Compromise needed in deciding Christ Church Cathedral's fate

Last updated 05:00 23/02/2013

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OPINION: Bishop Victoria Matthews is correct that Christ Church Cathedral is "being left to die with no dignity" as the legal battle about its fate drags on and its interior relics deteriorate. No- one appreciates the building at the emotional and geographic heart of the city remaining in so ravaged a state. She is also right to argue for people, before buildings. No one wants to ever again be forced to search rubble for people trapped beneath.

But the bishop's statement of regret is hedged about with provocative implications so will not be approved by all.

It was made yesterday as Christchurch commemorated the great earthquake - those who lost their lives in it, the bravery of the rescuers and the tenacity of those who survived and are now building a new city. It was a solemn occasion conducted in the spirit of unity. It was not the moment for a combative statement from one of the city's main spiritual leaders. The statement scratched at a wound that should have been left alone as Christchurch people sought the healing of their troubles.

Bishop Matthews' critics will regard the poorly timed issuing of the statement as confirmation of their assertion that she does not understand Christchurch and its people and is implacable in the positions she takes.

Jim Anderton, one of the leaders of the legal challenge to the Anglican Church's decision to largely demolish the cathedral, widens the criticism of the statement by accusing the bishop of double-speak, of talking of the building's dignity while planning to destroy it. He also asserts that it was the diocese's obduracy in charging ahead with the plan for demolition, rather than in engaging in detailed dialogue with those who wanted it saved, that has brought matters to this corrosive point.

Combating the corrosion will be impossible while the legal challenge continues and the challenge is likely to continue, such is the determination of those sponsoring it and their success so far.

If the court halts demolition, as it might, more fraught debate would be likely, as would further delay in tending to the remnants of the building.

Only the lawyers are benefiting from this. The community remains divided and the cathedral remains in limbo. Compromise is needed.

Mayor Bob Parker has promoted that with his suggestion that the building be encased in glass - that its damaged structure be stabilised and reinvented. That would keep the salvageable parts of the cathedral while not restoring it to its original form. The church has been noncommittal about the mayor's proposal but letters to the editor of The Press have been strongly in favour and one of the newspaper's polls found 70 per cent approving.

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That overwhelming expression of opinion surely is a reflection of the wish to settle the dispute by way of compromise and end the bitter battle. Both sides should note that and seek dialogue but the bishop's latest statement, because of its combative tone, seems to rule that out, as does Anderton's similarly staunch response.

Calm heads should intervene.

Advisers to both parties should counsel restraint and the diocese should communicate clearly with the public over its aspirations.

Encouraging the parties should be the realisation that the conflict is not between Matthews and Anderton but between the Anglican Church and the people of Christchurch. It is likely that both groups want compromise - citizens certainly do - and are not fervent supporters of the two contesting personalities.

Just as the inspired Cardboard Cathedral, designed by Shigeru Ban, is attracting international attention - keeping Christchurch in the global eye when it needs it most - so could a reinvigorated holy building in the Square.

Agreement is needed not just because of the physical deterioration of the cathedral remnant but also because of the nasty divide at the heart of the city. It does nothing to increase civic morale at a time when confidence is vital.

- The Press

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