Bishop of Kerry Dr Bill Murphy said relations between Church and state “are not very good” since last year’s speech by Taoiseach Enda Kenny denouncing the Holy See and Foreign Affairs Minister Eamon Gilmore’s decision to close the embassy to the Vatican.
“That has caused a certain strain and I think it would be kind of difficult for the Pope to come in that atmosphere,” said Bishop Murphy.
A further consideration was that if Pope Benedict XVI does visit Ireland in the future, he would almost certainly want a stop-off in the North to be part of his itinerary, he said.
“I don’t know if the North is ready for that or not,” said Bishop Murphy, who added that the Pope has since given a commitment to visit many other countries and those visits have already been planned.
The bishop acknowledged that there is currently very little excitement about the Eucharistic Congress in Dublin, which is now just 10 weeks away, but he described the gathering — the first for 80 years — as a very historic event for the country and the Catholic Church.
“If you go back to when Pope John Paul came to Ireland, people were saying nobody would go and then when it came closer to the event it created its own momentum and most of the country turned out,” said Bishop Murphy.
“The same happened last year in England when Pope Benedict came. I met Irish priests who were working in England and they said it was going to be a damp squib and yet think of the millions of people who turned out. I expect it will be something similar in Ireland.”
The bishop, speaking on the Kerry Diocese’s weekly local radio programme, claimed that the climate in today’s world is not conducive to strong faith being practiced and he identified that as his biggest concern when he was appointed bishop 16 years ago.
“We now have a very scientific approach in that everything has to be demonstrated, everything has to be touched and proved scientifically. You can’t offer that proof with faith,” he said.
“In a secular society, there is a big challenge to faith. There are a lot of good people who don’t believe and yet their values are Christian values. They were given a Catholic education and they have inherited those values.”