-Vatican II clerical religious congregation, the Legion of Christ, and its lay movement, Regnum Christi. Pope Benedict has rejected the easy option of simply abolishing the Legion and will devote much energy in 2011 to salvaging the wreckage left behind by Marcial Maciel.

The referendum in Sudan: This month the people of southern Sudan (many of whom are Catholic) will vote on whether to secede from the north. Khartoum has warned them to expect violence if they opt for independence. Will anyone defend them?

Sino-Vatican ties: Before Christmas relations between Rome and Beijing deteroriated dramatically. Chinese state media accused the Pope of behaving “like a western politician”, while the Vatican said the Chinese authorities had engaged in “unacceptable and hostile acts”. Will Sino-Vatican ties continue to worsen in 2011?

SSPX talks: This might be the year that discussions between Rome and the Society of St Pius X finally bear fruit. As we report this week, SSPX leader Bishop Bernard Fellay is cautiously optimistic about full reconciliation. But we shouldn’t underestimate the obstacles that remain.

The Pope in Berlin: In September Benedict XVI will make his first papal trip to the German capital. Protests are expected, but the Pope may be able to charm the German public just as he did the British people. His scheduled address to the Bundestag is likely to be memorable.