A year before Pope Francis' anticipated visit to Ireland to celebrate the Catholic family, one of his closest aides has sharply criticised four cardinals for publicly demanding that he meet them to clarify whether he still believes marriage is for life.

Speaking in Limerick, Cardinal Christoph Schonborn said the pontiff is encouraging pastors to help divorced people who have entered new civil marriages to follow their consciences on the question of whether they should receive the Eucharist.

Speaking to journalists in advance of addressing third-level students in the city, the Cardinal Archbishop of Vienna described the demoted Vatican official, Cardinal Raymond Burke and his three fellow prelates who have cast doubt on the pope's latest book, 'Amoris Laetitia' ('The Joy of Love') as leaders "who should be the closest collaborators of the pope" for publicly trying "to force, put pressure on" the pontiff to meet them.

The cardinal reiterated that the teaching of the Catholic Church is that marriage is indissoluble but that this does not address every question pastors have to deal with in everyday life.

He said the four cardinals "want to discuss that principle but that the principle is clear".

"But the question is always how the principle applies in an individual situation," the Austrian cardinal said.

He said 'Amoris Laetitia' - written by Pope Francis after the controversial 2013 and 2014 bishops' Synods on the Family in Rome - "is encouraging us to look closely at the situation and then to discern what's God's will and what's these people's real situation.

"Not to discern it for them but with them, and helping them to discern the answers, to follow their conscience".

Responding to a question about the church's cover-ups of clerical child sexual abuse which prompted the resignation of his predecessor, Cardinal Groer - Cardinal Schonborn added that there is no connection between the church's past tolerance of clerical child sexual abuse and the ban on ordaining women.