Christchurch Bishop Paul Martin, SM, has announced the cessation of all Church building projects that have not yet begun construction in the city until a review of placements of churches and facilities as well as the number of priests in the diocese is done.
“If we don’t do it now we might miss our moment and opportunities. It is part of looking at our resources, how many priests we’ve got, how many parishes we
have in the diocese in the future,” Bishop Martin told NZ Catholic.

He said the decision was reached at the annual general meeting of diocesan priests last month. Included in the review is the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament.

Bishop Martin said it might mean a reduction in the number of parishes in the diocese.

“We’re looking at how we run our parishes, the dynamics we want to try and have within them and whether we need to have as many parishes in the future or would it be better to have bigger parishes and more programmes,” he said.

Bishop Martin said St Francis of Assisi parish in Mairehau was the most affected by the decision because construction of their new church and pastoral centre was supposed to start soon.

“It’s difficult for Mairehau because they have undergone quite a long process but I think in terms of setting things up for the future, this is it,” he said.

In a letter to the parish, the bishop said he did not make the decision lightly.

“You have worked hard to bring your plans to the very moment where construction was about to begin,” Bishop Martin wrote. “I can only assure you that once our review is complete, you will be getting a new church and facilities as beautiful as you had planned, but it may not be on your current site.”

Mairehau parish priest Fr Simon Eccleton has spoken to a number of parishioners who were upset by the development.

In a reflection piece he posted on the parish’s website, he addressed a number of issues raised by the parishioners.

Fr Eccleton said that if the parish’s church is built elsewhere, away from St Francis of Assisi Catholic School, a small chapel will be established on the school site.

“The bishop is yet to advise how he will deal with [the donations and pledges], but I expect he will communicate directly with givers about what’s to happen next,” he added.

St Francis of Assisi parish, Mairehau, comprises the former parishes of Burwood, Dallington and Mairehau (Our Lady of Fatima). All three churches had to be demolished after the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes.

A fundraising campaign was launched last year to make up a $2million difference between the cost of a proposed new church and pastoral centre and the money available from insurance and from the sale of assets. When the campaign was launched, parishioners had already pledged $1.4million.

Other parishes affected by the cessation of building projects were St Bernadette’s in Hornby and Our Lady of Victories in Sockburn. “They are both having work done on their churches at the moment,” Bishop Martin said.

Bishop Martin said the parishes affected by the decision will carry on as they have been doing until they “check that parishes and churches are in the places that we think for the future are in the right spots and the right combinations”.

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