Cardinal Connell Hits at New Church Architecture
Apr 07, 2005
Remarks come as Catholics in Cobh plan campaign of opposition to £10 million cathedral renovation scheme. By Kieron Wood.
(THE POST.IE, March 04, 2001) The new Cardinal Archbishop of Dublin has hit out at the state of liturgy and architecture in the Catholic Church. This is the first time Dr Desmond Connell has publicly criticised the changes in church architecture and liturgy which followed the Second Vatican Council. Both issues have been at the root of significant public dissent and controversy in Ireland over the past 30 years.
In an interview following his appointment as cardinal, Dr Connell was asked whether he had any plans to build a cathedral in Dublin. (At present, the Anglican Church of Ireland has two cathedrals in the capital -- Christ Church, the diocesan cathedral, and St Patrick's, the national cathedral. The Catholic Church has only a `pro-cathedral'.)
Connell responded: "None whatsoever. If I had the wealth of Croesus itself, I would not build a cathedral because liturgy and architecture at the moment are in such confusion that anything that would be built at this stage would be rejected in a very short time."
The cardinal's remarks are especially significant as he is a member of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), the Vatican's watchdog body which enforces doctrinal matters, including liturgical orthodoxy.
Connell's remarks came as Catholics in Cobh stepped up their campaign of opposition to a £10 million scheme to renovate St Colman's Cathedral. The Pugin-designed church, which dates back to 1886, dominates the skyline of the Co Cork town.
The Friends of St Colman's Cathedral (FSCC) last week issued a press statement calling on Bishop John Magee of Cloyne to heed local opposition to plans to re-order the interior of the cathedral.
The proposals include the removal of a large section of altar rails, including the sanctuary gate, and the extension of the sanctuary into the nave, obliterating over 85 feet of mosaic flooring.
Five hundred local people had attended a meeting called by the bishop at the Commodore Hotel in June 1998 to discuss the proposed alterations.
"Bishop Magee promised that no changes would take place without the consent of the people, and that he would come back to them in six months," said Adrian O'Donovan, vice-chairman of the FSCC. "Two-and-a-half years later, the matter still remains unresolved."
The protesters say a petition objecting to the proposed changes was signed by 5,350 people in Cobh -- 97 per cent of those approached -- and by a total of 24,124 Catholics in the diocese. Diocesan PR consultant Robin O'Sullivan said the proposed changes to the cathedral sanctuary had been "misrepresented to some degree", but O'Donovan insisted that every signatory of the petition had been given details of the proposed changes.
A colour brochure produced by the diocese in response to the protests says: "Some parishioners had understandable fears that `destruction' would be done in this beautiful cathedral church." But it added that an explanatory leaflet sent to every house in Cobh had "clarified" the "misconceptions". Bishop Magee, in a letter to parishioners, said the changes to the cathedral interior were necessary "to bring it into line with the liturgical norms of the Second Vatican Council".
But O'Donovan pointed out that such changes -- the removal of altar rails, reorientation of the altar so that the priest faced the people, and removal of the pulpit -- were not mandated by the council.
"We have been patient now for a very long time," said O'Donovan. "We hope and pray that our bishop will listen to his flock."
Four years ago a similar row in Carlow ended up in the Supreme Court. The Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin, Dr Laurence Ryan, said the re-ordering of the Cathedral of the Assumption was "painful for many of us" but the changes were necessary to give "new life" to the cathedral liturgy.
Local people had objected to the relocation of the Blessed Sacrament from its traditional place on the main altar and to the removal of the pulpit. The changes also involved removing altar rails, a carved timber pulpit presented by the people of Bruges and a mosaic floor, as well as covering the stained-glass east window.
The re-ordered cathedral was eventually rededicated in June 1997, at a ceremony in which Archbishop Connell was one of those who officiated.
Liturgical dissent has also caused problems for the new cardinal.
Followers of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, who oppose the new English-language liturgy, bought a former Church of Ireland church in Monks-town as a base for their Irish operations.
Following Lefebvre's consecration of four bishops without Vatican approval in 1988 -- and their subsequent excommunication -- the problem has worsened.
In the wake of the excommunications, Pope John Paul II called on bishops to allow the celebration of the pre-Vatican II Tridentine Latin Mass where Catholics asked for it. The Pope stated: "Respect must everywhere be shown for the feelings of all those who are attached to the Latin liturgical tradition, by a wide and generous application of the directives already issued by the Apostolic See for the use of the  Roman Missal."
He set up the pontifical commission Ecclesia Dei (Church of God) to cater for supporters of the Tridentine Mass.
At the request of groups of traditionally-minded Catholics, Connell agreed to allow the Tridentine Mass to be celebrated in Dublin.
Embarrassingly for the archdiocese, the church provided for the old Mass -- St Michael's and John's on Wood Quay, Dublin -- was regularly packed with young and old worshippers, while Mass attendance in other city centre parishes regularly dipped below 10 per cent.
Shortly afterwards, the church was sold for conversion to a Viking museum. The Tridentine Mass was transferred to St Paul's Church on Arran Quay, where it again attracted large congregations. That church, too, was shut down.
The Mass is now celebrated every Sunday in St Audoen's Church, near Christ Church Cathedral. Regular worshippers include a High Court judge, senior lawyers and politicians.
Connell attended the church in July 1999, for the first Irish Mass of Dubliner Fr William Richardson, who was ordained specifically for the old rite. In 1997 the Archdiocese of Dublin -- which includes over a million Catholics -- failed to attract a single vocation to the diocesan priesthood.
But Lefebvre's followers considered the so-called `indult Mass' to be no more than a temporary sop.
They bought several more churches and chapels around the country and set up their own school.
Worldwide, their numbers are now estimated to exceed a million and the Vatican is currently engaged in secret talks to bring them back into the Catholic fold.
A central figure in those talks is Cardinal Josef Ratzinger, head of the CDF, who was last week appointed to the Ecclesia Dei commission. Ratzinger has been prominent in the continuing controversy over the standard of the vernacular liturgy. He has celebrated the Tridentine Mass publicly on several occasions, and has criticised the new liturgy.
Ratzinger said the freedom for creativity allowed by the new Mass had "often gone too far", and added: "Happily, there is a certain distaste for the rationalism, banality and pragmatism of certain liturgists, be they theoreticians or practitioners.
"One can see evidence of a return to mystery, to adoration, to the sacred, and to the cosmic and eschatological character of the liturgy."
Appointed to join Ratzinger on the Ecclesia Dei commission last week were Cardinal Jorge Estevez, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, and newly-created Cardinal Louis-Marie Bille( of Lyons, president of the French bishops' conference. The commission president is Cardinal Angelo Felici.
The commission's four cardinal members reflect the importance the Vatican attaches to resolving the current liturgical confusion -- a problem that Connell has now publicly acknowledged.