Vatican should reconsider plans to skip North, urge Protestant leaders
Colm Fitzpatrick, Greg Daly and Martin O’Brien
The Pope could help towards resolving political tensions in the North of Ireland and bring about the re-establishment of Stormont, a prominent Protestant minister has said.
Dr Ken Newell, a former Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland who played a significant role in the peace process, said he was “sad” that Pope Francis wasn’t coming to the North of Ireland in August this year and that there has been a “serious miscalculation” by the Vatican on the issue.
He added that Pope Francis’ attendance in the North would help resolve underlying religious and historical differences as well as encourage the re-establishment of political institutions.
“I would see his coming North as similar to the Queen’s visit going South. I think she defrosted centuries of animosity by her gestures and I think that Pope Francis coming to the North would help to defrost attitudes on both sides – both Protestants and Catholics need their attitudes defrosted,” Rev. Newell told The Irish Catholic.
“But also, most of all, if he had come to the North, he could have called for a getting back together again in terms of running the country instead of this. Now we don’t really have a parliament in Stormont anymore. So, I’m thinking he would have called us back to a very important commitment to work together for the benefit of everybody in the North. I think that would have helped towards the reestablishment of the political institutions in the North,” he said.
Rev. Newell also suggested that the Vatican needs to “reconsider the possibility” of a papal visit to the North in response to the Irish hierarchy’s appeal and the northern bishops’ major disappointment.
Echoing these comments, Bishop John McDowell, the Church of Ireland Bishop of Clogher and outgoing President of the Irish Council of Churches, said various Christian denominations would welcome the Pope, and his visit would help deal with current political problems.
“It was indeed disappointing to learn that Pope Francis was unlikely to include a venue in Northern Ireland in his itinerary. I know that many people, including myself, from the Reformed Churches would have warmly welcomed, and were eagerly anticipating such a visit.
“Quite apart from the encouragement his presence and words would bring to many believers, there is also a feeling that the particular emphasis he places on the virtues of mercy, compassion and peace could help us deal with the many political problems which we currently face. Who knows, perhaps the Vatican authorities can be persuaded to think again,” Bishop McDowell said.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has already affirmed, in response to questions from TDs in the Dáil on April 18, that the Government would like to facilitate a possible visit to Northern Ireland, and also recommended that the Pope meet with victims of clerical abuse.
Hopeful that the Pontiff will come to the North, former Irish Fianna Fáil politician and key actor in the Northern Ireland peace process Martin Mansergh said it would be a “missed opportunity” if the Pope doesn’t visit, and that his attendance could create a space for ecumenical dialogue.
“The Pope’s visit to the North isn’t going to be seen in general terms as triumphalist, given there is a strong other community – that sounds a bit implausible to me.
“Pope Francis would obviously be extraordinarily sensitive, and I’m sure he’d meet the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh and things like that while he was there,” Mr Mansergh said.
“My bottom line would be I think it would be a missed opportunity if he didn’t go, barring some extraordinary circumstances that we can’t foresee at the moment.”