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Pope confirms UK visit but won’t be coming to Northern Ireland

By John Cooney

Pope Benedict is to visit the UK in September in the first papal visit to England, Wales and Scotland in more than a quarter of a century — although Northern Ireland will not be on the itinerary.

However, Irish church sources still hope Pope Benedict will visit both Northern Ireland and attend the International Eucharistic Congress in Dublin in 2012, some 33 years after Pope John Paul's historic visit to the Republic.

In a speech to bishops from England and Wales assembled yesterday in Rome, Pope Benedict said he looked forward to witnessing at first hand the faith of Catholics in England and Wales during “my forthcoming Apostolic visit to Great Britain”.

It was the first time the Pope had publicly confirmed the trip previously announced by Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

Although the German Pontiff did not give a date, Church officials said it is expected to take place in September and will include a visit to Edinburgh and Glasgow, Scotland has its own Catholic bishops conference independent of England and Wales.

Last night Cardinal Seán Brady, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, welcomed the announcement of the visit to England and Wales, but omitted to refer to Scotland.

“I wish to convey my best wishes to the bishops, priests and lay faithful of England and Wales on the wonderful news announced today concerning the forthcoming visit of Pope Benedict to our nearest neighbours,” said Cardinal Brady, who did not draw attention to the absence of Northern Ireland in the 2010 papal itinerary.

Instead, Cardinal Brady and the other Irish bishops have been summoned, sackcloth and ashes, to a meeting with Pope Benedict in Rome on February 15 and 16 ahead of the publication of the Pope's special Lenten letter on the fall-out from the paedophile scandals in Ireland and elsewhere.

In his speech to English and Welsh bishops yesterday, the pope attacked the planned Equity Bill, currently being debated by the House of Lords, which the UK Churches fear may strip them of their current right to turn down applicants for jobs if they are actively homosexual or have changed their gender.

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