Freshly-published cables from the US mission to the Vatican have shed light on the inner workings of Europe's most secretive diplomatic corps, including the Pope's opposition to Turkey's EU membership, hopes for Polish influence inside the EU and church ideas on how to undermine the Castro administration in Cuba.

From clerics to AIDS activists, Africans applauded Pope Benedict XVI's suggestion that condoms could be used in limited situations to protect partners - a shift that could make a dramatic impact in a continent that is both battling an HIV pandemic and is the fastest-growing region for the Roman Catholic church.

Pope Benedict XVI lamented that the Vatican acted "slowly and late" in a scandal surrounding the Legionaries of Christ, and a Vatican official called Tuesday for an investigation into who covered up for the conservative order's disgraced founder.

As part of a continuing initiative aimed at improving understanding between Christians and Muslims, a Vatican delegation will be taking part in a three-day discussion on religion and society in Iran.

A senior Vatican official said that, “There is a strong likelihood that Pope Benedict will visit Ireland in 2012 as part of the Eucharistic Congress.”

The long-running cartoon series explores issues such as family, community, education and religion in a way that few other popular television programmes can match, according to L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican's daily broadsheet.

The two week assembly of the synod of bishops for the Middle East opened Monday morning with an unscripted address from Pope Benedict XVI. “The Church's faith is the foundation that does not waver”, he told participants, “despite the threat of destruction”, and focusing on Mary's divine motherhood he warned against “false gods such as terrorism, drugs and capitalism which enslave mankind”.

With Christianity dwindling in its Middle Eastern birthplace, Pope Benedict has convened Catholic bishops from the region to debate how to save its minority communities and promote harmony with their Muslim neighbors.