Congregation Divided Over Design -- but Not the Divine
June 7, 2003
Congregation Divided Over Design -- but Not theDivine
Some parishioners at a Catholic church in North Hollywood fear that remodeling plans could be tooextreme for their taste.
By Patricia Ward Biederman, Times Staff Writer
A schism is splitting the faithful at St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church — a riftnot over doctrine, but architecture.A small but vocal group at the majestic North Hollywood church is trying to block changes that they say would transform its cathedral-like interior into a modernworship space. They fear that St. Charles' pastor, the Rev. Robert Gallagher, isbent on changing the old-fashioned church into something more akin to the newCathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown Los Angeles.Gallagher has said that St. Charles does not need renovation. It needs repairs,upgrades to its acoustics, completion of its dome and other improvements. Noradical changes are imminent, he said, pointing out that no funds have yet beenraised.Unconvinced, the 40 active members of the St. Charles Borromeo PreservationGuild recently marched and prayed outside the church. Last year, the guildcollected 1,000 signatures on an anti-renovation petition.In its mission statement, the group calls for keeping the interior of the church muchas it is, with pews facing the main altar at the front of the church, privateconfessionals, and the current side altars, statues, Stations of the Cross and baptismal font.In addition, the guild asks that the Blessed Sacrament be removed from a chapel and "restored to its place of honor in the tabernacle behind the altar."The pastor took the protesters to task in a recent church bulletin, noting that most of them are not parishioners.It is insulting, he wrote, to suggest that the church's traditional trappings are what attracts parishioners: "Thosefaithful Catholics would be worshipping along with us in whatever Church building was provided."The protesters, he added, "should be ashamed of intentionally misconstruing what they have heard andmisleading the most vulnerable among us" about plans to alter the church interior.The clash in North Hollywood is not an isolated phenomenon. Across North America in recent years, groupshave rallied against modernization of traditional-style churches.In 1999, preservationists blocked alterations to the Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception inGuelph, Ontario, Canada. In 2000, anti-renovation forces hired a canon lawyer to oppose major alterations toSt. John Cathedral in Milwaukee.The disputes often reflect differences over liturgical practice as well as aesthetics. Supporters of many currenttrends in church architecture, such as placing the altar in the midst of the congregation rather than in front of
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