JOHN PAUL II begins the year with a five-day trip to Cuba. The Pope's visit captures the attention of the world, as the 77-year-old pontiff meets 71-year-old President Fidel Castro to discuss the status of the Church in Cuba.
During his visit, the Holy Father denounces Cuba's high abortion rate, criticises the US embargo and calls for the release of prisoners of conscience. President Castro attends the final papal Mass held in Havana's historic Plaza de la Revolucion. He hears the Pope urge Cubans to restore the country's "Christian soul". Castro and the Pope appear to enjoy each others' company and share jokes when the two pose before cameras. This does not prevent John Paul admonishing the communist leader that "a modem state cannot make atheism one of its political ordinances".
CARDINAL HUME gives his frankest interview to date. The Cardinal reveals to Melvyn Bragg that he experienced "dark nights of the soul" during his 47 years of priesthood. "Anyone who goes in search of God in a mature and consistent way will at some time go through a dark night and will even have doubts as to the existence of God."
"DIRTY DIGGER" Rupert Murdoch is awarded a papal knighthood at the suggestion of Cardinal Roger Mahoney of Los Angeles. The 66 year-old media tycoon, a US citizen, is given the award for his contributions to the Los Angeles Archdiocesan Education Foundation. He becomes a Knight Commander of St Gregory. His wife, Anna, a Catholic convert, becomes a Dame of St Gregory.
The award provokes astonishment in Britain. Catholic historian Paul Johnson says he hopes Murdoch will convert and improve the moral tone of his papers, which include The Sun and the News of the World. "I often pray for Rupert Murdoch and I hope he prays for me," Mr Johnson says. Celia Capstick, president of the National Board of Catholic Women is more critical. "I wonder if this award will lead to the cessation of his constant denigration of women on Page Three of The Sun?" she asks.
BRITISH JEWS persuade the Vatican to open part of its wartime archive.
Lord Janner, chairman of the British-based Holocaust Educational Trust, flies with Sir Sigmund Stemberg and Lord Hunt to ask the Vatican to help shed light on alleged possible links between Nazis and the Church.
The Vatican earlier refused access to the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, the US-based Nazi-hunters. The released material comprises 12 volumes of documents written by papal nuncios between 1939 and 1946.
THE VATICAN launches its own satellite television station Sat 2000, immediately dubbed "la TV dei vescovi" (Bishops' Television).
THE POPE urges diplomacy over the looming Iraqi crisis as Saddam Hussein stalls again over UN chemical weapons inspections. With an American military-strike appearing imminent, the Holy Father says: "The very situation in Iraq and the entire region of the Middle East teaches us that armed conflicts do not resolve problems, but create greater misunderstandings among peoples." Bishop John Crowley of Middlesbrough asks for "every last diplomatic effort to the nth degree". A strike is averted.
THE POPE appeals to Cardinal Hume (above) not to retire and to stay on as Archbishop of Westminster until the year 2002. The Cardinal tendered his resignation at the beginning of the month in advance of reaching retirement age at 75. Cardinal Hume is now the longest-serving English cardinal since the restoration of the hierarchy in 1850.
THE POPE flies to Nigeria for a pastoral visit. In 40 degree heat, quickly dehydrating as he is deprived of water by his hosts, the Pontiff beatifies Fr Cyprian Tansi, a Trappist monk, before half a million people in Onitsha, south-east Nigeria. He uses the occasion to launch a powerful denunciation of the country's military regime.
"All Nigerians must work to rid society of everything that offends the dignity of the person or violates human rights," the Pope thunders, while Vatican officials work behind the scenes to secure the release of 60 political prisoners, detained without trial.
John Paul also criticises the legendary corruption of the ruling oil-rich junta, reminding General Sani Abacha that "it is everyone's duty to ensure that these resources are used for the good".
THE VATICAN releases a document reviewing the Church's role in the Holocaust. We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah, described by the Pope as an "act of contrition", defends Pope Pius XII and largely exonerates the Church of responsibility for the decimation of European Jews. Israel's Chief Rabbi declares the document "unacceptable". He says it should have conceded that Pius XII failed to do all he could to help Jews. A historian at the University of Tel Aviv describes the document as "beautiful but too late".
CARDINAL THOMAS WINNING Of Glasgow attacks Tony Blair's policies as "quite simply not Christian". He targets Blair's lone parent benefit reforms as "unjust" and calls for a thorough review of welfare spending and taxation.
"We should disconcert people, shake them out of their complacency and promote the values of the Church," the Cardinal tells students at the Oxford University Catholic Chaplaincy. He says that Britain is caught "in a whirlwind of cultural relativism".
THE VATICAN opts to align its economy with the Euro, rather than the U.S. dollar, when Italy joins the European Monetary Union in 1999. The decision means that Vatican stamps will be printed and coins minted in Euro denominations.
MGR ALFRED GILBEY dies aged 96. Mgr Gilbey, one of the most influential priests of his generation, was Catholic chaplain to Cambridge University between 1932 and 1965. He was welcomed in high society as a priest of extraordinary civility and sartorial elegance, described by Cardinal Hume as "an exceptionally holy priest". A Requiem Mass at Brompton Oratory is attended by 1,500 people. Our correspondent says: "This was a significant moment in the life of the Church... We shall not see his like again."
CHURCH AUTHORITIES in South Africa say that the priest who invited President Clinton to Mass was wrong to offer him Holy Communion. Fr Mohlami Makobane, who gave communion to Clinton, a southern Baptist, and First Lady Hillary Clinton, in a church in Soweto, is rapped by the South African Bishops' Conference after a complaint from Cardinal Anthony Beislacqua of Philadelphia. The Cardinal says of Mr Clinton's actions: "I believe he did something awful, but I don't believe he did it intentionally."
THE POPE welcomes the Northern Ireland Good Friday Peace Agreement, saying that he hopes the proposed Assembly would allow "the dear and so harshly tried populations" of the province "to look to the future with greater trust".
"We pray to the Lord," the Holy Father says, "that each person, listening to his or her own conscience, will have the courage to make responsible and concrete gestures that will allow all to walk together along the path of peace, preventing anything which could lead again to hatred and violence." The Agreement, forged by the British and Irish governments and the political parties of Northern Ireland, is an occasion to "give thanks to God for the positive results" of lengthy negotiations.
THE TURIN SHROUD is exhibited in Italy for the first time in 20 years amid fears of that its exposure might lead to its deterioration, not to mention over-commercialisation.
Cardinal Saldanni, Archbishop of Turin, condemns the "merchants in the temple", who are selling watches and Tshirts bearing the Shroud's Christ-like face. Eight hundred thousand visitors are expected to visit the shroud during its month on display.
BISHOP JUAN GERARDI, the Guatemalan Bishop responsible for the Church's human rights office, is beaten to death with a concrete block, 48 hours after the Church published a report on human rights abuse in the country. The Pope and the United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, condemn the killing. The Church gives the government 72 hours to find the killer of the Bishop, who was Founder and Director of the Guatemalan Church's Human Rights Bureau, while police say Gerardi may be the victim of armed robbery.
A HOTELIER in Morecombe, Lancashire, is told by the council to display a fresco by controversial artist Eric Gill, who sexually abused his daughter.
VATICAN SOURCES say that the course of the beatification of Pope John XXIII is now entering its final stage, while that of Pius XII is to be delayed.
COLOMBIAN PRIESTS fear satanists are targeting the Church after a priest and parishioner die after drinking wine laced with cyanide.
A BISHOP is reported to have shot himself dead in protest at Pakistan's harsh blasphemy laws. Bishop John Joseph, 65, Pakistan's first native Punjabi bishop is believed to have shot himself in the head with a pistol after a young Christian was sentenced to death for allegedly praising Salman Rushdie. He is buried at a Marian shrine at Faisalabad, surrounded by thousands of mourners. Militant Muslims run amok in a neighbouring village, torching houses, looting shops and tearing up Bibles. A bishop friend said that Bishop Joseph "was prepared to offer his life for the abolition of the blasphemy laws repeatedly misused against innocent minorities".
CARDINAL HUME ordains six more former Anglicans at Westminster Cathedral. He tells them: "You were Catholics before deciding to be so. That is why the change has been easy." The new priests include a number who are married. The total number of married Catholic priests is now approaching 100.
The newly-appointed commander of the Swiss Guards and his wife are apparently shot dead by a Guards Corporal, who then commits suicide in the couple's Vatican apartment.
The Vatican treats the murder of Colonel Alois Estermann (right) and his Venezuelan wife Gladys as the result of a "fit of madness" by 23-year-old Cedric Tornay.
It says Tornay was angry at not being listed for promotion in an honours ceremony due the following week. But Rome is rife with speculation that the triple killing is a crime of passion, or has a more sinister cause. The Pope's personal army — the smallest army in the world — is in disarray after the murders and the Pope is said to be "deeply saddened". Colonel Estermann was appointed to lead the Swiss Guards after a seven month interregnum. He was only the fourth non-aristocrat in the Guard's 450-year history to be given the top post. THE POPE fails to recognise the world's most famous footballer during a private audience. Brazilian striker Ronaldo, who hopes to lead Brazil to victory in the summer's World Cup, knelt before the Pope and gave him two of his playing shirts. "Ah, football, football!" the Pope exclaimed. "And where do you play my son? Do you play in Italy?" The world's most expensive player replied: "Yes, Father, I do play in Italy."
DURING a visit to Austria the Pope attacks the media for its prolonged criticism of the disgraced former Archbishop of Vienna, Cardinal Groer.
The pastoral visit is intended to revitalise the beleaguered Austrian Church after the Groer scandal. The ex-Archbishop of Vienna had been exposed as being involved in sexual abuse of minors in the 1970s and 1980s.
Many Austrian Catholics have recently called for more democracy in the Church, while an estimated two-thirds of the laity approve the ordination of women and over 90 per cent support married priests. The Pontiff beatified three people on his visit. The Pope's final Mass in Vienna's Heldenplatz drew only 50,000 attendants in comparison to the 130,000 who came to see him in 1983. THE MOST Revd Frank Griswold, Primate of the Anglicar Church in the US, admits that he received Holy Communion in St Agnes' Roman Catholic church in New York in April Bishop Griswold says of the incident: "I just wanted to be with Jesus in an anonymous mode with a group of Christian; and receive the Bread of Life."
In the Netherlands members of the Dutch royal family clef) the Catholic authorities when they receive Holy Communior at the marriage ceremony of Prince Maurits and the Catholic daughter of European Commissioner Hans van den Brode IRISH BISHOPS say that the Church should turn a blind eye tc theft by the very poor when they steal to survive. In the document Conscience they say that "sometimes there are exceptions to the rule" and that the poor are "entitled to take food which belongs to someone else".
THE MOTHER of the man suspected of killing Swiss Guard Alois Estermann claims that a letter apparently written by Cedric Tornay, in which he expresses distress at being passed over for promotion, is bogus.
JUST ONE Catholic Labour MP, Geraldine Smith, votes against the amendment to the Crime and Disorder Bill to reduce the age of consent for homosexuals to 16.
ANALYSIS of the Turin Shroud shows that Christ died from a heart attack, according to an Italian scientist.
EAMONN CASEY, the disgraced Irish bishop exiled to Ecuador, is expected to be found a low-profile job in Britain.
Westminster Diocese is believed to be at the centre of talks concerning the wayward bishop's future. The Irish hierarchy is concerned that if Bishop Casey returns to live in Ireland he will be the centre of intense and ongoing media attention.
Bishop Casey first rose to prominence through his energetic work with Irish immigrants in London, where he helped to establish the Catholic Housing Aid Society and the Marian Employment Agency.
He rocked the Irish Church in 1992 when it was revealed that he had fathered a child and paid his lover £70,000 from diocesan funds, later returned by an anonymous donor.
Bishop Casey's fate will ultimately be decided by the Congregation of Bishops in Rome.
LIBERAL CATHOLICS respond with alarm to a new apostolic letter, which they believe will gag theologians who favour Church reform.
Ad Tuendam Fidem (To Defend the Faith) closes a loophole in Canon Law which gives the Church no legal sanction against Catholic teachers who take the professio fidei (profession of faith) and then question "definitive" Church teachings on faith and morals.
An explanatory note signed by Cardinal Ratzinger says the papal prohibition on the ordination of women should be considered definitive. Clifford Longley writes that the document's tone "is like that of an unwelcome letter by the Inland Revenue".
"Is the Pope Catholic?" asks The Independent newspaper. "The answer would seem to be no. Not, at least, in the sense of all-embracing and tolerant."
THE POPE issues two further Apostolic Letters in as many weeks.
The first, Dies Domini, (The Lord's Day), exhorts Christians to treat Sunday as a day of worship, rest and family life.
The second, Apostolos Suos (His Apostles), clarifies the relationship between bishops' conferences and the Holy See and affirms the teaching authority of local bishops' conferences.
THIRTEEN HUNDRED copies of a book by Sr Lavinia Byrne on women's ordination are removed from shelves in America, following instructions from the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Bishop John Kinney of St Cloud, Minnesota, ordered the Liturgical Press to dispose of all copies of Women At The Altar, because it infringed the Pope's prohibition on discussion of women's ordination.
Sr Lavinia IBVM is a theologian and a regular contributor to Radio Four's Thought for the Day. Her British publisher, a secular imprint free to publish what it likes, described the book as "very mild and moderate" . THE CATHOUC HERALD appoints a new editor, Dr William Oddie, who takes over from Deborah Jones, who has edited the paper for almost two years. Former Herald editor Cristina Odone receives an invitation to address the Pope. She will inform His Holiness in January 1999 on the subject of "writing as a vehicle of Christian values".
A 5001.13 BOMB explodes in Omagh, Northern Ireland, killing 29, Catholics and Protestants alike. It is the work of the "Real" IRA, a republican splinter group opposed to the Ulster peace process. The Pope says: "Once again, blind violence is attempting to impede the difficult path of peace and productive harmony... Let us invoke eternal rest on those who have lost their lives in such a tragic and senseless way."
Messages of condolence also come from Sean Brady, the Archbishop of Armagh, and Cardinal Hume. Mgr Denis Faul accuses Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness of "double standards" in their condemnation of the outrage.
A YEAR AFTER the death of Mother Teresa, the Archbishop of Calcutta reveals that he is investigating a miracle that could lead to her canonisation. Meanwhile membership of Mother Teresa's order, the Missionary Sisters of Charity is soaring.
POLISH CATHOLIC extremists resolutely insist that they will not remove the growing number crosses they have erected outside the site of Auschwitz concentration camp.
The militants, who have erected 50 crosses, say that they are meant to commemorate the Polish nationals who were killed in the concentration camp. But Jewish groups object, saying this is provocative, as far more Jews died in the camp.
The Polish government objects but Polish Primate Cardinal Joseph Glemp, responding to protests by the Israeli cabinet secretary, says that Israel should not interfere with affairs of an "autonomous Polish area".
JOURNALISTS at The Universe and The Catholic Times threaten industrial action as Church-owned Gabriel Communications announces that it is to cut jobs. Financially-struggling Gabriel says that the cuts are intended "to improve efficiency".
THE CATHOLIC HERALD reveals that the new Northern Ireland Bill will not devolve powers over abortion to Northern Ireland.
RENEGADE BISHOP Pat Buckley announces his intention to "ordain" his first woman priest.
UNDER HEAVY condemnation from the Church hierarchy and under police protection, Bishop Pat Buckley ordains Frances Meigh, a 67-year-old former nun, England's first woman priest.
Two hundred lay people and clergy attend the ceremony at St Andrew's Church in Omeath, Co. Louth. In the homily, Bishop Buckley says that "what we are doing and witnessing today will be written and talked of by Church historians for centuries to come".
A spokesman for the Church says that Buckley has no mandate from the Church to ordain anybody. "The Church has no authority whatever to confer priestly ordination on women," he says.
Bishop Buckley excommunicated himself from the Roman Catholic Church in June, when he was made a bishop by a Tridentine bishop, Dr Michael Cox. The Church considers the consecration "valid, but unlawful".
THE NATIONAL CONFERENCE of Priests of England and Wales issues a statement criticising the Vatican's "effort to silence and even to outlaw discussion" on controversial issues.
A letter, backed by two-thirds of the conference, will be sent to the Papal Nuncio expressing the priests' concern that "recent attempts to foreclose on some theological discussions alarm us and are even a cause of scandal".
The letter was prompted by a series of moves by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to force the withdrawal from sale of books by dissenting theologians, such as the late Fr Anthony de Mello SJ and Sr Lavinia Byrne.
THE DISGRACED former Bishop of Galway, Dr Eamonn Casey, confirms that he is now living in England but denies he is seeking a new job with the Church.
In a terse statement to the press Dr Casey, 71, asks that his privacy is respected. "I need some time to myself," he says.
SCOTLAND'S traditionally Labour-voting population is turning its back on New Labour in favour of the Scottish National Party and the future independence of their nation, an opinion poll conducted for The Scotsman reveals.
The poll shows that 58 per cent of Catholics would vote for independence in a referendum. However despite the support it shows among Catholics for an independent Scotland, the poll shows that more than 50 per cent of Catholics would still vote Labour in May 1999's Scottish Parliament elections.
THERE Is controversy over the Pope's beatification of Alojzije Stepanic, the Croatian Cardinal accused of being an accomplice of the anti-semitic Ustache regime in wartime Croatia.
Croatians defend him by saying Stepanic turned against the Ustache regime and helped to save hundreds of Jewish lives at the end of the war.
IN THEIR document One Bread, One Body the Bishops of Britain and Ireland urge understanding from non-Roman Catholics over the significance of the Eucharist. The document says: "It is right to expect that anyone who receives Holy Communion in the Catholic Church should manifest Catholic faith in the Eucharist."
The Archbishop of Canterbury says he is "disappointed" that there is no new allowance made for inter-Church couples to receive Holy Communion in the Catholic Church. In reply, Cardinal Hume says: "He respects my view. I respect his view."
TiiE CHURCH hierarchy in Chile reacts cautiously to the arrest in London of former dictator General Augusto Pinochet, who faces extradition charges to Spain for human rights abuses carried out under his regime.
THE CHURCH is accused of double standards after Tony Booth, the three-times married father-in-law of Prime Minster Tony Blair, has his fourth marriage covertly blessed.
FR PAUL ORCHARD, an 80-year-old priest, is murdered in his presbytery in Birmingham.
THE POPE marks the 20th anniversary of his pontificate with a new encyclical Fides Et Ratio (Faith and Reason), arguing that the two are not necessarily incompatible in the modern world.
In the encyclical, the Holy Father singles out Edith Stein (above), the Jewish born Carmelite nun who died at the hands of the Nazis, as one of the major Catholic philosophers of this century. However the Pope's canonisation of Stein causes anger amongst Jewish groups who says the move suggests that the best Jews are those who convert to Catholicism.
Catholics defend the canonisation, saying Stein was killed for her Catholicism.
THEOLOGIANS gather in Rome to reassess the Inquisition. The Pope calls for an "objective assessment" of the notorious Church tribunal formed in the 13th Century to fight heresy. The Rome symposium will lead to a report which will be published before Ash Wednesday 2000, when the Pope will lead the faithful in an act of repentance for the errors of the sons and daughters of the Church throughout history.
A PRO-LIFE initiative by Cardinal Winning has saved 87 children from abortion, it is revealed this month. The Archdiocese of Glasgow says that the fund, set up 18 months ago to offer financial support to pregnant women, has led to the birth of 41 girls and 46 boys. The initiative, the first of its kind in Britain, originally operated only in the Glasgow Archdiocese, but was soon extended to the rest of Scotland.
A spokesman said the Cardinal felt "great joy" at the scheme's success.
THE MONTH begins with the macabre spectacle of the ritual burning of an effigy of a pope in the Sussex town of Lewes. Banners are draped around the town bearing the legend "No Popery".
Local priest Fr Eric Flood leaves town as thousands gather for Bonfire Night celebrations, culminating in the burning on a pyre of the effigy. The anti-Catholic display stems from the Marian Restoration of the 16th century, when 17 Protestants were executed in the town.
Bishop Cormac Murphy-O'Connor describes the ritual as "objectionable" and appeals for the effigy not to be burned.
A spokesman for the Lewes Bonfire Society insists that the event is not intended to cause Catholics offence. "It's all in the past. It's all history," he says.
THE BISHOPS' CONFERENCE of England and Wales publishes a document appealing for the inclusion of disabled people in Church life.
The document, entitled Valuing Difference, contains a questionnaire encouraging parishes to reflect on present provision for disabled people. It offers suggestions on how to improve church access and participation m the sacraments. But the Bishops' Conference is cnticised for its failure to publish the document simultaneously in Braille or on audio cassette.
OVER THREE-QUARTERS of bishops who respond to a Catholic Herald survey say that Catholic bishops should be allowed to sit in the House of Lords.
Half of the respondents say that Canon Law, which forbids clerics to assume public office, presents no obstacle to such a move.
Bishop Cormac Murphy-O'Connor says that if Anglican bishops can have a place in the upper chamber, then "Catholic bishops should also have a nght to sit and there should be no discrimination".
Labour Life Peer Baroness Goudie says that in the light of the Royal Commission it is important for the Church to put forward its position on Catholic representation in a reformed Lords.
The majority of Bishops taking part in the poll reject the outright abolition of hereditary peerages.
CARDINAL HUME condemns proposals to allow the cloning of human embryos as a "grave and alarming development" after a Government-commissioned report suggests that the cloned embryos could be used for therapeutic purposes.
The Cardinal says: "It would be morally abhorrent for new human lives to be created simply for harvesting human tissue."
Nicholas Coote, of the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, and the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children both condemn the report as "irresponsible", while the pro-life organisation Life expresses "horror".
The new technique will allow the cloning of a human embryo at 8 to 10 days growth in a test tube to the point where a line of stem cells have developed. It is claimed that the procedure will help in the fight against Parkinson's and Alzheimer's.
FR JOHN LLOYD, the former secretary to Archbishop Ward of Cardiff, could face "forcible laicisation" after he rsjailed for 8 years for the rape of a 16-year-girl and a series of other sexual assaults.
Archbishop Ward expresses his "deepest sorrow and shame" for Fr Lloyd's "heinous crimes", saying he will take advice on what action is to be taken. Fr Robert Reardon of the Archdiocese says canon lawyers are "looking at all the options" and that it is possible that Fr Lloyd could remain a priest.
THE BISHOPS of England and Wales acknowledge crimes carried out in the name of Catholicism during the reign of Queen Mary.
THE BISHOP of Clifton says he is baffled by the Church's failure to create a national co-ordinator to promote the welfare of blind Christians.
FOUR CATHOLIC childcare agencies back a campaign by Barnados which will give children the same protection as adults in the eyes of the law.
FR NOEL BARRY, Cardinal Winning's press secretary, wins his case against The Sun newspaper. He claims that an article in 1996 suggested that he was unfit to be a priest because of his friendship with teacher Annie Collins.
Compiled by Luke Coppen and Patrick West