Signs of the Times

Weakland Asked to Stop Cathedral Renovations

The Vatican has asked Archbishop Rembert G. Weakland, O.S.B., of Milwaukee to suspend renovation of that diocese’s cathedral in response to complaints from critics of the project who hired a canon lawyer to press their case in Rome. The Vatican wants to study the plans to ensure respect for church norms and to help defuse local controversy over the project, an official said.

Archbishop Weakland first learned of the Vatican’s action when the press showed him a letter addressed to the opponents’ lawyer saying that the Roman congregation had moved to suspend the work of renovation until doubts could be clarified. Only later did Archbishop Weakland receive a letter from the congregation itself.


Archbishop Francesco Tamburrino, secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, described the situation as one of dialogue with Archbishop Weakland for the purpose of clarifying concerns and offering suggestions to the archbishop on how the situation might be resolved. The Vatican official would not discuss whether or not any particular part of the renovation of St. John the Evangelist Cathedral appeared problematic to the congregation. (This is the same congregation that recently insisted on more literal translations of liturgical texts.)

The planned changes to the cathedral’s interior include moving the altar forward, having seating on three sides of it and constructing a separate chapel for the Blessed Sacrament. The work on the church, expected to cost $4.5 million, is part of a $10 million project to renovate church property occupying a city block and to expand facilities for social services.

Archbishop Tamburrino said it was not unusual for the congregation to look into the concerns of lay people regarding the actions of their priests or bishops in matters related to liturgy and the celebration of the sacraments. Everyone has access to the congregation, he said. Anyone who is baptized has a right to turn to the Holy See, and we make no distinction between left and right, big or small.

James Reiter of Milwaukee, an opponent of the renovation, hired Alan Kershaw, a canon lawyer based in Rome, to represent him in the matter. Mr. Kershaw said he thinks the fact that the congregation asked Archbishop Weakland to suspend the work on May 26 and the fact that Kershaw was given 30 days to file additional information with the congregation shows the Vatican believes the complaints may have merit.

Kershaw said his client asked for Vatican intervention based on the violation of liturgical norms and the violation of canon law, including in the administration of the archdiocese itself. The canon lawyer would not go into more detail. I cannot go into too much detail, Kershaw said. I cannot give away my strategy.

Archbishop Weakland said he was totally confused by the Vatican congregation’s intervention. He asked why the group opposing the renovations waited until the very last minute to file their appeal, when broken contracts caused by delays could cost the archdiocese large amounts of money. I am absolutely convinced that I have followed the liturgical norms in the renovation plans, he added.

Archbishop Weakland said Cardinal Jorge Medina Estévez, head of the worship congregation, had sent to him by fax six points of objection raised by the opponents of the renovation, and I answered all six points. All concerned areas where church law gives the local bishop competence to decide, he said.

The archbishop said one objection concerned the chairs with kneelers that will be used to replace the bench-style pews. Church law says benches or chairsscamma seu sedilia in Latinmay be used. Archbishop Weakland said he regarded the objection as rather silly. The old pews had already been removed and sold before the congregation’s letter arrived.

He said there was also an objection to the removal of the two side altars, which hadn’t been used for 30 years. Under the renovation plan we will actually have more devotional spaces than before, he said. Opponents have also complained about the placement of the tabernacle in a side chapel and the removal of a plywood and plaster baldacchino over the main altar.

The archbishop said the groups opposing the renovation are rather small, while Catholics all over the archdiocese have contributed to the renovation fund. The archdiocesan pastoral council, consultors and priests’ council have all approved the renovation, he said. They would be legitimately disturbed if I failed to move ahead with it, he concluded. Non-controversial renovations have continuedremoval of asbestos and cleaning the exterior of the building.

Because of the controversy, Archbishop Weakland could not attend a meeting of the North American Catholic-Orthodox Theological Consultation, which he co-chairs. The Orthodox members expressed their surprise at the Vatican’s action, while the Catholic members of the consultation felt that the congregation’s decision had created new problems for the efforts of Catholic scholars to engage their Orthodox colleagues in serious dialogue concerning the Petrine ministry.

Bishops to Request Indult for Communion Ministers

At their meeting in Atlanta on June 14-16, the U.S. bishops will vote on whether to request an indult from the Vatican to continue three current U.S. practices that are not permitted by the norms of the new General Instruction of the Roman Missal. An indult is a favor or privilege granted by a competent ecclesiastical authority, giving permission to do something not allowed by church law.

One exception would state that during the Agnus Dei, if the celebrant is unable to distribute the eucharistic bread and wine into ancillary vessels within a reasonable time and there is no concelebrating priest or deacon to assist him, extraordinary ministers of holy Communion may assist with the pouring of the Precious Blood [into additional chalices] and the distribution of the consecrated hosts into ancillary vessels. The Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments has already stated in a letter that it considers this acceptable, even though the new instruction does not make provision for it. The instruction says that extraordinary ministers are not to approach the altar until Communion time, so the permission for them to assist at the altar during the Agnus Dei would automatically constitute an exception to that norm.

Another general norm reserves the consumption of the remaining Precious Blood after Communion to priests and deacons. The proposed text of This Holy and Living Sacrifice quotes that norm and then adds: When there are extraordinary ministers of holy Communion, they may consume what remains of the Precious Blood from their cup of distribution.

A third general norm authorizes only an ordained minister or permanently installed acolyte to purify the sacred vessels after Communion or after Mass. The proposed U.S. text reads, When a sufficient number of priests or deacons are not available, extraordinary ministers of holy Communion may purify the vessels.

Religious Leaders Decry Labor Violations in Poultry Industry

Members of a coalition led by the Chicago-based National Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice are urging the U.S. Department of Labor to pursue strict enforcement of wage and hour laws being violated by the poultry industry. The coalition cited a survey by the Labor Department in 2000 that found 100 percent of poultry plants surveyed failed to pay workers for all hours worked and improperly denied overtime wages to 65 percent of workers. In addition, illegal deductions were taken from the paychecks of 35 percent of poultry workers. More than 150 Catholic and other religious leaders and several groups who make up the coalition sent a letter urging U.S. labor officials to hold poultry industry leaders accountable for past violations and pay employees back wages they were denied.

Polish Bishops’ Apology for Wartime Atrocities Draws Praise

An apology by Polish bishops for a massacre of Jews in Jedwabne, Poland, in 1941 drew positive reactions from Jewish leaders. The Israeli ambassador to Poland, Shevach Weiss, who is a survivor of the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz, predicted the gesture would be a positive step for everyone, as well as for the Polish nation. The mass-circulation Gazeta Wyborcza said on May 28 that the bishops’ prayers represented an unprecedented acknowledgment for specific crimes.

Vatican Says Pope to Visit Armenia, Kazakstan

Pope John Paul II will travel to Armenia and Kazakstan in September, his first trip to either Asian country, the Vatican said. The pope also plans to visit Bulgaria in the spring of 2002, a year in which he already has scheduled a visit to Toronto for World Youth Day festivities. The visit to Armenia has been long expected and will feature the pope’s presence at events marking the 1,700th anniversary of Christianity in the country.

Four Nuns, 22 Others Sentenced for S.O.A. Protest

Twenty-six people received sentences ranging from two years’ probation to a year in prison for their participation in protests last November at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, formerly known as the School of the Americas. The group sentenced included two Franciscan sisters from Dubuque, Iowa, who are siblings; Sisters of St. Joseph from Minnesota and Washington state; and several members of the Catholic Worker movement. Twenty of the protestersincluding the four nunsreceived sentences of six months in federal prison. All 26 had been banned from entering Fort Benning after earlier demonstrations, but had crossed onto the fort grounds during a protest on Nov. 19 marking the anniversary of the slayings in El Salvador in 1989 of six Jesuit priests and their housekeeper and her daughter.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
11 years 12 months ago
I am scandalized by the action of the Vatican congregation in delaying the renovation of the cathedral in Milwaukee (Signs of the Times, 6/18). Where would the principle of subsidiarity apply if not to the competency of the local ordinary to undertake a project of this kind? Countless are the cathedrals in the United States and around the world where the Blessed Sacrament is provided the dignity of its own special chapel. Many, too, are the renovated cathedrals and churches that have replaced old pews with chairs and kneelers. The congregation’s intervention is nothing less than outrageous. I empathize with the archbishop over this attack on his ability to govern his own diocese. Is this considered a legitimate exercise of the Petrine ministry?

11 years 12 months ago
I read with dismay the report in Signs of the Times (6/18) about how the Congregation for Divine Worship and Sacraments had stopped further work on the renovation of Archbishop Rembert Weakland’s Milwaukee cathedral. Has the litigiousness of the United States now infiltrated our church? Can anyone who disagrees with a bishop and has the money hire a canon lawyer in Rome and stop a process that has been approved by all the proper channels in the diocese and seems in accord with present law? An archbishop is publicly humiliated, and his diocese faces large cost overruns. I can only presume that Archbishop Weakland’s fellow bishops have foreseen with similar dismay the noxious possibilities for all local churches that this incident opens up and that they have been burning up the wires to Rome in protest.


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