Making Curriculum Pop

Another great lesson plan from the New York Times Learning Network

April 16, 2010, 1:48 PM

Talking About the Roman Catholic Church and the Sex Abuse News

Catholic churchAndreas Solaro/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesPope Benedict XVI on March 17, 2010 at St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican.Go to related blog post »
Go to Times Topics page on the Roman Catholic Church »
Go to Times Topics page on Roman Catholic Church Sex Abuse Cases »

Teachers and parents: Are you talking about this issue? How? Tell us here.Please note: In this post we present several classroom ideas for addressing and contextualizing the current news about sexual abuse and the Roman Catholic Church. As always, we assume you will adapt our suggestions to fit your curriculum, but also to make sure the content is appropriate for your students.

The Role of the Pope and Papal History | Have students research the role of the pope in Roman Catholicism, including how a pope is chosen, hisduties, and the often-misunderstood concept of papal infallibility. Then have students choose a pope to study. How did he both lead the Church and use his influence in the secular world? Students who choose a pope from the mid-19th century to the present can use the New York Times archives and theTimes Topics page on popes to find contemporary Times reporting.

You might offer students a few examples, such as John Paul II, who is widely credited with helping bring about an end to communism, Benedict XV, whoattempted to work with both sides to bring an end to World War I, John XXIII, who started the second Vatican Council in 1962 to modernize Catholic liturgy, or, farther back in history, Paul III, whose Council of Trent as a response to the Protestant Reformation helped make Catholic teaching more clear. Along the way, students may find controversial figures like Pius XII, whose World War II legacy is still being debated.

Encourage students to evaluate their chosen pope’s legacy and impact on both the Church and the secular world. Students might then combine their research to create a timeline of papal history, and/or use what they have learned to discuss the current news and its implications in the context of church history.

Answering Questions, Questioning Answers | Have students make a list of questions they have about Roman Catholicism, the role of the pope, Vatican history, the American abuse scandals that were in the news in the 1990’s, or anything else related to the current situation. Then have them useCatholic resources recommended by Times editors and journalists, the Holy See, which is the Vatican’s official Web site, Catholic News Service and New Advent, as well as other sources, to find answers.

Students may discover that some of their questions have already been raised by New York Times readers on the Lede blog’s “Q and A on Church Sex Abuse Scandal.” Have students read the questions and answers, along with the reader comments that follow.

Casting a Critical Eye on The New York Times | Show students the short CNN video “Vatican Official: Newspaper Report on Pope ‘Lacks Fairness’”, in which Cardinal William Levada harshly criticizes Times coverage of the sexual abuse scandal. (You may also have them read articles such asArchbishop Timothy M. Dolan’s piece “Foul Ball!”, the United Kingdom’s Telegraph’s “The Pope, the judge, the paedophile, and The New York Times”and the New York Daily News’s “Fairness for the Pope: Pontiff not at fault in Wisconsin pedophile... )

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