Pope could visit Ireland in June next year
A papal visit to the Republic — and possibly Northern Ireland — is expected in June next year, although no confirmation has yet been announced by the Vatican.
The Pope is expected to be the chief celebrant at an open air Mass in Dublin's Croke Park on June 17, 2012, marking the end of a week-long International Eucharistic Congress.
Church leaders hope Pope Benedict XVI will also visit Northern Ireland. This would be only the second visit by a pontiff to the Republic and the first to Northern Ireland.
During the historic visit of the late Pope John Paul II to Ireland in 1979, plans for the Polish pontiff to visit Northern Ireland were called off on account of Provisional IRA violence.
Last September, Pope Benedict did not include Northern Ireland on his visit to Scotland and England, which was acclaimed a success, in spite of protests from abuse victims and gay rights groups.
After the public and media outrage over the Vatican's refusal to cooperate with the commission of inquiry into the archdiocese of Dublin, headed by Judge Yvonne Murphy, a visit to Ireland by Pope Benedict would almost certainly provoke protests, and would not attract the enthusiastic crowds who flocked to see Pope John Paul.
Speculation of a papal visit to Ireland has been rife since Pope Benedict selected Dublin as the venue for the world congress to foster spiritual renewal, in the wake of the clerical child abuse scandals and cover-ups which damaged the standing of the Irish church.
Invitations to visit Ireland are in Pope Benedict's in-tray from President Mary McAleese, the Irish government, and Cardinal Sean Brady on behalf of the Irish Conference of Bishops.
But under Vatican protocol, it is the Pope's prerogative to announce his travel plans, and as Pope Benedict would be 85 by June 2011, a confirmation of his intention of leading the Congress in Ireland would not be expected until early next year.