Why is the Pope not coming North? Are the disappointed faithful too frightened to ask and did the bishops fail to press their case?

The ways of the Vatican are as inscrutable as those of the Chinese Communist party. Indeed they vie with the on-off – on character of the Trump- Kim Jong -un meeting in Singapore. Only a couple of days ago senior Irish Catholics were still holding out hopes that the Pope might pop up to Armagh. Then after his itinerary was announced, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin said that final confirmation had come from the Vatican that the pontiff will not cross the border in August.  As far as I’ve seen not a word of credible explanation has been offered. Even the Irish hierarchy were left hanging like somebody waiting for late returns for a Bruce Springsteen gig. Or were they privately complicit because they feared protests or worse, indifference, and so failed to press the North’s case with a nervous Vatican?

Yet think of the preparations required.  500,000 are expected to turn out in Phoenix Park on 28 August. Had he come North the numbers would surely have been big despite the fall in the Church’s reputation. It’s not as if he can avoid any mention of the abuse scandals or abortion controversy. For these there is no border and the North is a comparative haven of conservatism. Even so he would have been guaranteed a warm reception to match his public personality. The timing will never be better.  Handled appropriately a visit North would have given a boost to reconciliation in a way that would have played to his strengths and this community’s needs. The suggestion that he might pay a later specific visit on North will lack conviction unless a specific promise is made.

The Irish News may be looking to give a crumb of comfort to faithful readers, unsettled perhaps at all the coverage given to the Article 8 abortion referendum and the follow-up campaign in the North, not to mention bishops falling on their croziers over abuse scandals.

THOUSANDS of pilgrims are expected to descend on west Belfast today for the first day of the annual Clonard Novena.

More than 100,000 people will visit the monastery over the next nine days to take part in the famous Novena in honour of Our Mother of Perpetual Help.

The theme of this year’s event, which runs from June 13 to June 21, is `The joy of love: Family life today’

Fine for them that so many are so inspired but it’s not quite the same is it?    I can only assume the paper had  set their editorial page yesterday before the archbishop of Dublin let the axe fall. Or does a grain of hope still linger?

It’s a shame  that so many people have been messed around in this way. It  shows the centre of the Catholic Church is as arrogant and introverted as ever. One way or another the issue should have been resolved ages ago. Just as telling is the fatalism with which this fumbling has been received by an otherwise critical laity and media.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London