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Vatican asked to halt project

Canon lawyer files for opponents of St. John renovation

By TOM HEINEN of the Journal Sentinel staff Last Updated: May 18, 2001 
A canon lawyer representing some local opponents of the renovation of Milwaukee's Catholic cathedral said he filed papers in Italy on Friday asking Vatican officials to halt the project.
The request comes just a few days before the cathedral is to be closed until early next year for the $10.5 million renovation.
"It would appear that the renovation does not follow liturgical laws and norms, together with other violations of canon law," lawyer Alan Kershaw said from Rome in a telephone interview.
Opponents of the project previously have objected to a number of planned interior changes, including the moving of the altar forward into the congregation, the removal of the tabernacle from the sanctuary into a side chapel, and the replacement of pews with portable chairs. The Archdiocese of Milwaukee responded pointedly Friday. "It is an insult to the archbishop . . . and faithful Catholics of this archdiocese to make accusations or inferences that any renovations and changes to the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist are not in line with the liturgical documents of the Catholic Church," said archdiocesan spokesman Jerry Topczewski.
"Archbishop (Rembert G.) Weakland was intimately involved with the formation of these documents, so to think that Archbishop Weakland is not familiar with these texts or that he is ignoring these and other teaching documents of the Church is without foundation."
Asked for examples of violations, Kershaw at first indicated there were general concerns that needed investigation. "Right now, I'm hoping that Rome will stop this and take a close look at it and then give some kind of instructions as to what is acceptable and what isn't, even if that entails waiting for Weakland's successor," he said. Weakland retires next year.
Kershaw later said, "There are specific violations. I'm prohibited from saying what they are by an oath taken by advocates that practice before apostolic tribunals."
Father John Beal, chairman of the canon law department at the Catholic University of America in Washington, termed Kershaw's move seeking "recourse," and said the Vatican had 90 days to respond. "The presumption in these cases is always that the archbishop acted correctly, and so the burden of proof will be on the plaintiffs, which always makes it more difficult," Beal said. "If they can find specific violations of liturgical law, they have a fairly decent chance. But if it's that they don't like the plans, and they don't fit with what they think liturgical law ought to be, I doubt they would get very far."
Such actions must be taken on behalf of one individual, Kershaw said. That person is Milwaukeean Jim Reiter, who has demonstrated against the renovations at the cathedral, 812 N. Jackson St.
Reiter, who could not be reached Friday, has expressed concern about such things as the dismantling and possible destruction of the baldacchino - a 40-foot-high canopy over the main altar that is supported by eight marble pillars.
Al Szews - who terms the renovation a Protestantization that will destroy a physical and spiritual inheritance - said various opponents were supporting Reiter, including Szews and his wife, Margo. Szews, of West Allis, acknowledged that there is "no specific authority" prohibiting the planned changes. But, he said, "I think there's a misrepresentation being offered that somehow the documents of Vatican II require these changes be made, and that's false."
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