Pope calms speculation surrounding Ireland visit as Vatican confirms 2018 World Meeting of Families in Dublin
Pope Francis has dampened hopes he may visit Ireland for the 2018 World Meeting of Families.
The Vatican has announced the next conference will be in Dublin in August 2018 but has refused to be drawn on whether the Pontiff will attend.
A statement from the Catholic Irish bishops' conference said "it is too early" to say whether the Pope would attend and added a decision is not expected until a few months before the event.
It comes after the Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, claimed the Pope had told him: "I will come and if I don't come, my successor will come." However the statement on Tuesday from the Irish Bishops' Conference appeared to quieten excitement around a possible visit.
It said Pope Francis has expressed his desire to attend but the final decision "will depend on many factors". If he were to attend the bishops warned it would be a "more restricted programme" than the previous papal visit to Ireland from Pope Saint John Paul II in 1979.
The choice of Dublin for a venue comes after Ireland became the first country to legalise same-sex marriage by a referendum vote last year. Despite calls from the Church against the move, 62 per cent of the Irish electorate voted in favour of gay marriage.
The Church has maintained its traditional view on marriage and as Archbishop Martin announced the date and theme of the upcoming families meeting, he said Ireland is a "very open country and is open to all the pressures of Western secular culture regarding marriage and the family."
He said the meeting would be "an event of the entire Church" and would aim to "stress the role of the family within society and the contribution of families to the overall health and stability of society".
The World Meeting of Families has taken place once every three years since its first meeting in 1994. However Archbishop Martin said this meeting would be particularly significant as it followed Francis' choice to hold his first synod of bishops on the theme of the family. It is not an "isolated event", he added.
"It belongs within a programme of renewal of the Church's pastoral concern and pastoral care for the family and for families."
The theme of the conference will be "The Gospel of the Family: Joy for the World", inspired by the Pope's apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia on The Joy of Love after the synod on the family.
The Pope's 261-page document affirmed the Church's view of marriage as between one man and one woman but added: "Every person, regardless of sexual orientation, ought to be respected in his or her dignity and treated with consideration, while 'every sign of unjust discrimination' is to be carefully avoided, particularly any form of aggression and violence."