Pope Benedict has been invited to attend the Eucharistic Congress in Dublin next summer – and is ‘actively considering’ the invitation.
But one of Ireland’s leading bishops has questioned the timing of the visit in the wake of recent clerical sex abuse scandals.
Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin has warned that the Irish Church may not be ready for a papal visit after confirming the invitation on Irish state radio station RTE.
“We haven’t got a response yet,” explained Archbishop Martin. “He did say to me that he would be open to coming but, he said, and this I agree with, that his coming would have to fit into the overall timetable of the renewal of the church in Ireland.
“Short-circuiting that programme wouldn’t bring the benefits that a papal visit would bring and I am not sure that we are at that stage yet.”
Archbishop Martin believes that the Irish church is in need of a dramatic overhaul in the wake of recent scandals and the fall-off in mass goers.
He also claimed that reform and renewal would have to be progressed before any papal visit.
“We have to see and understand ourselves where we want to go with the Catholic Church. I think a papal visit will only have a significance when many of these issues of our past are fully addressed,” he added.
The Eucharistic Congress at the RDS in June, expected to attract up to 25,000 people a day, is the most likely time for a visit by the Pope but Archbishop Martin refused to commit to a timeline.
“I would say a visit will be soon rather than later. When Pope John Paul came to Ireland the notice was very, very limited,” he stressed.
Speaking about the Congress, Dr Martin added: “The idea is to prepare a modern renewal congress for Catholics.
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“It is to be a congress of learning, of sharing and I would hope part of the thing is there would a be a youth stream and they would be brought in to see the variety of things going on.”
Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny also confirmed that his government would welcome the Pope if he attends the Eucharistic Congress in the summer.
“The Government will treat his holiness with the respect that his status and his office require,” said Kenny.
“The relationship between the Government and the Catholic Church in Ireland is now far more real and understanding than it has ever been for many years.”
Kenny did say there will be no early review of the decision to close Ireland’s embassy in the Vatican despite recent debate on the subject.
He confirmed: “The Government decision to close the Irish Embassy to the Holy See was wholly unrelated to his criticism of the Vatican following the publication of the Cloyne report.
“There will be no early review of the decision to close the embassy.”