What's in the Vatican in tray? - Today's news, tomorrow's lesson - 27 February

Today Pope Benedict XVI gave his last public address. Tomorrow at 8pm the Swiss Guards who protect him will go off duty, and Joseph Ratzinger will retire as Bishop of Rome.

What's in the Vatican in tray?

Today's news, tomorrow's lesson - 27 February

Today Pope Benedict XVI gave his last public address. Tomorrow at 8pm the Swiss Guards who protect him will go off duty, and Joseph Ratzinger will retire as Bishop of Rome.

Within 15 to 20 days, the cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church are due to gather in the Vatican for a papal conclave to choose his successor. What will their nominee find in his in tray?

From the outside, the most pressing issues are the child sex abuse scandals in the US and Europe, which have badly damaged the church's moral authority after it was found to be sheltering priests accused of abusing young people.

"There is no doubt that today there needs to be renewal in the church, reform in the church and especially of government," said Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, former Archbishop of Westminster. "How is this next Pope going to govern the church?"

But the Pope himself identified growing secularism – the belief that politics and public life should be separated from religion –­ as the church's greatest threat. He warned about "the grave threats to the church's public moral witness presented by a radical secularism".

The number of Catholics worldwide is still increasing, particularly in Africa where they grew by 21 per cent in the eight years of Benedict XVI's papacy. But in Europe, they are in decline: it is no longer the most Catholic part of the world.

One question for the next Pope is whether the church needs to change in response to today's society, or whether it needs to hold more tightly to traditional moral doctrines against homosexuality, contraception and abortion. Since Benedict appointed senior archbishops –­ those likely to be in the running to take over –­ known for their commitment to rejecting such change, a reforming Pope is less likely.

Cardinal Peter Turkson from Ghana has been tipped as a front-runner, which would make him the first African Pope for 1,500 years. That choice would highlight the church's response to the Aids crisis in Africa.

Pope Benedict held that condom use was making the crisis worse and continued to advocate abstinence or marriage, but in 2010 he conceded that it may be moral to use protection in some circumstances, as a first step in taking responsibility for reducing the risk of infection.

But will the biggest issue for the next Pope be his predecessor? He is the first to retire for 600 years, and will continue to live in the Vatican with the title Emeritus Pope, Latin for someone who has completed their service. His successor will have to decide how much influence Benedict will continue to hold.

Questions for your class

  • In your opinion, what qualities make a good leader? Rank your ideas by order of importance.
  • What do we mean by 'secularism'? Why might a Catholic leader be against this?
  • In the past, Pope Benedict XVI was "praised for opening up dialogue with other faiths". What do you think are the benefits of this?
  • What is significant about the front-runner to succeed Benedict XVI as the next Pope?

Related resources

Name that Pope: Game and PowerPoint presentation

  • Teach your pupils about some notable popes throughout history with this exclusive TES resource.

Pope for a Day

  • A lesson from Caford in which young people explore how it feels to be leader of a billion Catholics world-wide, as well as some of the challenges faced by members of the global church.

How a Pope is elected

  • This PowerPoint explains process of electing a new Pope. It covers the role of the Pope, the Vatican City and includes details on the last four people to be elected the Pope.

The Catholic Church

  • Lessons plans and activities to help pupils find out about the role of the Catholic Church, its history, hierarchy and places of worship.

Further news resources

First News front page

  • Help your pupils understand the features of the front page of a newspaper.

Write all about it

  • Get students creating their own news report with this step-by-step guide.

What is the News?

  • A sociological and media perspective on what makes an event 'newsworthy'.

On the box

  • Help pupils to write their own TV news broadcast with this handy PowerPoint.

Structuring stories

  • A scheme of work to help students structure news stories.

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