The 225-member synod of the Diocese of Christchurch will vote in September on the future of its earthquake-stricken cathedral, Bishop Victoria Matthews said.

There has been a six-year impasse about the future of the city-center landmark. During an earthquake in 2011 that registered 6.5 on the Richter scale, the spire and tower of the building collapsed and rendered it unusable. Campaigners and heritage authorities like UNESCO want it restored. Anglicans are deeply divided about its future, not least because of costs.

Bishop Matthews is known to support demolition and building a new structure because the alternative would leave the church with an unserviceable debt. Her announcement preceded deliberations of a government-appointed commission, due to report shortly, that was expected to support restoration.

Any vote by the synod to demolish and build a new cathedral will undoubtedly be met by efforts to block it.

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“I think the key here is that we know that Christ Church Cathedral is a symbol of the Anglican church, but it’s also the symbol of the city,” said Nicky Wagner, a minister of  the national government’s Greater Christchurch Regeneration. “Seeing it broken and neglected … I don’t think it’s good for anyone.”

Bishop Matthews said, in contrast, “As the Christ Church Cathedral is a church building above all else, and a place of worship, the decision on its future should be made by the members of the synod comprising the gathered clergy and laity of the Diocese who will be using the cathedral forever.”

Bishop Matthews announced in March 2012 that the building would be demolished. The decision was supported by 70 local Christchurch churches and Christian groups. Heritage groups opposed the plan, although they made no proposals on how to pay the bill.

Several sources could help pay for the repairs: a $42 million insurance payout, a $10 million government grant, a $15 million government loan, and a $15 million funding pledge from the Great Christchurch Buildings Trust. But that’s still $22 million short of the estimated $104 million restoration cost.

At one stage, Bishop Matthews suggested sharing a new church with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Christchurch, but nothing came of the idea.

The Christchurch City Council is dealing with disputes regarding 30 landmarks damaged by the earthquake.

John Martin

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