The forthcoming papal visit to Ireland in 2018, which could include a visit to Northern Ireland, has the potential to make a major contribution to easing relations between the two communities there. Indeed, a symbolic act of reconciliation, possibly in Armagh which is the nominal capital of both the Anglican and Catholic ecclesiastical establishments, could be a turning point. The kind of Catholicism advanced by the present Pope is a long way from the “priest-ridden society” that has long haunted the Protestant imagination in the North regarding the South, not without cause. Indeed Pope Francis, who repeatedly attacks “clericalism” wherever he finds it, is on their side. This tone should also help to heal the breach between the Church and the Irish laity, as well as between the Irish Government and the Holy See which saw ambassadors being withdrawn on both sides in 2011 following government disgust at the Church’s handling of sex abuse scandals.
Pope can heal Church’s standing
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