Cathedrals debate reaches Vatican

Last updated 05:00 25/01/2013

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The debate over the fate of Christchurch's two wounded cathedrals has reached Vatican City.

The leaders of the world's two most powerful Christian churches are both aware that Christchurch's Catholic and Anglican cathedrals suffered severe quake damage and that debates over their future have polarised the community.

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams visited Christchurch in November, and witnessed first-hand the destruction and heard of the High Court battle over Anglican building's fate.

And, The Press understands senior Vatican leaders are also now aware of the unique situation the city faces after New Zealand Archbishop David Moxon had an informal discussion with the Pontifical Council last year.

Moxon was recently appointed the Archbishop of Canterbury's representative to the Holy See and the director of the Anglican Centre in Rome. He is expected to take up the roles in May, becoming Anglican ambassador to the Pope and one of the few men in the world to have the ears of both leaders.

That will see him become the "human face of ecumenism [Christian unity]" for Anglicans in Rome. He will be tasked with fostering relationships between the two denominations and encouraging joint Anglican and Catholic projects and missions around the world.

In September, Fairfax reported suggestions of a super-cathedral, uniting the city's Anglicans and Catholics, had been discussed in top levels of the Anglican Church. If given the green light, the ambitious idea would bring the two churches together under the same cathedral roof for the first time in the world since the churches split in the 16th century.

The possibility was supported by long-term Anglicans who asked how the two denominations could justify spending millions to repair both broken cathedrals when their congregations were dwindling even before the earthquakes.

At the time Moxon, who is also Bishop of Waikato, said he did not have the authority to discuss Christchurch's situation but if a quake had destroyed Hamilton's two cathedrals he would encourage discussions on combining.

"I think it would be important to have the conversation and to see whether or not it was possible or practical," he said.

In Moxon's new role, he will be working weekly to promote Christian unity with the Pontifical Council, a Vatican department that represents the Pope's interest in ecumenism.

He told The Press he had an "informal conversation" with representatives from the council about Christchurch's challenges.

"It was a one-way conversation where I described to them what has been happening in Christchurch and how moving it has been to see the community and churches pulling together. I was reporting the tragedy, the challenge, the two broken buildings and the debates that have been going on," he said.

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The council had made no "formal response" but Moxon said they had been "genuinely interested". He had not directly mentioned the possibility of combining the cathedrals because, he said, "it wasn't my prerogative".

The only way the super-cathedral idea could be realised would be for Christchurch's Anglican and Catholic bishops to make a formal written request to authorities, he said.

Anglican Bishop Victoria Matthews declined to comment yesterday because, she said, Christ Church Cathedral's future was still before the courts. Catholic Bishop Barry Jones has previously dismissed the super-cathedral idea but was unavailable for comment.

- The Press

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