Pope's visit will embrace diversity with all welcome, says new bishop
Brendan Kelly signals open approach to event next August, writes Sarah MacDonald
Pope Francis's appointee as the new Bishop of Galway has said he intends to try to get the City of the Tribes on to the itinerary for next August's papal visit to Ireland.
Bishop Brendan Kelly, who is currently Bishop of Achonry, will be installed as Bishop of Galway on February 11.
He told the Irish Independent that he is looking for an opportunity to promote Galway, which famously hosted Pope John Paul II in 1979, as a contender for Francis's Irish visit.
"We would all love to have the Pope in Galway and if there is an opportunity for suggesting that, I'm happy to do it, I want to do it. It would be wonderful if he came to the west of Ireland," he said.
But the 71-year-old Craughwell native acknowledged that Pope Francis's visit is a very different type of trip to that made by John Paul II almost 40 years ago, which was a pastoral visit focused on the Irish Church. The Argentine pontiff is visiting as part of the World Meeting of Families, an international event focused specifically on the "celebration of families", and that will be his priority.
The important thing, Dr Kelly said, is that Francis is coming to Ireland.
"He is going to stand on our soil. This Pope is an extraordinary man - Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, they all want to be photographed with him. Why? Because the man has moral authority like nobody else on the globe at the moment. He is very humane and affirms our humanity."
Asked if the World Meeting of Families will welcome only orthodox Catholics or embrace diversity, the Bishop said he hoped "people from the peripheries" will attend, and he signalled a more open approach, saying: "We are not policemen."
Elsewhere in his wide-ranging interview with the Irish Independent, Bishop Kelly expressed his strong support for the Eighth Amendment, describing it as "a guarantee of equality".
Its insertion into the Constitution in 1983 was "a very positive move" because it showed "a concern for everybody at every stage of life from the first moment of conception".
"We have a passion for looking after mothers and their babies - both."
Respect for life, particularly the right to life of the weakest, was a fundamental human right, he said.
Dr Kelly has in the past volunteered with the L'Arche community, which supports people with intellectual disabilities. He said that he was "concerned" by the debate over terminating pregnancies where the foetus has been diagnosed with a fatal foetal abnormality.
To women caught in a crisis pregnancy, the new Bishop of Galway also said he was conscious of the reality of an unexpected or crisis pregnancy, and how it could be very "threatening" sometimes.
"The question for society is what are we doing to support these women? Abortion is being presented as a panacea that solves everything.
"The reality is, unfortunately, it doesn't. There is a huge need for aftercare for women who have had an abortion."
Dr Kelly said there has not been sufficient discussion of this aspect of abortion.
Of the revival of the Irish economy, he warned that it "doesn't seem to be touching rural small towns very much. Even though the rising tide to some degree lifts all boats - it lifts some boats much more than others".
He said he was "concerned about the rural west of Ireland" and said it "needs special attention now".
"I have been involved in the Council for the West and we're very conscious, particularly in Achonry, of declining populations and the lack of infrastructure. A town like Ballaghaderreen has very few people living along the streets anymore. We need some sort of development or support from the Government for the revitalisation of rural town centres for people, and not just businesses. It would improve the quality of life enormously."
Of his appointment by Pope Francis to the diocese of Galway, where he worked in schools and parishes between the 1970s and 1990s, he told the Irish Independent: "The thing that amazed me and shocked me about my appointment is that I am not in the first flush of youth by any means.
"I would like to see my appointment as a message for all older people that they have a contribution."
Bishops are required to offer their resignation at 75, which means Bishop Kelly will have just four years at the helm in Galway.
He suggested that while there was "a growing respect for old age" he did not agree with efforts by the State to push out the retirement age for workers to 70, as it would make it harder for younger people to access work.
"We have to be careful that we don't deprive young people of work. There are too many young people out of work all over Europe - youth unemployment is as high as 50pc in parts of Spain and Italy. The contribution of older people is not about an economic contribution or their earning power, but wisdom and compassion.
"I want to say to grandparents and granduncles and grandaunts, to people who are older, you have an incredible treasure to share with the young and you need to spend time with them. Where would we all be without older people who have given us a listening ear and a little bit of affirmation? We need that very badly because much of the world today does not affirm many people - look at the whole celebrity culture - as if you have to be one particular thing in order to be valuable."