Parish mergers, land sales and Christchurch Cathedral rebuild all halted

Bishop Michael Gielen halts parish mergers

Parish mergers, further sale of parish and diocesan land and building of a new Christchurch Catholic Cathedral have halted until the diocese hears back from Rome.

The news was delivered by a letter read on behalf of the Bishop of Christchurch, Michael Gielen, at all Sunday Masses.

Christchurch diocese parishioners told CathNews that Gielen had put a hold on the development until the diocese hears from the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura.

The Tribunal is the highest judicial authority in the Catholic Church.

Gielen also told parishioners that future developments would proceed in a synodal way, communally and in prayer.

The bishop’s letter was sent to parish priests with the instruction that it was not for display or publication.

“It’s a bit odd, a lot of Catholics are not as regular in going to Mass anymore; how are they to be told,” a parishioner commented to CathNews.

Seen by others as a compassionate and welcoming message, they are concerned that the likes of the infirm, some elderly, those shut-in, or those out of town for the weekend are excluded from an important message.

“The letter needs to be made public; everyone needs to be informed by the bishop, not just those at Mass; last Sunday.

“Everyone needs to sing off the same song-sheet.

“Publishing the letter helps avoid confusion and builds trust,” they say.

However, despite confusion around the delivery and what people actually heard, the news pleased “The Gathering Group,” a 300-strong group of Christchurch Catholics who launched a Canonical legal challenge to the then apostolic administrator Archbishop Paul Martin’s actions.

The Gathering Group told CathNews that it had written a 70 paragraph submission to the Apostolic Signatura via Cardinal Luis Tagle, Prefect for the Evangelisation of Peoples.

Tagle is responsible for the Church’s mission territories, including New Zealand.

Among the concerns giving cause to a legal appeal to the Apostolic Signatura is canon 212.

The Group maintains parish mergers reducing 12 city churches to 5 meant Martin did not meet his obligation to cater for parishioners’ spiritual needs.

Following the Christchurch earthquakes Bishop Barry Jones reduced the number of parishes from an estimated 50 to 24.

The group says Martin’s actions made a difficult situation even more difficult.

The Group suggests that defining a parish community by the weekly availability of a priest is a clericalist response to the problem.

They say people understand that they may not have access to Mass in their local community each week, and while they hope parish communities could participate in the Eucharist as often as possible, the baptised can still gather in their parish community and exercise Christian ministry aided by well-trained lay ministers.

The Gathering Group maintains an abundance of theology and pastoral modelling is available for Bishops to deal with a shortage of ordained priests.

They cite the 2020 decree from the Congregation for Clergy on “The pastoral conversion of the parish community at the service of the Church’s evangelising mission.”

The Group’s appeal also focuses on how Martin, through the Diocesan Property Team, planned to deal with “surplus assets” from the sale of parish property.

They maintain the diocese was not adequately consulted on the Plan; instead, they were presented a “fait accompli,” something “already decided on by a tiny cohort of priests and property developers.”

They say, “The Plan was presented as a “Proposal” (and) the Proposal, in substance, did not change and became the Plan.

The Group also alleges Martin demolished the Barbadoes St Cathedral and sold the Maryville Courts retirement village when he was Coadjutor Archbishop of Wellington and was acting in Christchurch only as Apostolic Administrator of the diocese.

The Group says in case it is necessary; it is also exploring New Zealand civil action to prevent the diocese from further land sales.

When ordained bishop of Christchurch, Gielen quickly praised Martin’s work, saying he looked forward to consolidating the city’s parishes.

“The work he (Martin) has done in paving the way for the consolidation and strengthening of our parishes and schools stands the diocese in fantastic stead going forward,” Gielen said.

“It is an exciting time to lead the diocese through this next growth phase of the Catholic Church in Christchurch.”

CathNews spoke with Kevin Campbell, a lawyer assisting the applicants through the canonical judicial process.

Campbell told CathNews that because the matter was sub judice, he wanted to respect the legal process and, at the moment, could not comment.


  • Supplied
Additional reading

News category: Great reads, New Zealand, Palmerston.

Tags: , , , ,