Irish bishops to meet Pope Francis on 10-day visit to Vatican

Archbishop of Armagh leading almost 30-strong Irish delegation on Rome visit

Pope Francis addresses the crowd from the window of the apostolic palace overlooking St Peter’s square in the Vatican during on Sunday. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

Pope Francis addresses the crowd from the window of the apostolic palace overlooking St Peter’s square in the Vatican during on Sunday. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

 

Migration, economic austerity, secularism, clerical sex abuse, falling attendance at Mass, the decline in priesthood vocations and the Catholic Church’s mission of mercy to those on the periphery will be just some of the many hot-button issues touched on by Irish bishops during their traditional “ad limina” visit to Pope Francis and the Holy See, beginning on Monday morning.

The “ad limina apostolorum” (to the threshold of the apostles) visit, which usually takes place every five years, in some senses represents an occasion when the local, often far-off branch gets a chance to report in person to head office.

Over the next 10 days, there will be an exchange of views between the visiting bishops and the heads of nearly all the major departments of the Roman curia.

The high point of the visit will come next Friday when the pope receives the almost 30-strong Irish delegation in audience.

Having waited more than 10 years since their last ad limina in the summer of 2006, the bishops will meet the pope on a day when the world’s attention will be focused on the inauguration in Washington DC of Donald Trump as US president.

Writing in the Irish Catholic last week, Archbishop of Armagh Eamon Martin, president of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference, acknowledged that much has changed since the last Irish ad limina, pointing out that half of the delegation, including himself, were not present in 2006.

Warm greetings

He said he would bring “warm greetings of affection from the Catholic people of Ireland” to the pope, thanking him not just for last year’s holy year of mercy but also for the Vatican’s decision to hold the World Meeting of Families in Dublin in August 2018, an event the pope is due to attend.

This week’s Irish visit kicks off a new round of ad limina visits that were suspended for the 2016 holy year. In the past, especially during the pontificate of John Paul II, every bishop reported individually to the pope. Benedict XVI suspended that practice, which means that at Friday’s audience there will be an exchange of speeches between the pope and Archbishop Martin, followed by ritual greetings with the bishops.

The list of Vatican departments due to be consulted, however – the secretariat of state, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Congregation of Bishops, the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors and the Dicastery for the Laity, to name but the most obvious – would suggest there may be some “hard talking” over the next 10 days.

Last week, the Association of Catholics in Ireland expressed their “deep disappointment” that the bishops would not be bringing “proposals on ending the celibacy requirement for priestly ministry” to the pope.

Such a formal proposal may never have been a realistic starter for the bishops but that does not mean issues such as shortage of priests, the role of women and the pastoral care of the LGBT community will not feature in some of the talks.

The ad limina visit will also be marked by the celebration of Mass in Rome’s major basilicas: St Peter’s, St John Lateran’s, St. Mary Major’s and St Paul Outside the Walls.

The visit begins on Monday morning with a Mass, celebrated by Archbishop Martin, in St Peter’s.