Peter Robinson has said that he would be prepared to meet the Pope if he was to visit Northern Ireland.
Little more than a week after Mr Robinson said that he had “no need or desire” to meet the head of the Roman Catholic Church, the First Minister softened his tone on the possibility of doing so.
Less than a fortnight ago, when asked by the News Letter if he would consider meeting the Pope, Mr Robinson said he believed the pontiff should be able to visit Northern Ireland if it was safe to do so, but that he felt no need to meet him.
Although he never said that he would not meet the Pope, the comments led to some criticism from individuals who claimed that to not meet the Pope would be a snub.
At the weekend, Mr Robinson told the Belfast Telegraph: “The one thing you wouldn’t be doing is offending any section of our community, particularly a section of the community that would have a strong adherence to the Pope.”
Mr Robinson, who in recent years has made a big play of attempting to make the DUP attractive to Catholic voters, again made clear that he did not believe there was much chance of Pope Francis coming to Northern Ireland, despite Belfast City Council’s recent invitation to him.
Mr Robinson attempted to distinguish between hypothetical Papal visits, saying that if he was coming as the Vatican’s head of state “then I could meet the Pope”, but “if he was coming as a religious leader to speak to the faithful ... I am not a member of that faith so clearly that wouldn’t be a visit where protocol would require me to meet him”.
However, Papal visits often involve both religious and civic elements.
Mr Robinson also said: “We could spend the rest of our lives looking at hypothetical situations; this isn’t happening and I don’t see any value in going beyond what I have said. I certainly wouldn’t be in the position of offending anybody.”
During the last Papal visit to the UK, Mr Robinson’s predecessor as DUP leader and First Minister, Ian Paisley, led protests in Scotland against a religious figure he regards as the antichrist.
Although Pope John Paul II visited the Republic of Ireland in 1979, there has never been a Papal visit to Northern Ireland.