A LEADING church figure has indicated that a papal visit to Ireland is now unlikely this year.
Pope Benedict XVI would visit Ireland "soon rather than later" and was "actively considering" an invitation from the Catholic Church in Ireland, the Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin said yesterday.
But Dr Martin added that the Irish church is not ready for a papal visit.
It had initially been hoped that Pope Benedict would attend the Eucharistic Congress taking place in Dublin this June.
However, Dr Martin yesterday indicated that such a trip was unlikely as he highlighted a number of problems that have arisen -- including the Pope's reduced travelling schedule owing to his age.
He also said a visit was unlikely until the "healing process" for victims of clerical sexual abuse is completed.
Speaking to the Irish Independent after celebrating a Mass to mark 'World Day of the Sick', Dr Martin said: "The Pope is in his 80s, his travel will have to be reduced and there's a very big event on the week beforehand to which he is certainly going, so we'll just wait and see."
He also said the Pope's arrival depended on how far along the process of healing had gone -- and there were "still many steps to be taken".
"It would require a lot of work, ensuring that people who feel wounded by the church would have the opportunity for healing, and I don't think this would be something that was imposed," he said.
It is anticipated that tens of thousands of Catholics from home and abroad will attend the congress.
Dr Martin has put in place two plans for the Eucharist Congress, one if the Pope is attending and another if he chooses not to.
There will be 20,000 people in the RDS daily from June 10, rising to 80,000 for the closing ceremony in Croke Park on Sunday, June 17.
Pope Benedict has personally told Dr Martin that he was open to coming for the Eucharistic Congress and would give it "serious consideration".
"But he said -- and this I agree with -- that his coming would have to fit in with the overall programme and timetable of the renewal of the church in Ireland," Dr Martin said.
But Mr Kenny made it clear that any review of the decision to close Ireland's embassy to the Vatican was a longer-term issue -- despite the protests by Fine Gael TDs at their meeting during the week.
Mr Kenny also said people had assumed the closure of the embassy was related to his speech on the Cloyne Report last year, in which he strongly criticised the Vatican for failing to co-operate with state investigations into clerical sexual abuse.
"Nothing could be further from the truth," he said.
Earlier, on RTE's 'The Marian Finucane Show', Dr Martin had also downplayed the prospect of a papal visit while "many of these issues of our past" remained to be addressed.
"Short-circuiting that renewal process probably wouldn't bring the fruits that a papal visit would bring. I'm not sure that we are at that stage yet," he said.