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Churches can't be put to immoral use

Great care needed with disused churches, warns Vatican

27 November, 13:22
Churches can't be put to immoral use

(ANSA) - Vatican City, November 26 - Care should be taken to ensure disused churches are not turned to immoral purposes, a Vatican 'minister' warned Thursday. The head of the Vatican's culture department, Archbishop Gianfranco Ravisi, cited a basilica in Hungary sold off some years ago. ''It has now become a nightclub and a stripper performs her finale on the altar each evening,'' he said. Ravasi, who heads the Pontifical Council for Culture, said it was understandable that dioceses would be forced to sell or demolish churches they could no longer afford to maintain. ''Given the falling number of faithful, a problem that unfortunately exists even in the heart of Rome, and the exorbitant repair and maintenance costs, if churches contain no special art treasures then there are bound to be sales and demolitions,'' he said.

''There is no obligation to continue safeguarding these buildings but great caution must be exercised in deciding to whom they are sold''. He said there were no specific guidelines to follow in such situations but that each case should be assessed individually. Ravasi made his remarks during the course of a conference celebrating 20 years since the creation of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Culture.

The council's secretary, Francesco Buranelli, who also spoke at the event, discussed the ''astronomical costs'' involved in running churches that draw large numbers of tourists for their artwork or architecture. He said many were now charging entry for tourists in order to fund maintenance and repairs. ''As a Christian, it does make me a little uncomfortable buying a ticket to enter a church,'' he admitted. ''But as someone with responsibilities in this area, I am perfectly aware of the need to safeguard our artistic heritage, with falling donations and rising costs''.

However, Buranelli stressed that no church would charge entry to anyone coming to pray.

Discussing the achievements of the pontifical council during its 20-year history, Ravasi highlighted the number of sites recognized by the United Nations culture organization, UNESCO. He said his department worked closely with UNESCO and praised the recent extension of its world heritage list to include 'intangible heritage', such as endangered languages and vanishing traditions.

In particular, he cited cultural and ethnic traditions granted UNESCO recognition, such as ''the traditional Hindu pilgrimage''. But Ravasi expressed some concern about UNESCO decisions in other areas, suggesting that ''questionable criteria'' were occasionally used.

He cited the Rio de Janeiro Carnival, noting that UNESCO ''sometimes takes things a little too far''.

''We respect UNESCO's work but we are also ready to recognize that it is not the final word on deciding what constitutes art and beauty on our planet,'' the archbishop said.

The Vatican City has itself been a UNESCO site since 1984. It was added to the list in recognition of its ancient history, its range of architectural and artistic masterpieces, and the central spiritual role it plays for Christians worldwide.

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