Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny has invited Pope Francis to make a visit to the Republic and Northern Ireland as he looks to restore diplomatic relationships with the Vatican.
The government leader offered the invitation as Pope Francis declared Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II as saints in St Peter’s Square.
The invitation has been welcomed by Cardinal Sean Brady, leader of the Catholic Church in Ireland.
PM Kenny also confirmed that the government will announce the name of its new ambassador to the Holy See on Wednesday.
He has also discussed the return to normal relations between the state and the Church after a spat over the Vatican’s handling of clerical sex abuse scandals in Ireland.
Kenny told the Irish Times that, while it was up to the church in Ireland to invite Pope Francis to visit, the Government would provide whatever support was necessary.
Asked about a papal visit following his discussions with the pope, Kenny said, “I can’t say that his eyes lit up but he did recognize the country I was speaking about.
“And it is my hope that the Pope would travel to Northern Ireland as well, given the changed events in politics where the circle of history has closed following the Queen’s visit to Ireland and the recent visit to England by President Higgins.”
Expanding on the restoration of the relationship between the Irish state and the Holy See, Kenny added that he told Pope Francis that his papacy to date had brought about ‘an extraordinary difference to the perception of the Catholic Church.’
He said, “In Ireland now there is a clearer and healthier relationship between Church and State.”
Denying that the government had sent mixed messages to the Vatican, Kenny confirmed a new ambassador will be announced this week after conflict following the decision to close the Irish Embassy to the Holy See three years ago.
He said, “That decision made in the beginning was based strictly on economics. I expect the Tánaiste [Deputy PM] to bring a name to Wednesday’s cabinet meeting, the name of someone to be appointed Ambassador to the Holy See and a lot of people in Ireland have been complimentary about that decision and that is not a mixed signal, it is very clear and decisive.
“Ireland is a country where there is a very healthy relationship between church and state where we continue with the structured dialogue that we’ve had with His Eminence Cardinal Brady and the bishops and the church and we will continue to build on that.
“The church has moved to deal with the many problems of the legacy, the scars of the sex abuse crisis. We want that to be dealt with up front, accountable and transparent.
“As far as the Government is concerned, we have made our position very clear by holding a referendum on children’s rights, the appointment of a senior Minister Frances Fitzgerald, putting in place legislation and we expect not only the Church but all the organizations associated and the agencies to work collectively and collaboratively to see that those legacies are dealt with so that a situation is put in place for now and the future where these things cannot happen again.”