Fax on Milwaukee Cathedral

Below is the fax of Cardinal Estevez, sent on 30 June 2001, to Archbishop Weakland. As well as being signed by Cardinal Estevez, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, it also has the signature of the Congregation's secretary, Archbishop Tamburino. I have typed it from a scanned copy from www.catholic-pages.com, which Paul McLachlan on the forum says is from the "Journal-Sentinel". The text is:

Prot. n. 991/01/L

June 30, 2001

Your Excellency:

This Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments has now completed its attentive study of the planned renovation of the Cathedral of Saint John the Evangelist in Milwaukee, which was occasioned by doubts that the project would conform to the relevant canonical and liturgical norms for the ordering of Catholic churches and, in particular, cathedrals, and with this letter it wishes to communicate its conclusions. In reaching this decision, this Dicastery has been most sensitive to Your Excellency's concern that all unnecessary delays to the project be avoided.

The first serious obstacle to approving the planned renovation of the Cathedral is the incongruity of the proposed floor plan with the architectural structure of the church, that is to say, the general layout of the church with its nave, apse, and natural presbyterium is evidently preestablished by the architectural style. Perhaps in the case of a new church construction there could be more latitude for decisions about the layout of the church, but this becomes much more restricted in an existing church like the Cathedral.

Moving to the particular points in law, having clarified the doubts concerning the conformity of this project with the relevant canonica and liturgical norms, it is the judgment of this Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments that:

1. Contrary to the norms of the Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani, 1975, nos 257-258, 262 (cf. also Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani, 2000, nos. 294-295, 299), the presbyterium, in accord with the proposed reordering, would lose its internal coherence, as well as a position where attention is naturally focused in the Cathedral. The proposed configuration, in placing a new and visually imposing organ in what is the clear natural focal point of the Cathedral, that is, the apse, and in placing the altar, in effect, in the midst of the central nave, fails adequately to respect the hierarchial structure of the Church of God that the Cathedral by its scheme is to reflect and likewise diminishes the necessary distinctiveness of the presbyterium with respect to the rest of the Cathedral. This difficulty has already been recognized and the proposed addition to the plan of a corona over the altar is an attempt to find a remedy by diverting attention from the organ. However, it is the opinion of this Dicastery that this provision fails sufficiently to address the grave problem introduced by the organ's placement in the apse.

2. The proposed relocation of the tabernacle in what is presently the Baptistry in order to create a Blessed Sacrament Chapel does not, in contravention of can. 938, S 2, offer to the people of God a placement which is truly conspicua, since only with some investigation might the chapel be found. Furthermore, it has been determined that this chapel, as a result of its modest dimensions (estimated as 15 ft. x 20 ft., i.e., approximately 28 sq. m.), does not satisfy the requirement that the chapel be ad privatam fidelium adorationem et precationem idoneo (Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani, 2000, no. 315) since it would restrict to so few the number of the faithful who might actually take advantage of opportunities for private prayer before the Blessed Sacrament.

3. According to the requirement of can. 964, S 3, and in the light of the recent authentic interpretation of can. 964, S 2 (cf. Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts, Responsum ad propositum dubium, approved by His Holiness, July 7, 1998, Communicationes 30 [1998] 27), except for a just reason to the contrary, the confessions of the faithful are to be heard in confessionals. Consequently, the proposed reduction of the number of confessionals from four to two, seems to be insufficient to meet the needs of the faithful, especially in light of Your Excellency's testimony as to the large number of the faithful that not infrequently participate in ceremonies at the Cathedral.

4. It is not consonant with the requirement of can. 1187, nor the established tradition, that in or immediately adjacent to the Cathedral images of persons be incorporated whose cult has not received the necessary approval and extension in law by the Holy See.

As a further point, it would seem to this Congregation that the ancient and venerable high altar together with its baldacchino should be retained, given also that it is a most suitable location for the reservation of the Most Blessed Sacrament.

Not unrelated to the foregoing are regrettable instances of statements in the fund raising pamphlet entitled The Cathedral Project which are inaccurate in asserting that several of the changes have been required by the liturgical law (cf. pp. 16, 20-21).

In the light of the foregoing, this Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments hereby remands the plan for the interior renovation of the Cathedral of Saint John the Evangelist to the renewed consideration of Your Excellency, bearing in mind the need for the project to be revised in accord with the above-cited canonical and liturgical requirements. This Dicastery awaits Your Excellency's considered response in this matter.

With every good wish and kind regard, I am,

Sincerely yours in Christ,


Jorge A. Card. Medina Estevez


Copyright J.R. Lilburne, 10 July 2001.