|Source: Canberra Times|
The latest is apparently that the diocese intends to appeal the granting of Heritage protection to the building.
Predictable, alas (the archdiocesan administrator is, I think, effectively bound to follow the policies of the last incumbent, Archbishop Coleridge now of Brisbane), but nonetheless disappointing.
A sorry saga
The backstory to this is that the allegedly cash-strapped diocese (though they actually made a profit last financial year) wants to try and solve its financial problems by selling the Church, and the associated building currently used for various diocesan offices and a catholic bookshop, in order to fund the building of an apartment complex in Manuka which would overshadow the Cathedral(!).
The problem is that this isn't a case of a surplus, unused Church - in fact Mass is said there every day except Monday, and there are two masses on Sundays (one by the German community and one for the parish).
Moreover, the population of the civic area is growing quite rapidly due to urban infill, with a number of new apartment complexes planned, so in principle at least this is a church that could attract a growing congregation, not a shrinking one.
And from a heritage point of view, though certainly no architectual gem, this is one of Canberra very few older churches (most are seventies monstrosities), and this one has some key connections to Canberra's Catholic history.
On clericalism and tactics
One of the (many) problems with the diocesan project is that appears to have proceeded with a typical lack of consultation and pastoral sympathy to those actually affected by the plans, not to mention some questionable tactics along the way. The parish, for example, was effectively consulted, as far as I can gather, only when its signoff was needed to hand over the property!
Should the proposal ever actually go forward, an appeal could presumably be made on canon law grounds, since the Church does not normally allow the demolition of churches, and certainly not of ones that are not actually surplus to requirements.
In the short term, however, parishioners and friends of the Church have successfully sought and gained heritage listing for the property, thus effectively stymieing the diocese's plans for the Braddon site at least (though apparently the Cathedral precinct project looks still set to proceed).
Signs and symbols
To me the most disappointing aspect of this saga is the symbolism: instead of having a Cathedral standing above the surrounding buildings, instead of having a Church visible at the centre of the city, our former bishop wanted to hide and obscure the visible signs of the faith, to outright retreat from them.
In the case of St Patrick's, for example, the proposal was to have a (much smaller) chapel hidden inside the new complex on the site.
How is this consistent with the New Evangelization?
A better alternative....
The far better approach would surely be to work to make St Patrick's a vibrant centre for the Catholic faith at the centre of our city, with things like daily Adoration and Liturgy of the Hours. It could also become a centre for ministry to the homeless and others who tend to congregate around the city centre during the day.
One could rip out the ugly green carpet that currently adorns its interior; (if this doesn't breach the heritage protection) move the altar back to a more traditional position; and add a space for candles to be lit for example.
Above all, one could reclaim the carpark, currently, I gather leased out to Anglicare (!) so as to make it easier for people to actually use the Church.
Because surely the proper solution to the diocese's money problems surely lies in persuading catholics to actually attend mass, and persuading them that the diocese is actually a worthwhile cause to contribute to - in short making converts - rather than diverting its effort and risking the corruption that almost inevitably comes when the Church engages in purely money-making enterprises.
Mind you if the diocese really is that financially stressed, I do have a few other suggestions: sell some of those crappy houses located in prime locations such as Yarralumla, and house priests together instead, so they can gain strength in community; and clean out the heterodox members of the diocesan bureaucracy!
Pray for a holy bishop for Canberra
Canberra currently does not have an Archbishop, so I would ask you to pray for the appointment of a good one, who will rethink and reject this project, in favour of reinvigorating our churches, not pulling them down or hiding them in the midst of the monuments of secularism.