Legal challenge: Cardinal Dew withdraws decree of deconsecration

Following a legal challenge to the Vatican, Archbishop of Wellington, Cardinal John Dew has withdrawn the decree of deconsecration of St Anthony of Padua Church, Martinborough.

The news of deconsecration withdrawal came in a letter to Wairarapa Parish Priest Fr Bruce England and was distributed to the Martinborough community parishioners.

With Dew recovering from an operation, the letter was written by Coadjutor Archbishop Paul Martin.

In his letter, Martin is clear that the church should not be strengthened and should be permanently closed.

Martin, however, encourages England to further explore a Mission Centre as originally proposed in 2020 by Dew.

He says the Mission Centre needed to be carefully designed, have a small chapel and a space (including toilets and kitchen) where the community can gather for a weekday Liturgy of the Word with Communion or occasional weekday Mass, for the Rosary, for meeting and praying with Christians of other denominations and even for small funerals for local people.

Martin says the Mission Centre should be a place of welcome for the wider community and be available for community activities and as a base for activities to help the needy, including the services provided by Catholic Social Services.

In a reversal of view, Martin asks England to explore subdividing the Martinborough property so the church can be separated from the adjoining vacant land.

Martin also strongly encourages England to urgently add competent people to the Parish Finance Committee so that it involves the whole parish, and that there be proper processes around nominations and appointments.

He is asking England to have someone on the committee with good communication skills.

The move comes after parishioners lodged a Church legal case to the Vatican opposing Dew’s “Decree of Deconsecration and Reduction to Profane but not Sordid Use” letter.

The parishioners’ appeal is in accord with CIC Canon 1737.

Relying on the book “Fruits of the Toil,” a history of St Anthony of Padua Church by Fr Vince McGlone, the parishioners say building the church began in 1923 but was completed by parishioners’ efforts only in 1953.

The book recounts a clear statement from Church authorities in Masterton and Wellington saying they could not financially assist in its construction.

Our Catholic faith and churches

must not necessarily collapse

in the absence of priests

Lead submitter Dan Riddiford maintains that St Anthony of Padua church is part of the community’s patrimony and, quoting Canon 1222 §2, Riddiford submits that Archbishop Dew did not have the consent of those who lawfully claim rights over the church.

Using the language of the Canon, parishioners also claim that the ‘good of their souls’ has been harmed by the transfer to profane use. They told CathNews that using an alternative venue means they have no place to call their own, and no provision is made for reserving the Blessed Sacrament for the purpose of ministering to the sick.

In this small rural community, parishioners also say they used to have 30+ regularly at Saturday night Mass, that few drive out of Martinborough for anything, and after the Mass in Martinborough was cancelled, a maximum of only six people travel to Mass in Featherston.

He says that the community is experiencing a surge in population but, like parishes everywhere, there is a mix of regular and resting Catholics.

He views the presence of resting Catholics as an opportunity.

Looking forward, the parishioners note the success of the well-patronised monthly service Catholics in Greytown run by themselves in the Union Church, followed by morning tea in an adjoining café.

Riddiford says rural parishes should not be forced to adopt a model of church that fits a city where churches are 5-10 minutes away and there is a public transport system.

“On the basis of my personal family history and the Catholic Church in general, I also question the assumption that our Catholic faith and churches must necessarily collapse in the absence of priests,” writes Riddiford.

In line with the request of Archbishop Martin, parishioners are keen to hear back from Fr Bruce England, parish priest of Wairarapa.


  • Supplied
  • Image: Parishioner Yvonne Riddiford in front of the stained-glass windows in St Anthony’s Catholic Church in Martinborough donated by her family.
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News category: New Zealand, Palmerston, Top Story.

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