Friday, 17 August 2012

Mammon vs the primacy of worship? The case of St Patrick's Braddon

Source: Canberra Times
The Canberra Times reports today on the latest in the saga of the curious fight going on in Canberra between the diocesan bureaucracy and the laity over the future of St Patrick's Church in Braddon, essentially the city centre.

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.


A Canberra Observer said...

Kate, I think your photo is not of the 'St Patrick's' in dispute (the former St Mary's and 'school without walls') but of the former St Patrick's Braddon/Ainslie (and that is now the gymnasium at Merici College).

I also understand that people in Braddon/Ainslie and environs gave money in the 50s/60s for the erection of a church and the 'old' St Pat's was built contemporaneously. I recall speaking with an old lady who felt that they "didn't give their money to build a school hall but a church". Sounds familiar to the situation at Campbell - money given but the temporary structure/arrangement achieves an untouchable permanent status.

Your analysis has been helpful to me, as I had previously just viewed this as cafe-set preservers stopping the legitimate decisions of the diocese. Apparently it is more complicated than that.

I support your idea that the church could be turned into something focussed on the city.

Kate Edwards said...

Thanks yes, I've removed the photo (the NLA description of it is quite misleading)!

The current building has been used for worship since 1935, although it was divided of during the day for many years, and split into classrooms (so very like Campbell and elsewhere in the ACT!), and in fact one of its claims to fame is as the first catholic school on the Northside.

That said, the Heritage protection appears to include the 1983 wreckovations (and probably protects the altar JPII used during a visit here (!) rather than the missing original), so whether one could actually reinvigorate the Church in the way I have suggested is debatable (though presumably some things could be done).

I'd also note that the 'church hall' of Campbell is now practically the most traditional looking (not technically a) church in Canberra. Pity the parish is so broke it can't afford to fix it up now that a real school hall has been built courtesy of the GFC!

A Canberra Observer said...

So, what would be a good or better use of this church and this site?

PRECIS - The short story - pour some resources into the site, celebrate more Masses, do some smart advertising and OFFER FREQUENT CONFESSIONS EVERY DAY - at lunch time and in the afternoon (end of work time).

I suggest there are things that the Canberra Church leadership csould/should be considering.

The city centre has undergone significant expansion in the last decade - despite the pathetic Mass attendance statistics there must be a lot of Catholics who work there.

There are also a number of major hotels in the city and environs. As a traveller to a strange city something I always want to do is find out where I can go to Mass - preferably in walking distance.

The city centre environs, with a lot of public housing, are also home to many socially disadvantaged people.

I understand there is a convent and a presbytery nearby (if they haven't already been flogged off).

"But they won't come" - I'm not so sure.
Confession times are woefully inadequate in this city, or at least they should be. But the need for confession is not preached or taught, with the pervasive subconscious belief in universal salvation.
In this Year of Grace perhaps the diocese could focus on the promotion of the need for, and benefits from, regular confession.
St Patrick's could fit into such a plan with parishes advertising such a 'service' - and that wouldn't have to run foul of the worries about money (ie parishes jealous of the potential loss of Sunday parishoners and therefore lost collection revenue), because the focus would not be on Sundays but weekdays.
Information about Mass times could and should be regularly be provided to the local hotels.

And who might 'man' this mission? Well the diocese is home to the Missionaries of God's Love. The MGLs have a charism which is targetted to evangelisation, including to the poor (with missions in Manila and PNG), and they established a centre of Eucharistic adoration at Narabundah.
Fr Peter Day of Queanbeyan has public recognition for his work with the homeless (not so far from some of the Civic environs demograhic).
The Dominicans (and Franciscans) have historically been associated with urban centres.

So why AREN'T the leadership thinking about these things ?

So what is the Church's mission?
I thought it was to get people into heaven. There is obviously a need for there to be a Church - the physical and personal presence of the Church - in the city environs. Even if the people don't know they need it, they do.

I wonder wheher Church administrators have been infected by a Big Bank mentatlity of branch closures rather than the model of shepherds caring for their flocks where they are.

Bishops in this country, including our recently retired auxiliary, are fulsome on "the option for the poor". With a little imagination and commitment St Patrick's Braddon represents an opportunity to do something practical in that space.

other personal grizzles ...
As to the parking - I was gobsmacked when I went to the shop and found that the ONLY parking to go to the Catholic bookshop was the PATHETIC 2 (only two!) short term parking spaces in the driveway in front. Talk about euthanasia of a business.

Anonymous said...

A member of St Patricks.
It is important to know the facts about the proposed redevelopment. The Diocese wishes to sell the site to a developer. As part of the redevelopment 3 community use facilities would be provided.The developer has offered to define one of these halls as " a worship place". This would not be a Catholic Church but rather a 100 seat hall to replace a 271 seat church.Car parking would be offered at a public car park across a 6 lane road. The hall would be on the ground floor of an 8 story apartment block under the control of a body corporate. The diocese, having received their money would take it and run. It is up to the developer what happens after that.

A Canberra Observer said...

RE anon's comment about what the diocese is 'offering'.

When Arbp Coleridge took over the Canberra 'Voice' had a measure of suppresion applied to it - the Letters to the Editor disappeared.

While I found the paper less than edifying on occasion, the letters at least meant one could put a view and have others read it.

Not so anymore. Blogs now COULD fulfil such a role but most dioceses aren't there yet.

Perhaps if the letters section still existed this sorry debacle might have got a better debate.

Aurora said...

As a Catholic who makes an effort to attend daily mass I find it disheartening to say the least that the hierarchy here does not promote the sacraments or make them conveniently available. A friend who worked in Belconnen before moving away(where a lot of government offices are located) lamented that all the daily masses are at 9 am making it impossible for working Catholics who value daily mass to attend. And the 300+ Catholic families in Murrumbateman have been dying for a church there instead of renting a Protestant one for the past 26 years (what a scandal to a lover of tradition)- but there was/is no support. Please God, send us a holy Bishop who values the sacraments, will feed your sheep and transform this spiritual desert!