Thursday, February 07, 2013

Possible papal visit for President Michael D Higgins may have an opportunity to meet Pope Benedict XVI this week, while on an official visit to Rome.

President Higgins and his wife Sabina will be staying in Rome from February 7-9 on an official visit to Italy. 

It is customary when a Head of State visits Rome that they pay a courtesy call to the Vatican to visit the Pope.

A spokesperson for Áras an Uachtaráin has confirmed that the president and his wife are making an official visit to Italy, but  “the details of the visit have yet to be announced”.

However, if President Higgins chooses to make a visit to the Vatican it would likely be a private visit to meet Pope Benedict XVI and other senior Vatican officials. 

Protocol at the Holy See rarely permits State visits to be combined with the Italian Republic to avoid confusion over issues of sovereignty.

Such private visits are often characterised by less formality. President Mary McAleese met Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI several times during her 14-year presidency, however, only one of these visits – in 2007 – was a State visit.

Any visit to the Pope is further complicated by the decision of the Government to downgrade relations between Ireland and the Vatican with the closure of the Irish Embassy to the Holy See because it yielded no economic return. 

While Department of Foreign Affairs Secretary General, David Cooney serves as non-resident ambassador in Dublin and frequently visits the Vatican, the lack of a permanent Irish Embassy means that there would be no venue to host a reception to mark a visit to the Holy See.

It has been speculated that there may be a decision to re-open Ireland’s Embassy to the Vatican later this year, at the end of Ireland’s time at the helm of the rotating presidency of the European Union in June.

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