Bishop makes announcement about Christchurch Cathedral

8 August 2019
A view of the destroyed Christchurch Cathedral. Image: Catholic Diocese of Christchurch.


This past weekend Bishop Paul Martin SM, Bishop of Christchurch, provided a pastoral letter that was read in all parishes in the diocese regarding the future of the Cathedral. The letter in full is as follows:

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

I am writing to you regarding the future of the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament in Barbadoes Street in Christchurch.

As you are well aware our beautiful Cathedral was very badly damaged in the earthquakes of 2010 and 2011. It was a great sadness for so many to see the damage that was done and to have to live with the reality of this situation for so long.

Over the following four years the diocese, under Bishop Barry Jones, worked to see if it would be possible to repair the Cathedral. Many different options were considered and much investigation took place as to whether or not it would be possible to repair it.

In 2015 CERA issued a Section 38 which gave permission to deconstruct to the Diocese. This was as a result of all of this work. There was still a desire to see if it would be possible to keep the nave section of the Cathedral and have a much reduced new sanctuary and no towers at the front. Bishop Barry was keen for this option to be investigated as long as it fitted within the financial framework he set.

As you know Bishop Barry was not able to see that process through and the decision was made to wait until a new bishop was appointed before making a final decision.

Since my appointment in March of last year I have been working with the people involved in this process, listening to people and trying to assess what we should do with the Cathedral in terms of its future. This is a serious and challenging process.

Part of the conditions for fulfilling the requirements of the Section 38 was to test the functionality of the building and also its financial viability. When looking at the two options, the first to save the nave did not pass on the functionality or financial tests, and the second to restore the whole building did not pass the financial viability requirements.

This has led to the realization that we will not be able to keep our Cathedral any longer and so I have informed Land Information New Zealand of our desire to begin the process of deconstruction.

This is a sad decision to make in terms of our faith history here in the diocese. The Cathedral has been a wonderful point of unity and prayer and witness to God. The work of our forebears and all those who have followed, including many of you, has made this such a blessed place. However we now have to bring this chapter of our faith journey to completion as we look to the future for our Church and diocese.

I want to assure you that we will work hard to ensure that sacred elements from the Cathedral will be kept if possible, while also respecting the need for safety for those who will be tasked with deconstructing it. This is still a dangerous building and its deconstruction will take a lot of careful planning and execution. We will also be removing the three bishops who are buried in the Cathedral so as to inter them elsewhere.

My hope is that we will find ways of honouring and celebrating this holy place as a diocese as part of this grieving process.

I would ask for your prayers for our diocese as we continue on our journey of building our Church for now and the future.

Yours in Christ

+ Paul Martin SM
Bishop of Christchurch

Bishop Paul Martin SM, Bishop of Christchurch, New Zealand. Image: Catholic Diocese of Christchurch.

In the press release, Bishop Paul said it is nearly nine years since the first earthquake and during that time we have spent millions of dollars investigating the site and the building and looking at more that 20 different options for what could be achieved but ultimately we were unable to find a functional and financial solution.

“I am very conscious that the cathedral holds wonderful memories for so many and played an important part in the life of generations of Catholics in Canterbury, but this decision allows the diocese to look at alternate locations that will make the cathedral more accessible, more suitable and more appropriate as a place of worship. It will be a ‘living building’ to serve our community.

“Throughout the process, we have consulted widely with experts both in New Zealand and overseas and I have also been guided by my own advisory groups, including the College of Consultors, the Diocesan Management and Finance Board and Diocesan staff,” he said.

At the centre of the decision was the cathedral’s inability to pass a 12-point test as set out in the Section 38 notice that was issued in 2015 by CERA (Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority).

Section 38 allowed for the deconstruction of the Cathedral, in the quest to see if the nave and other parts could be saved. Section 38 also gave the Diocese the power to demolish the building entirely if it was found that it could not pass the 12-point test outlined in the application.

“The late bishop, Barry Jones, undertook this application in the hope that he might be able to save the nave of the church, and then build more modest bell towers and a new sanctuary. But even this design could not pass the 12-point test because it compromised too much on functionality as well as being expensive.

“Just saving the nave and rebuilding on a modest scale was estimated to cost in excess of $91 million, while to fully restore, it is estimated that it would cost $149 million. And the big worry is that with restoration-type work these costs can escalate quickly,” he said.

Bishop Jones set aside $30 million for the cathedral from the diocese’s insurance payout to ensure that money was also available to go towards fixing other damaged buildings throughout the diocese.

Bishop Martin said that no timetable has been set for demolition to start but he was keen to work with engineers and safety experts to see if an event could be held on the cathedral grounds for parishioners to say farewell.

“We are still exploring new sites, therefore we do not have a design, but we are excited about the future. Siting of the cathedral will be an integral part of the new parish structure proposed for the city. To this point, we have taken our time to ensure we make the right decision and we will continue to be both wise and cautious as we look at our next steps,” he said.

Section 38 – 12-point test 

This identifies 12 tests consisting of a sequence of four tests repeated at each of three different points during the evaluation process.  This sequence of four tests consists of:

  • A budget test.
  • A review against the functional design brief.
  • A review against the established assessment criteria.
  • An assessment by a review panel.

These four tests are completed at the following times during the evaluation process:

  • End of concept design phase.
  • End of developed design phase.
  • End of detailed design phase.

Should the project fail at any of these 12 tests, the Diocese can elect to abandon the desired intent to retain the nave, and revert to the deconstruction option outlined in the demolition notice, thereby requiring the full demolition of the cathedral.

Republished with permission from the Catholic Diocese of Christchurch.


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