Leo Varadkar glad Church is 'less dominant' in Ireland

By Martin Bashir
Religion editor

Image source, PA
Image caption,
The Taoiseach with meet Pope Francis during the papal visit

Leo Varadkar has said he is glad the Catholic Church is now less dominant in public life.

On the eve of the arrival of Pope Francis, Taoiseach (Irish prime minister) Mr Varadkar said he hopes the visit will begin a new chapter in Ireland's relationship with the Church.

He added he would like to see the Pope visit Northern Ireland at a later date.

Mr Varadkar said: "I think in the past the Catholic Church had too much of a dominant place in our society.

"I think it still has a place in our society but not one that determines public policy or determines our laws."

Image caption,
Pope Francis will arrive in Ireland on Saturday

Speaking ahead of the two-day visit to Dublin and Knock, the taoiseach said his predecessors in past decades would have consulted bishops about issues of public policy such as the health service, but that was no longer the case.

He added: "We do have a church/state dialogue that involves other churches as well and faiths other than Christian faiths too."

The Pope in Ireland

The reason for Pope Francis's visit to Ireland is to attend the ninth session of the World Meeting of Families (WMOF) in Dublin, a global gathering of thousands of Catholics which takes place every three years.

The WMOF says the aim of the event is to "celebrate, pray and reflect upon the central importance of marriage and the family as the cornerstone of our lives, of society and of the Church".

As Father Jorge Bergoglio, he visited the Jesuit community at Milltown Park in Dublin in 1980.

There had been suggestions before the programme of his visit was announced that he would cross the Irish border.

Pope John Paul II's planned visit to Northern Ireland was cancelled in 1979 following the murder of Lord Mountbatten by the IRA in County Sligo.

Image source, PA
Image caption,
The last papal visit to Ireland was by Pope John Paul II in 1979

Mr Varadkar said: "We had hoped that it would be possible for him [Pope Francis] to go to Northern Ireland on this occasion.

"I would certainly like that to happen in the future, for him to bring a message of peace and a message of reconciliation to the north."

The taoiseach described the papal visit as one of the biggest events in Ireland in the past 40 years, adding it was also a chance for the Pope to speak directly to those harmed by crimes that took place in Church-run institutions.

"It is an opportunity for him to say something to the women and children in particular who were victims of the Church's institutions — to reiterate the apologies that he's given in the past but also to demonstrate that things are going to change into the future.

"I also think it's an opportunity for us as a republic for us as the Irish state to start a new chapter in our relationship with the Church one that again is very much about having a place for the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland but not one at the centre in the way it was in the past."

Papal visit to Ireland: Itinerary highlights

Saturday 25 August

  • 08:15 - Departure by plane from Rome for Dublin
  • 10:30 - Arrival at Dublin Airport for official welcome
  • 10:45 - Transfer to Áras an Uachtaráin (Irish president's residence)
  • 11:15 - Welcome ceremony with President Michael D Higgins
  • 12:10 - Arrival at Dublin Castle for meeting with authorities, civil society and diplomatic corps
  • 15:30 - Visit to St Mary's Pro Cathedral
  • 16:30 - Private visit to the Capuchin Day Centre, a centre for homeless people
  • 19:45 - Preside at the Festival of Families at Croke Park stadium

Sunday 26 August

  • 08:40 - Departure by plane for Knock
  • 09:45 - Arrival at Knock Shrine for visit to the Apparition Chapel and recitation of the Angelus
  • 11:15 - Departure by plane for Dublin
  • 12:30 - Lunch with the Papal Delegation
  • 15:00 - Closing Papal Mass of the World Meeting of Families in Phoenix Park followed by a meeting with the Irish bishops
  • 18:30 - Farewell ceremony at Dublin Airport
  • 18:45 - Departure by plane for Rome
  • 23:00 - Arrival in Rome