The Church is called to be the Mystical Body of Christ on earth, a pilgrim people with no abiding city (cf Sacrosanctum Concilium 2,7).
Yet church buildings are part of everyone’s life, whether believer or not. In every community, the churches are as varied as the congregations that use them. Catholic churches witness to the faith of past generations even as they serve the faith of contemporary congregations. They are places where personal, family and community memories mingle. They should also speak powerfully of the ongoing life and vitality of the Church, and support the present need to evangelize in contemporary society.
The Bishops recognise the need for good stewardship of this rich patrimony. They exercise this responsibility through their Diocesan Liturgy Commissions and Art & Architecture Committees, and in the case of listed churches through diocesan and interdiocesan Historic Churches Committees” (Consecrated for Worship 3, Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England & Wales).”
“Churches are pre-eminently there to provide worthy places, dedicated, consecrated, for the celebration of the liturgy (Consecrated for Worship 4).”
In the Archdiocese of Southwark, the diocesan Art & Architecture Committee is a committee of the diocesan Liturgy Commission. This Committee scrutinises proposed changes to churches and chapels, to ensure that they comply with liturgical law (such as the rubrics of the Roman Missal), the theology of the Catholic Church (expressed in documents such as Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of Vatican II), executive instructions from the Vatican or the Bishops’ Conference, and civil law (eg disabled access requirements).
Advice can be sought at any stage of a project by contacting Canon John Weatherill, the Committee chair, or the Property Team at Bowen House. The Archbishop will consider the recommendations of this Committee as well as the recommendations of the diocesan Finance Committee before making a final decision whether or not to authorise the proposed changes.
The interdiocesan Southern Historic Churches Committee - for the Archdiocese of Southwark and the dioceses of Arundel & Brighton, Clifton, Plymouth and Portsmouth - is chaired by Fr David Gibbons, our Liturgy Commission’s representative on the Committee. This is a statutory committee, established by the Patrimony Committee of the Bishop’s Conference and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, to exercise planning controls over alterations, including repairs, to churches and chapels which are Listed Buildings and to buildings which are attached to Listed churches. This ‘ecclesiastical exemption’ enables the church to regulate changes to Listed churches and chapels, rather than secular local authority committees. It is a criminal offence to make unauthorised alterations to Listed Buildings.
Applications - which can only be made after diocesan permission has been given - must be made electronically via the Catholic Historic Churches website, https://www.catholic-historic-churches.org.uk/, where full information about applications may be obtained.