Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Weakland Told to Change Cathedral

Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Weakland Told to Change Cathedral

Article excerpt

Vatican intervenes in planned renovation

A Vatican congregation has ordered changes in Milwaukee Archbishop Rembert G. Weakland's plans for a $4.5 million renovation of the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist, but the scope and significance of the changes the Vatican is calling for are in dispute.

According to Jerry Topczewski, archdiocesan communications director, the changes sought by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments are minor and will not delay the renovation, but Alan Kershaw, the canon lawyer in Rome who is handling the case for those opposed to the renovation, disagrees. In comments made to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Kershaw described the cardinal's letter as a dear victory for opponents of the renovation on every point they raised. One of those opponents, Alan Szews, said any rational-minded person would have to be deliberately misreading the cardinal's letter to interpret it as anything but a clear signal to reevaluate the current renovation and submit a revised plan.

The letter to Weakland from Cardinal Jorge Medina, prefect of the Vatican congregation, was dated June 30. Msgr. Frederick McManus, retired professor of canon law and former chairman of the canon law department at the Catholic University of America, described the congregation's intervention as "most unusual" and an example of the growing centralization of authority at the Vatican.

The 150-year-old cathedral was closed May 21 for renovations. Some aspects of the work were halted a week later at the request of the congregation. The Vatican intervened after being petitioned by Kershaw on behalf of opponents.

Central to the dispute are plans that include moving the altar forward a third of the way down the main aisle and installing a pipe organ in the apse at the front of the church where the altar used to be; replacing pews with chairs on three sides of the altar; dismantling a decorative baldacchi no, a canopy suspended over the original main altar, and constructing a separate chapel for the Blessed Sacrament.

The $4.5 million work on the cathedral is part of a $10 million project aimed to revitalize church property occupying a city block.

Medina's letter to the archbishop says that the first serious obstacle to approving the planned renovation is the incongruity of the new floor plan with the cathedral's architectural structure. It also refers to "regrettable instances" of misleading statements in the project's fundraising pamphlet that report several of the renovation changes are required by liturgical law.

Medina's letter cites four violations of canonical and liturgical norms for the ordering of cathedrals:

* The presbytery, the part of the church reserved for officiating clergy, would lose its internal coherence with the placement of a "new and visually imposing organ" in the apse and the removal of the altar to the central nave. …

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