Predictions about what will be news in the future are like predictions of who will be pope: They are usually wrong. But there are several bona fide news trends that stand a good chance of making their way into the headlines in 2010. Here are 10 stories to watch.

1. Economic gloom

The new year will likely bring yet more bad news for a nation reeling from bad economic news. All the official economists seem to say the same thing: Unemployment will continue to rise. All the evidence points to rising interest rates, worsening a perfect storm of joblessness and rising costs.

The European Commission report is even more of a downer: Official voices say U.S. unemployment will peak soon; in Europe, it’s expected to increase into 2011.

Catholics should get ready to serve the needy. There will be plenty of them. 

2. Religious boom

One good result of bad economies: People increasingly put their treasures in heaven. But the economy isn’t the only reason for the rise in interest in religion. The Economist’s editor John Micklethwait and Washington Bureau Chief Adrian Wooldridge are far from evangelists. Yet their hit 2009 book is “God Is Back: How the Global Revival of Faith Is Changing the World” (Penguin Press, $27.95).

Don’t believe stories like Newsweek’s “Christianity Is Dead” issue last year. Those tend to focus on the fact that mainline denominations are flailing and ignore the fact that looser, more evangelical denominations are growing. So is Catholicism — and so is Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism. 

3. Pope to visit England

One religious story to look for in the headlines: Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Great Britain.

The trip has implications for one of the central stories of Christianity in the past five centuries: The split between the Church of England and the Catholic Church.

Pope Benedict XVI also may personally beatify Venerable Cardinal John Henry Newman during the visit. If so, the pontiff will be breaking his own precedent. He had restored the practice of making beatifications celebrations for religious orders and geographic areas, and reserving papal involvement for canonizations.

Also: Expect reverberations from Ireland’s recent massive (and lurid) report on sex abuse while Pope Benedict visits. 

4. Visitators report back

Several apostolic visitations — Vatican investigations — are coming to a head.

One is the investigation of all women Religious in the United States. Mother Mary Clare Millea, superior general of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, is looking into “the community aspects, their ministries, their membership, their living of the vows.”

A separate investigation focuses just on the Leadership Council of Women Religious. Bishop Leonard Blair of Toledo, Ohio, is asking questions that are more doctrinal in nature.

A third visitation is of the Legionaries of Christ, in the wake of disclosures of sexual improprieties by its late founder, Father Marcial Maciel. Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone said the visitation would look into matters of “truth and transparency.” A team including Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput will finish early in 2010.

Will the results of these visitations be in the headlines next year? It’s anyone’s guess. The results of the investigation of U.S. seminaries weren’t made public for nearly three years — but that two-year investigation was mammoth. 

5. Congressional elections

The big question this November will be, “Will the Senate or House change hands?” The answer, for the record, is probably “No.”

Democrats have a 20-vote advantage in the Senate (except for the rare times when Sen. Joe Lieberman [I-Conn.] abandons them). The GOP would have to keep all of the 18 seats at stake that day and win all of the 19 Democratic ones to win a majority.

In the House, the GOP would have to pick up 41 seats to take the majority. Though by all accounts the Republicans will gain, a change in control is unlikely to happen.

One result to expect: The next Congress will almost certainly be more pro-life. 

6. Hierarchical selections

When bishops turn 75, canon law requires them to submit their resignations — but it doesn’t require the pope to accept. The number of Vatican office heads passing 75 is getting rather high, meaning that 2010 may at least see the beginning of significant changes to come in the pope’s A team.

Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Bertone turned 75 already, but stayed on. He joins a Curial 75 club that includes Clergy Congregation Cardinal Claudio Hummes, Religious Congregation Cardinal Franc Rodé, and Cor Unum Council President Cardinal Paul Josef Cordes. Bishops Congregation Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re turns 76 this month. Christian Unity Cardinal Walter Kasper turns 77 in March.

Apart from the curia, Cardinals worldwide are eligible to vote for a new pope up to age 80. By April, 77 of the world’s 185 cardinals will be older than 80.

Pope Benedict may call the third consistory of his pontificate in 2010 to create more cardinals. The last one was in 2007. 

7. Moviegoers seek fantasy

In tough economic times, Hollywood bets on fantasy. In 2010 that means: “Gulliver’s Travels,” “Shrek 4,” “Rapunzel,” “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” and a creepy looking live-action “Alice in Wonderland.”

Parents will be glad to hear that “Toy Story 3” is on its way from the fairly reliable Pixar company. Catholics await the new “Robin Hood” from Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe, who teamed up for “Gladiator.” The big question: Will they do the anti-Catholic version of the story (an anti-clerical spin dates back to Sir Walter Scott’s “Ivanhoe”) or the pro-Catholic version (in which King Richard is a crusader and Friar Tuck’s priesthood is important)? 

8. Pilgrims seek sanctity

Travel companies specializing in pilgrimages expect 2010, the closing of the Year for Priests, to be a banner year.

The Bavarian town of Oberammergau, Germany, plans to stage the massive Passion Play it has put on every 10 years since the late 1600s.

The Shroud of Turin will be displayed for select dates in April and May. Pope Benedict himself intends to take advantage of this rare opportunity to see what many consider Christ’s burial cloth.

Also this year the feast of St. James the Apostle falls on a Sunday. On such occasions, the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Spain declares a Holy Year and the great July pilgrimage swells to gigantic numbers. 

9. Tech innovations

News reports are abuzz with reports of 3D screens for your home television and “Google phones” in the new year as Best Buy electronics stores transform themselves from emphasizing DVDs and CDs to technological services.

In 2009, social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook were reported to have finally overtaken pornography as the most popular thing on the Web. That’s good, because in 2010, McDonald’s will begin offering free wireless Internet access in 11,000 of its 14,000 U.S. stores. 

10. Grace’s interventions

But amid all the technological razzle dazzle, don’t count out grace. Pope John Paul II planned the Jubilee Year 2000 to spark a spiritual renewal in the Church. It seems to be paying off.

Ten years later:

  • In America, seven new Catholic colleges were founded in the spirit of Ex Corde Ecclesiae, Pope John Paul’s apostolic constitution on Catholic higher education. Other, older schools are renewing themselves according to it.
  •  The pope’s World Youth Days sparked a renewal in vocations. New priests are more plentiful and more faithful; convents of habit-wearing nuns are bursting at the seams.
  • World Youth Days sparked a new interest in Eucharistic Adoration and Reconciliation (“Confession Makes a Comeback,” reported Time in 2007).
  •  Vatican-led renewals of the liturgy are coming, with more accurate Mass translations.
  •  Bishops have vigorously defended life and marriage in high-profile ways worldwide.

When grace is unleashed on this level, good things follow. Watch for them.

Tom Hoopes is writer in residence at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan.