The 19th-century St. Joseph Cathedral in Bucharest, Romania, is seen in 2012 next to an 18-story office building that an appeals court ordered demolished. The court said the building threatens the Bucharest cathedral’s physical security and was illegal ly constructed. CNS photo/courtesy Roman-Catholic Archdiocese of Bucharest

Who will pay? Romanian court orders tower next to cathedral demolished

By  Catholic News Service
  • January 30, 2013

BUCHAREST, Romania - A Romanian appeals court ordered a new 18-story office building demolished because it threatens the Bucharest cathedral's physical security and was illegally constructed.

Despite various "stop work" orders over the past several years, the construction is finished, although electricity, gas, phone lines, and plumbing have not been installed. Experts consulted by the media in Romania said it is possible to take the office building down, floor by floor, for between $2.7 million and $6.8 million.

Bucharest Archbishop Ioan Robu said he thinks the owners of Cathedral Plaza, as it was called, should pay all costs related to demolition, but the court order gave responsibility to the city -- and the city says it has no money for such an expensive operation.

The archbishop said he is considering starting a fund to raise the money for the immediate dismantlement of the condemned building, hoping local and international donors might participate.

The project began in 2006 next to the Cathedral of St. Joseph. Backed by American investors, the development, featuring four underground levels, was expected to be one of the tallest buildings in Bucharest, a city located in an active seismic zone.

The cathedral is built on sandy land that borders a subterranean river and has been damaged in four earthquakes since 1940. An independent study by Italian seismologists concluded the cathedral could be destroyed -- and everyone inside, killed -- by the office tower in an earthquake.

Several official reports and lower courts concluded that construction began without proper permits, authorizations or engineering tests.

The holding company that built Cathedral Plaza, cited in all court decisions, claims it sold the property to a British investor last year for $70 million and so has no further obligation to the cathedral or to the city.

Almost from the beginning, Romanian church officials objected to the plan and received backing from the Romanian Senate, the European Parliament and the Vatican. Archbishop Robu mobilized Christians across the country to march, go on hunger strikes and surrounded the construction worksite.

"They drilled on Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday, shaking the church so violently that many parishioners left in fear," Archbishop Robu told Catholic News Service as the conflict unfolded.

"We had support from across the country, from Europe, from the U.S. Congress, but it did not seem to matter. We had information that these investors had great relations with President Traian Basescu, with members of the government, and with super-rich circles of the economy," the archbishop said.

"Never did I get a response to any letter I wrote to the president or his government requesting help, nor did the Vatican," the archbishop told Catholic News Service after the appeals court ruling.

"Not even under communism did (Nicolae) Ceausescu dare to limit the cathedral's physical access to the people," he said.

At a Jan. 25 news conference, Archbishop Robu said church officials considered the court ruling "a blow against corruption and an important sign from the courts that the law must be respected, whether you have a lot of money or you are a simple person. The law secures a good life for all of us."



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