The organizer of the 2012 International Eucharistic Congress in Dublin fears the Irish government may have killed off any hope of Pope Benedict XVI visiting Ireland for the event.
The development follows a recent statement in the Irish Parliament in which the country’s foreign minister Eamon Gilmore said he had no intention of inviting the Pope to Ireland in 2012.
“I think that statement puts the Pope in a very diplomatically difficult situation,” Fr. Kevin Doran, the Secretary General of the Congress, told CNA on Nov. 8.
“If the Pope now came in the full knowledge that the government did not want to invite him, then he would be forced to come as a private citizen,” he noted.
Gilmore’s Oct. 18 statement to parliament began with him being asked “if an invitation has issued to the Pope to visit here in 2012.” He replied, “An invitation has not issued nor is one currently under active consideration.”
In response Fr. Doran said, “I am not aware of any other friendly nation that has been treated this way in the past. In fact, we just had two very successful state visits from the President of the United States and the Queen of England – both very well received and welcome.”
Fr. Doran said the situation is all the more disappointing because the Pope is the head of a friendly state that was one of the first to establish diplomatic relations with Ireland after the country achieved independence in 1922, “at a time when Ireland really relied on having friends overseas.”
Last week, Gilmore also announced the closure of Ireland’s embassy to the Holy See after 82-years in existence. His claim that the decision was taken solely on economic grounds was met with skepticism by many leading Irish Catholics.
Relations between Dublin and Rome have been strained since the Irish Prime Minister, Enda Kenny, launched a blistering attack on the Catholic Church in July. He accused the Vatican of attempting to “frustrate an inquiry” into clerical abuse in the Diocese of Cloyne, County Cork.
The Vatican rejected this accusation and a spokesperson for the prime minister later confirmed that he was not referring to any specific incident. Nevertheless, Kenny has refused to withdraw his remarks or apologize for them.
The 50th International Eucharistic Congress will take place in Dublin from the June 10 to 17, 2012. Held every four years, the congress brings together Catholics from across the globe to pray and study the meaning of the Eucharist.
The Dublin event is expected to attract about 25,000 visitors per day, with 80,000 attending the final Mass at the city’s Croke Park stadium. The organizers had been waiting to hear from the Vatican in December or early January whether Pope Benedict would be the main celebrant for the closing Mass.
Fr. Doran, who visited the Vatican for talks last week, said the organizing committee has always been careful not to “express the expectation that the Pope would visit.” But they also recognize that “the Congress is an encounter with Jesus Christ and, so, if the Pope would have come then what could have been better?”
“The fact that he can’t come won’t deter (us) from celebrating the Congress with care and with energy.”