The West – and especially the United States – is living through what the political scientist Samuel Huntington called an era of “creedal passion”. This is a volatile period in which the gap between ideals and institutions is glaring. Reformers arise, seeking to bridge the chasm, but encounter ferocious opposition.

Quarrelsome and divisive voices dominate. The Church is obviously not immune to such passions. Will they intensify in 2018?

Here are 10 themes that are likely to define the year ahead.

1) Return of the abuse crisis Last year ended with the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors deprived of any members and the Pope attending the funeral of a cardinal synonymous with the crisis in St Peter’s Basilica. Two journals reliably sympathetic towards Francis – the National Catholic Reporter and America – published scathing editorials, deploring the Pope’s timidity in the fight against abuse. In March, the next stage of Cardinal Pell’s trial will begin. Expect an upsurge of abuse stories from around the world this year.

2) The Pope in Ireland Pope Francis has a chance to prove his critics wrong if, as expected, he travels to Ireland in August. He will be visiting the epicentre of the abuse crisis and will, we hope, bring healing to a profoundly wounded society. He will be only the second pope to visit the Republic and, God willing, the first to visit Northern Ireland.

3) Vatican coffers Last year was a disaster for Vatican financial reformers. The auditor general, Libero Milone, was ousted in June. A month later Vatican “treasurer” Cardinal Pell was forced to return to Australia. In November Giulio Mattietti, the Vatican bank’s deputy director, was sacked. The year closed with accusations of financial mismanagement (fiercely denied) against Cardinal Óscar Rodríguez Maradiaga, one of the Pope’s closest advisers. It will take a Herculean effort to get reform back on track in 2018.

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