Vatican Two changes 'ruining churches'
by Louis Jehh
THE INTERIORS of some of Britain's most important Catholic churches have been ruined by liturgical rearrangement following the Second Vatican Council, according to the conservation groups Save Britain's Heritage and the Victorian Society. Churches should therefore lose their exemption from Listed Building Consent for alterations, the groups argued in two new reports.
But a Church spokesman has said the justification reasons for the abolition are secularist, and the establishment of outside control would be an unwarranted intrusion on liturgical arrangements.
At the same time, the Bishops' Conference of England have published a policy document on churches reaffirming arrangements laid down by Vatican Two while emphasising the importance of sensitive conservation of structures of historic and artistic importance.
In The Parish Church: principles of liturgical design and reordering priests are reminded of the importance of close communication with the congregation, clear sightlines and an individual community feel in the Church. But the bishops also emphasise the importance of environment, saying that care should be taken to conserve altar-pieces, statuary and glass of artistic merit, since the dignity of the liturgy "is reflected in the quality of its environment, and reordering does not mean the relegation of all that has gone before".
The Victorian Society and Save's call for an end to exemption .from listing procedures came in response to the Government's consultation paper on ecclesiastical exemption and the Faculty Jurisdiction Commission of the Church of England's report, The continuing care of churches.
Mr Peter Howell, a former member of the Liturgy Commission's Department of Art and Architecture and Chairman of the Victorian Society's report to the Department of the Environment, cited in particular the cases of St Chad's Cathedral, Birmingham — whose rood screen was abandoned in a building yard before being rescued for Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Reading — and Belmont Abbey, Hereford, where the screen was destroyed in order to remove the altar to the East end, only for the altar to be returned to the original axis 10 years later.
Fr Kenneth Hugent SJ, also a former member of the Department of Art and Architecture, pointed out that while the amenity societies concern was extremely worthy, the churches are living buildings which should express the culture of the communities they serve.
It would be intolerable to have lay control of liturgical arrangements, he said, but he hoped that The Parish Church, with its simultaneous consideration of contemporary liturgy and conservation needs, from the very beginning of planning a new or altered church, would ensure the correct approach in future.