The scheduled private audience between embattled Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and Pope Francis is set to go ahead as planned on Saturday at the Vatican, Times of Malta can confirm.

Sources at the Office of the Prime Minister confirmed all is set for the audience, which has been scheduled well before the ongoing crisis over the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was sparked.

The sources said that during his meeting with the Pope, Dr Muscat is expected to be accompanied by his wife, Michelle and his two children. In normal circumstances the Foreign Minister Carmelo Abela would be expected to attend but it is unclear if the political turmoil in the country has changed that plan. 

When contacted, Mr Abela hung up as soon as the Times of Malta journalist identified himself.

Even the Curia is keeping mum over the planned audience. 

Asked to confirm the visit and to state what was it about, a spokesman for the Curia referred Times to Malta to the Apostolic Nunciature.

So far, neither the Nunciature nor the official Vatican spokesman has replied to questions sent.

A source Dr Muscat will meet the Pope on Saturday around 10.30am but there is no indication yet that it changed from an official visit to private visit. It is not unusual for politicians to have private audiences with the pontiff. 

On Wednesday, a group of academics urged Pope Francis not to receive Dr Muscat and to distance himself from this “propaganda exercise”.

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