The debate over the fate of Christchurch's two wounded cathedrals has reached Vatican City.
The leaders of the world's two most powerful Christian churches
are aware that Christchurch's Catholic and Anglican cathedrals suffered
severe earthquake damage and that debates over their future have
polarised the community.
Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams visited Christchurch in
November, saw the destruction and heard of the High Court battle over
the Anglican cathedral's fate.
The Press understands Vatican leaders are also now aware of
the unique situation the city faces after New Zealand Archbishop David
Moxon had an informal discussion with the Pontifical Council last year.
Moxon was recently appointed the Archbishop of Canterbury's
representative to the Holy See and the director of the Anglican Centre
in Rome. He is expected to take up the roles in May, becoming Anglican
ambassador to the Pope and one of the few men in the world to have the
ears of both leaders.
That will see him become the "human face of ecumenism [Christian
unity]" for Anglicans in Rome. He will be tasked with fostering
relationships between the two denominations and encouraging joint
Anglican-Catholic projects and missions around the world.
In September, Fairfax reported that suggestions of a
super-cathedral, uniting the city's Anglicans and Catholics, had been
discussed at top levels of the Anglican Church. If given the green
light, the ambitious idea would bring the two churches together under
the same cathedral roof for the first time in the world since the
churches split in the 16th century.
The possibility was supported by long-term Anglicans who asked how
the two denominations could justify spending millions of dollars to
repair both broken cathedrals when their congregations were dwindling
even before the quakes.
At the time, Moxon, who is also Bishop of Waikato, said he did not
have the authority to discuss Christchurch's situation, but if a quake
had destroyed Hamilton's two cathedrals he would encourage discussions
"I think it would be important to have the conversation and to see whether or not it was possible or practical," he said.
In Moxon's new role, he will work weekly to promote Christian unity
with the Pontifical Council, a Vatican department that represents the
Pope's interest in ecumenism.
He told The Press he had an "informal conversation" with representatives from the council about Christchurch's challenges.
"It was a one-way conversation where I described to them what has
been happening in Christchurch and how moving it has been to see the
community and churches pulling together. I was reporting the tragedy,
the challenge, the two broken buildings and the debates that have been
going on," he said.
The council had made no "formal response", but Moxon said it had been "genuinely interested".
He had not directly mentioned the possibility of combining the cathedrals because, he said, "it wasn't my prerogative".
The only way the super-cathedral idea could be realised would be for
Christchurch's Anglican and Catholic bishops to make a written request
to authorities, he said.
Anglican Bishop Victoria Matthews declined to comment yesterday
because Christ Church Cathedral's future was still before the courts.
Catholic Bishop Barry Jones has previously dismissed the super-cathedral idea but was unavailable for comment.