'People before buildings': Bishop on Christ Church Cathedral's future

From Checkpoint, 5:35 pm on 29 May 2017

The earthquake-damaged Christchurch cathedral is not a significant heritage building on a global scale, the city's bishop says.

Bishop Victoria Matthews' comment comes as calls mount for a decision on the building's future, which has been caught up in court battles and failed negotiations with the government.

"Is this the time to reinstate a heritage building that in England would be seen as a large parish church? In terms of a global significance, it's not the Taj Mahal," Bishop Matthews told Checkpoint with John Campbell.

An independent report released by the government last December found the cathedral could be restored at a cost of $105 million.

Bishop Matthews asked whether it was appropriate to spend that on repairing a building, when there was a greater need for spending in the city on services such as mental health and housing.

"I don't think people's pain is addressed by reinstating a building, so I think the money is better spent helping people. And right from the beginning we have said 'people before buildings'."

Christchurch cathedral.

Repairing the Christ Church Cathedral would cost $105 million, a report released last year found. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

She recognised that the debate over whether to rebuild the cathedral was nuanced and complex, but there was more than one way of reaching a conclusion.

"It's not unanimous as to where we should be going. We have not taken a formal vote, but we talk and talk, and just like the city, there is more than one opinion."

A decision on the building's future will be made in September by the church's synod, a collection of 200 clergy and elected members.

Bishop Matthews said robust discussion was typical of the Anglican faith, and she did not expect members to automatically fall in line behind her.

Technically, as the bishop, she did have the power of veto but if the synod voted for reinstatement she would agree to that, she said.

"The only time I would use my veto is if I felt that the synod had made a decision that went against Christian doctrine. This is not about doctrine at all, this is about how we spend our money.

"I actually think the synod will have a wisdom that we've not managed to get at either [New Zealand Christian Proprietors Trust] or in the public conversations. I have a lot of faith in synod and I am looking to see what they decide."