Vatican guidelines coming for decommissioned churches

Vatican guidelines are being drafted to help dioceses find appropriate ways to decommission unneeded churches.

The Vatican is keen to ensure the churches don’t end up as “discos, gymnasiums or gelato shops”.

The Vatican’s culture ministry, Rome’s Jesuit-run Pontifical Gregorian University and the Italian bishops’ conference, will host an international conference on managing the sale of churches and handling of their assets.

The conference, which will be held in November, is entitled: “Doesn’t God Dwell Here Anymore?”

Culture Minister Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi says many dioceses have more churches than they need or can maintain.

Society has become increasingly secularised, there are fewer church-going Catholics and financial constraints are all cited as reasons for church closures.

However, the Vatican wants to ensure the buildings maintain some of the spiritual, cultural and social value they had as consecrated places of worship, Ravasi said.

“If it’s used in an intelligent way,” such as for pastoral work or cultural or social meetings, or even as a bookstore or library, the church could sign off on it, the cardinal said.

“But making it a gelateria? It’d be difficult.”

Decommissioning a Prague church and turning it into a nightclub was an incorrect way of disposing of a once-sacred space, Ravasi said.

He said Italy in particular is grappling with the issue given its vast number of artistically important churches and too few resources to maintain them, especially the ones damaged by frequent earthquakes.

Another issue to consider involves ensuring significant artworks inside a church being put up for sale — frescoes, statues and other works — are removed and placed in a diocesan museum.

The aim will be “to leave the space as bare as possible” when new owners take over, Ravasi said.

The Vatican has sent a draft of the proposed guidelines to bishops’ conferences.

It plans to finalise the guidelines during the conference in November.


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