Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny refused to back down on his criticism of the Vatican – ahead of a meeting with Pope Benedict in Rome on Saturday.

Kenny was set to sit down with the Pope at Castel Gandolfo just months after his attack on the Holy See over the child abuse scandal.

The Fine Gael leader was openly critical of the Catholic Church’s response to the clerical sex abuse crisis in Ireland.

Speaking in the Irish parliament, Kenny referred to the ‘dysfunction, disconnection, elitism and narcissism' that dominate the culture of the Vatican to this day.

He also claimed that the Holy See had responded to the sex abuse crisis with the ‘gimlet eye of a canon lawyer.'

The Irish Times reports that Kenny was unrepentant ahead of his meeting with the Pope.

Speaking to the paper in Rome, he denied suggestions he would be ‘uncomfortable’ at the meeting despite his comments last June.

Kenny said: “I think that the matter that I raised in the Dáil (parliament) in regard to the Catholic Church has been beneficial in the sense that it has brought about a new sense of reality.

“In my dealings with church authorities since then, there has been a realism and an understanding that the scars of the past have to be dealt with and dealt with fully and that we have to put in place foundations for the future which demonstrate the sense of values that we have for our country and for our people.

“All that is reflected in the decision I made on taking office in appointing a Minister for Children and also that this Government has also published and nominated a date for the referendum on child protection.

“It used to be that children were to be seen and not heard. Had they been heard and listened to, we might not have had many of the scars that I have referred to.”

The Irish Prime Minister is to meet the Pope as part of a group of delegates attending the Centrist Democrats International conference in Rome.

Asked by the paper if he would invite the Pope to Ireland, Kenny replied: “It is a matter for the church authorities to invite him to Ireland.”

Taoiseach Enda KennyREUTERS