Acts of God not covered at Wgtn churches

BEN HEATHER
Last updated 05:00 17/10/2013
St Gerard's Monastery
FAIRFAX NZ

NOT COVERED: St Gerard's Monastery in Mt Victoria.

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Wellington Catholics will have to pray extra hard, with more than half the region's churches left financially exposed to acts of God.

Faced with rocketing insurance premiums, the Catholic archdiocese of Wellington is planning to scrap natural disaster cover for most of its churches.

Under the proposal, 43 churches and about 60 community halls between Levin and Westport would be financially unprotected if hit by an earthquake or tsunami.

Archdiocese administration director Dave Mullin said quake premiums had more than doubled since the Canterbury quakes, despite insurers offering less cover.

That had meant some tough financial decisions needed to be made.

"We are not here to have big flash buildings and pay insurance premiums ... we are here to help those in need."

Major buildings, including Sacred Heart Cathedral and St Mary of the Angels church in Wellington, would retain some quake cover, he said.

But other smaller churches, including the centres of many suburban parishes in the Hutt Valley and Wellington, would not be covered.

The archdiocese's insurance cover will lapse at the end of the year, but exactly which churches would lose quake cover was still being discussed with parishes, he said.

Many Christian denominations - including Anglicans, Catholics and Presbyterians - have struggled to keep their churches covered since the Canterbury earthquakes, with insurers particularly wary of older buildings.

Insurer Ansvar's withdrawal from New Zealand in 2011 left hundreds of churches with no insurance and led to the closure of at least one Presbyterian church in Wellington.

Martin Baker, executive secretary of the Presbyterian Church of New Zealand, said since the quakes about a third of the 400 Presbyterian churches had dropped their natural disaster cover.

"The earthquake cover went up hugely - in some cases by five times."

As well as higher premiums, many churches are also facing big bills for earthquake strengthening. Some, unable to meet the costs, have closed permanently.

In the Wellington archdiocese, the Catholic church owns 50 quake-prone parish buildings and six schools, which are expected to cost at least $60 million to fix.

On top of that, St Gerard's Monastery in Mt Victoria needs $10m of work to bring it up to code. The heritage-list hillside monastery currently has just $400,000 of earthquake cover.

Quake-strengthening costs and a lack of priests have already sparked a wider review in the Wellington archdiocese, which could see the number of parishes halved and many smaller churches closed.

Mullin said the insurance review was not connected to those changes.

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- Fairfax Media

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