The Vatican has notified the city's diocese that plans to radically renovate a cathedral would violate church law.
A letter from Cardinal Jorge Medina outlines why the renovations to the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist would violate liturgical norms, said Jerry Topczewski, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.
The proposed renovations include moving the altar toward the middle of the sanctuary and replacing pews with movable chairs and kneelers. The letter, which Milwaukee Archbishop Rembert G. Weakland received Monday, doesn't specifically say the work must stop, Topczewski said.
"The project won't stop or be halted or altered in a significant way," he said. "Of course, the archbishop will look at ways of revising the plan to address the concerns of the cardinal."
Topczewski said he did not know how often the Vatican issues such letters. "I am sure it doesn't happen every day," he said. "Most times, issues are left to the judgment of the diocese's bishop."
Duncan Stroik, a church architecture expert at the University of Notre Dame, said Tuesday he believed the Vatican's letter may be the first of its kind to be made public in the United States.
"If this has happened in the past, it was done more privately, behind closed doors," he said.
Medina said making a pipe organ the cathedral's focal point instead of the altar would disrespect the church's hierarchy. He also objected to putting the tabernacle in an adjacent chapel, saying that would violate the rule that it be conspicuous.
Medina's letter also said reducing confessionals from four to two would shortchange parishioners, and that the church's high altar should not be moved.
Weakland was surprised by some of the concerns raised in the letter, including questions about the number of confessionals.