Pope Francis leads his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican on March 21, 2018. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

Pope confirms plans to visit Dublin for August family rally

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis confirmed he plans to attend a big Catholic family rally in Ireland in August, visiting a once staunchly Roman Catholic country that has been devastated by the church's sex abuse crisis.

Francis made the long-awaited announcement Wednesday (March 21) at the end of his weekly general audience, saying he intends to go to Dublin Aug. 25-26 for the World Meeting of Families. He made no mention of an oft-rumored stop in Northern Ireland.

RELATED: The ’Splainer: What is the World Meeting of Families?

It will be the first papal trip to Ireland since the explosion of sex abuse cases sorely compromised the Catholic Church's moral authority. In recent years, Ireland has legalized gay marriage over the church's objections, and this spring the country is due to hold a referendum on overturning a constitutional ban on abortion.

St. John Paul II visited Ireland in 1979.

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The World Meeting of Families is a triennial rally aimed at encouraging the church's vision of a family based on marriage between man and woman. The Dublin organizers have come under fire from gay rights groups for removing references to homosexual relationships in conference promotional materials.

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The meeting is the first since Francis issued his controversial document "The Joy of Love," which urged the church to better accompany "nontraditional" families, including those who have divorced or who have gay children.

Organizers have said the document, which contained a cautious opening to allowing divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to receive Communion, will be the main reference point for discussion at the rally's workshops and events.

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While in Ireland, Francis is likely to also face scrutiny over his handling of the sex abuse scandal and would be under pressure to meet with survivors as he has done in the U.S., Chile and at the Vatican.