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Pope confirms 2018 visit to Ireland, prime minister says

Pope Francis exchanges gifts with Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny during a private audience in his private studio at the Vatican, Monday, Nov. 28, 2016. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino, pool )

Pope Francis exchanges gifts with Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny during a private audience in his private studio at the Vatican, Monday, Nov. 28, 2016. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino, pool )

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis confirmed plans Monday to make a 2018 trip to Ireland, a Roman Catholic country devastated by the clerical sex abuse scandal, where same-sex marriages are legal and a constitutional ban on abortion is being questioned.

Francis confirmed the plans during a meeting with visiting Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny.

"The pope has confirmed that he is coming to Ireland for the World Meeting of Families," Kenny told reporters.

The prime minister said talks were under way about whether Francis would visit Northern Ireland, which St. John Paul II avoided as pope in 1979 on security grounds.

Kenny harshly criticized the Vatican in 2011 over what he called its "dysfunction" in responding to the abuse scandal, accusing the Holy See of frustrating an Irish investigation into the problem and seeking to preserve its own reputation instead.

Ireland closed its embassy in what was seen as retaliation, though the embassy reopened in 2014 and Kenny said the diplomatic breakdown was over.

Kenny said he agreed with Francis' position on fighting sex abuse, calling the pope's comments on the topic "very strong."