The visit of Pope Francis for the World Meeting of Families is set to be overshadowed by the Government’s likely push for a referendum on abortion next year, senior Church sources have indicated to The Irish Catholic.
Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar – the man tipped by many pundits to replace Enda Kenny as the next Taoiseach – said this week he expected a referendum on abortion to be held next year. Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald also threw her weight behind a poll to diminish the right to life of the unborn in the constitution.
Senior Church sources have told this paper that the referendum moves will overshadow preparations for the World Meeting of Families which is due to be held in Dublin in August next year – an event at which Pope Francis has said he plans to attend.
However, the Vatican will now keep the papal visit under review due to the push for a referendum. Senior officials at the Holy See would be reluctant to endorse a trip that could put Pope Francis in the awkward position of having to meet a Taoiseach who had just pushed for wider access to abortion.
There would also be a concern that a papal visit could be overshadowed by political controversy around the contentious issue.
At the weekend the Citizens’ Assembly, the body established by Fine Gael to make proposals on abortion, endorsed a controversial plan that would see the abortion of unborn children permitted on request of the mother up to 12 weeks.
These proposals will now be discussed by an Oireachtas committee made up of members of the various political parties.
Primate of All-Ireland Archbishop Eamon Martin has already said that in the event of a referendum to remove or diminish the right to life of the unborn guaranteed by the Eighth Amendment to the constitution, the Church here will mount a vigorous campaign to defend that right.
He also said he expected that if Pope Francis does visit Ireland, he will use the occasion to highlight the Church’s fundamental belief that abortion is wrong and that society has the responsibility to cherish both the mother and baby during pregnancy.