POPE FRANCIS has confirmed, during a meeting with the Irish Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, that he will visit Dublin during the Roman Catholic Church’s “World Meeting of the Family” in August 2018. A visit to Northern Ireland may also be on the itinerary, and Mr Kenny has pledged every assistance from the Irish government to make this happen.
The Democratic Unionist Party leader in Northern Ireland, Arlene Foster, who is a communicant member of the Church of Ireland, has responded positively to the idea of the papal visit, and has said that she would be prepared to meet the Pope.
The last papal visit to Ireland, which took place in 1979, by Pope John Paul II, did not include Northern Ireland because of security and political issues during the Troubles. Mr Kenny said: “John Paul couldn’t go because of the Troubles at the time, even if he did pray for peace on his knees, calling on the men of violence to give up their ways.
”The government [of the Republic] will make whatever arrangements it needs to make, and if it transpires that the Pope wants to go to Northern Ireland, to any part of Northern Ireland, for a visit, we will co-operate and work with the Northern Executive.”
The Taoiseach, a Roman Catholic, was a forthright critic of the Vatican because of the lack of co-operation with the Irish State over the child sex-abuse scandal involving the Catholic Church in Ireland.
In 2011, after the state report on the investigation into child abuse by clergy in the diocese of Cloyne (News, 22 July 2011), Mr Kenny told the Dáil of the Vatican response: “The Cloyne report excavates the dysfunction, disconnection, elitism, the narcissism that dominate the culture of the Vatican to this day.
”The rape and the torture of children were downplayed or managed, to uphold, instead, the primacy of the institution, its power, its standing, and its reputation. Far from listening to evidence of humiliation and betrayal with St Benedict’s ‘ear of the heart’, the Vatican’s reaction was to parse and analyse it with the gimlet eye of a canon-lawyer.
”This calculated, withering position being the polar opposite of the radicalism, the humility, and the compassion upon which the Roman Church was founded; the radicalism, the humility, and the compassion which are the very essence of its foundation and its purpose; the behaviour being a case of Roma locuta est: causa finita est, except, in this instance . . . nothing could be further from the truth.”
He said at the time that the behaviour of the Vatican was “an attempt by the Holy See to frustrate an inquiry in a sovereign, democratic republic”. The Irish government’s reaction was to close the country’s embassy to the Holy See.
On the election of Pope Francis in 2013, however, the hostile atmosphere thawed, and the embassy reopened in 2014.
Pope Francis’s visit to Ireland is seen as being unlikely to generate the huge crowds who attended the various venues across the Republic in 1979. Much of the commentary surrounding the announcement of the visit concerns the tourism and the revenue that it could produce for the country.
C of I abortion challenge
THE Church of Ireland has issued its strongest challenge yet to the state on the issue of abortion (News, 25 November), writes Gregg Ryan.
The Standing Committee of the General Synod of the Church of Ireland approved a statement on Tuesday of last week, to submit to the government-sponsored Citizens’ Advice Committee, which met last weekend. The Assembly considered the impact of the Eight Amendment of the Irish Constitution, which enshrines in law the equal right to life of the mother and foetus, even in cases of foetal abnormality or rape.
The statement said: “While the Church of Ireland has consistently expressed the view that abortion should be confined to situations of strict and undeniable medical necessity, it has also since 1983 publicly questioned the wisdom of addressing such complex moral problems by means of amendments to the Constitution.”
Referring to the deaths of mothers from complications that an abortion might have prevented, the statement said: “Indeed unfolding events and a range of tragic human cases over the past three decades have demonstrated the deficiencies of the constitutional approach.
”However, we would wish to emphasise that to review or question the value of the Eighth Amendment at this time is not by implication to call for easy access to abortion. Rather, it is to suggest that those complex and hopefully rare situations in which medical necessity might require termination of pregnancy would be more suitably addressed through nuanced legislation.”
It continues: “The Church of Ireland offers its good wishes and prayers to the Assembly in its weighty duty of striving to find a way forward in this sensitive matter, so that the rights of both mothers and the unborn may be duly balanced and careful reflection may take place regarding the place of the Constitution in addressing complex moral and social matters.”