Retired Free Presbyterian Minister David McIlveen has said Pope Francis is “not welcome” in Northern Ireland until he condemns clerical child abuse in the Province.
A Vatican spokesman has confirmed that the pontiff will not be travelling north of the border during his visit to the island of Ireland this summer.
The Pope is scheduled to visit Dublin on August 25 and 26 to coincide with the city’s hosting of the World Meeting of Families, an international Catholic event staged every three years.
But Rev McIlveen felt a visit by the Pope to Northern Ireland would not be appropriate in light of the recent revelations regarding paedophile priest Malachy Finnegan, who was accused of abusing 12 boys at St Colman’s College in Newry.
The controversial preacher told BBC’s The Nolan Show this morning: “It is important at this particular juncture in the Roman Catholic Church, with so much clerical abuse, that the church gets its own house in order.
“Amidst all of the clerical abuse I think it is inappropriate that the Pope should come. The Pope has not come out and condemned this clerical abuse in Northern Ireland and until that is done I think we are going to have to say ‘sorry but you are not welcome’.”
However, former Presbyterian Moderator Rev Dr Ken Newell has said there is no good reason why the pope could not travel north of the border during his one-day visit.
He said Pope Francis would be welcomed by all sections of the community, adding: “His visit would give hope to a Province which feels a lot of despair.”
While the Catholic Church has ruled out a visit to Northern Ireland, Bishop of Derry Donal McKeown told BBC News NI he was very keen that such a trip could still be considered.
The last papal visit to Ireland was in 1979 when an estimated 2.7 million turned out to see Pope John Paul II over three days.
The Catholic Church said the pope will arrive on August 25 to take part in the ‘Festival of Families’ in Croke Park, and the following day will then be the chief celebrant at a mass in Phoenix Park.