If Pope Benedict XVI, aka Joseph Alois Ratzinger, was determined to visit those of his flock who reside in the Northern Irish territories (NIT) he would presumably be extremely well briefed as to which parts of Belfast it would be safe and sensible for him to drop in on.
He would also probably be discouraged from going walkabout, particularly in full regalia and might be well advised to apply some additional armour plating to his pope mobile depending on which side of the divided city he is passing through.
Ratizinger, is German, and will be well used to the concept of a divided city and indeed a divided country. And although the first pope was a Galilean and the previous one a Pole, for much of the time in between there has been quite a preponderance of Italians. It’s a healthy sign when a non Italian gets the job as Christ’s official representative on earth.
His advisers might well tell his holiness to give Northern Ireland a miss and head straight instead for the Southern Irish Territories (SIT) where Catholicism was given pride of place in the country’s constitution and his predecessor received such a rapturous reception in 1979.
Except of course it is not 1979. Since the pervious papal visit Catholic Ireland has changed fundamentally. Trust in the institution which the Pope represents has been completely shattered, not just by the never ending stream of horror stories of abuse, but also by the appalling attempts at damage limitation and cover-up.
No longer able to rely on the State for cover, with the Government and all political parties being moved by the public outrage, the church has to battle within an increasingly secular society to have its voice heard. And that is a battle it will struggle desparately to win having so profoundly undermined its own capacity to deliver any message of morality.
Having been through the Catholic school system myself (although I did not experience any abuse) and although a non believer now, I have considerable sympathy for the many excellent priests, brothers and nuns who unselfishly gave their lives to God and to the Irish people and I also have also considerable sympathy for those who put their faith in and trusted the Catholic Church.
But the real victims here are of course those vulnerable children who were entrusted to church care and betrayed in the most horrendous manner imaginable by an institution which was disastrously given the blind faith it required to carry out such nefarious activities.
So is it not time for ‘Catholic’ Ireland to say clearly and loudly, so it can be heard in the Vatican and on the Shankill Road – No Pope here Either?