International News

Bucharest Archdiocese Welcomes Order to Demolish Building Near Cathedral

Worshippers wait outside as Pope Francis celebrates Mass in St. Joseph Cathedral in Bucharest, Romania, May 31, 2019. Romanian officials have ordered the demolition of the tall office building, at left center, 10 years after a ruling that it was built illegally and endangers the historic landmark. (CNS photo/Remo Casilli, Reuters)

By Jonathan Luxmoore  

WARSAW, Poland (CNS) — Romanian officials have ordered the demolition of a 20-story office building overshadowing Bucharest’s Catholic cathedral, 10 years after a ruling that it was built illegally and endangers the historic landmark.

Father Tarciziu-Hristof Serban, spokesman for Romania’s Bucharest Archdiocese, called the order “a joyful affirmation of the church’s life after all the aggression directed against us. Our archbishop continually deplored the injustice from the beginning, highlighting the perils posed to the cathedral, a cultural, historic and religious monument.”

The priest spoke amid preparations for the 246-foot tower to be dismantled under a July 20 order by Bucharest Mayor Nicusor Dan, who confirmed it was built without a legal permit and endangered the adjoining 19th-century St. Joseph Cathedral.

In a July 29 interview with Catholic News Service, Father Serban said previous mayors had refused to enforce a “final, definitive and irrevocable appeal court ruling” in 2012, ordering the demolition, adding that Catholics were grateful that “a move which should have happened long ago” was now finally being taken.

“The present mayor is an architect who’s long combatted abuses by building firms disfiguring the central panorama of Bucharest,” Father Serban told CNS.

“Although no further legal steps are possible, the proprietors may still attempt to hamper or delay the demolition, especially since they’re required to finance it themselves.”

In 2006 city officials authorized construction of the Cathedral Plaza tower, a project of the Millennium Building Development corporation, but the construction was interrupted by repeated appeals from the Catholic Church, which warned it imperiled the image and structure of the historic cathedral, built 1875-1883 by architects Friedrich Schmidt and Carol Benesch.

Orders to demolish the building, which stands just yards from the Gothic-Romanesque cathedral, were later issued by courts in Dambovita, Ploiesti and Constanta, but ignored by city and company representatives.

Announcing his order on Facebook, Dan said “certain administrative steps” still had to be taken before demolition could begin, but added he was confident the move would now go ahead after years of prevarication.

“Since 2013, the capital’s City Hall has been compelled under a final court decision to demolish this building,” the mayor explained.

“The expenses will be borne initially by the municipality, and then recovered from the building’s owners. Our goal now is for the land to be harmoniously reintegrated into Bucharest’s urban landscape.”

In a website statement, Archbishop Aurel Perca said the mayor’s order symbolized a “return to normality” and victory “not just for Catholics, but for all citizens of Romania.”

He added that the archdiocese was grateful for perseverance by his predecessor, Archbishop Ioan Robu, in the “arduous course of justice,” as well as for goodwill and solidarity long shown by local Catholics.

“This act by the mayor … represents an act of historical reparation … a crowning moment for efforts by Romania’s judiciary,” Archbishop Perca said.

“It forms part of a series of acts by institutions and authorities of the Romanian state, which have identified legal frauds and the existence of interest groups pressuring local administration with damaging consequences for our historical heritage.”

Father Serban said it could take some time to find a specialist firm capable of carrying out the “delicate demolition work,” given the “very narrow space” between the office block and cathedral, which was damaged by U.S. and German bombing during World War II.

“But the mayor has promised we won’t have to wait long, so we’re praying with gratitude for work to begin,” Father Serban told CNS.

This story has been updated.