When John Paul II visited Ireland in 1979 more than 2.5 million people flocked to events across the country in an outpouring of support for their new Polish pope. Thirty-seven years later Ireland is bracing itself for another papal visit – expected in 2018, at the invitation of Prime Minister Enda Kenny – but it is difficult to imagine such enthusiasm being replicated.

In the Irish Times last week, Fr Gerard Moloney went so far as to ask whether Ireland deserved such a visit. He concluded that “our battered priests and people” are definitely worthy but “the same cannot be said for our Church leaders.”

Exasperation with the Church’s hierarchy following a devastating clerical abuse scandal is not surprising, but as Someone else once pointed out, it’s not the healthy that need a visit from the doctor but the sick.

Francis is a Pope who has prioritised visiting countries that need some papal TLC. Ireland’s painful history may have persuaded Francis that a trip is necessary now more than ever.

For one thing, the visit will be a national morale boost – it has already been welcomed by both Catholic and Protestant leaders. Greg Daly of the Irish Catholic says: “Pope Francis is liked even if the good feeling towards him isn’t especially deep. Fairly or not, he’s seen as a more decent, humbler, warmer man than Benedict, and also as someone who gets ordinary people and tells it like it is.”

As an example of Irish goodwill towards the Pope, Daly points to Marie Collins, an abuse survivor who is on the Pope’s commission to strengthen child protection. “She is someone with unimpeachable credibility on the child protection issue, she’s become a wonderful hinge between Ireland and Rome, and is playing a key role in the Vatican’s child protection commission.”

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