“Bishooooops, don’t let your chapels grow up to be discooooos….”

Every once in a while, walking about in Rome you come across a forlorn little ex-church or chapel, now serving as a nightclub or art gallery or worse.   It’s like something out of a cartoon.

I know of a once beautiful minor seminary bought by a fundamentalist bible school.  They use the old chapel as a cafeteria.

This comes from AFP:

Don’t turn our churches into nightclubs, urges Vatican

(AFP) – 3 days ago

VATICAN CITY — The Vatican on Thursday warned Italy’s bishops against letting deserted churches be transformed into nightclubs if the decision was taken to sell the places of worship.

Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi, the Vatican’s new culture commissar, urged "the greatest caution" after announcing that Roman Catholic churches with few worshippers could be sold off.

He gave the example of a church in Hungary which was "transformed into a nightclub and where striptease took place on the altar."

The archbishop, who is president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, said dwindling numbers of worshippers at some churches meant it now made sense to sell, or even destroy, the buildings.

"Faced with falling number of worshippers, a phenomenon which we are also unfortunately witnessing in the centre of Rome, churches without any artistic value and which need significant work can be sold or destroyed," he told reporters.

Italian bishops’ groups would be responsible for deciding whether the sites should be sold, said Ravasi, adding each case would be separately assessed.

What ever happened to the old cathedral of Los Angeles, St. Vibiana?

BTW… if you go to that AFP article, and you don’t really have to, they have a picture of the wrong bishop and identify him as Ravasi.  The bishop in the photo is actually Most. Rev. Sergio Pagano, BB.

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  1. worm says:

    I was saddened when a church in Pittsburgh became a a brew pub back in 1993. I suppose it’s not as bad as what you describe above, but I must admit the one photo of the brightly lit fermentation tanks in what obviously used to be the sanctuary does turn my stomach a little.


  2. JosephMary says:


    Cardinal Mahoney claimed that St. Vibiana’s was non repairable and warranted the building of the monstrous LA Cathedral at a cost of 189 million dollars. The developer who purchased the site paid little over six million to make the building structurally sound.

  3. Mary Bruno says:

    How does the Diocese prevent this from happening? If they must sell the property who guarantees how it would be used and if the buyer agrees what if he sells it later to someone else?

    We have several Churches closing our in Diocese. Some might be destroyed if they are in poor condition, some have the the city leaders fighting to make some churches a historical site (but then who maintains it).

    Here’s one former church that was turned into an art gallery and rental hall


  4. chris1 says:

    Ahh, interesting topic. Back in my protestant days I was a big fan of Contemporary Christian singer/songwriter Steve Taylor. Steve Taylor wrote a song about this very thing, called “This Disco (used to be a cute cathedral)”. Can be found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bdM5IUTpXvk

    Heck, I am still a fan of his. I came to Taylor fandom during the second period of his popularity, during the early-mid 90’s. However, I bought up some of his albums from the 80’s also. He was quite popular during the 80’s till he released a song called “I blew up the clinic real good,” which he intended entirely as a parody – intending to mock people who would advocate blowing up abortion clinics – his point was that the end doesn’t justify the means, but the music industry blackballed him for 8 years or so for it.

  5. Melania says:

    This has been a problem for many centuries. In certain areas, faith grows dim or populations move or buildings no longer serve current needs or revolutions happen.

    Once, around Thanksgiving 1979, I stayed in a tiny 12th century chapel in the Loire Valley that had been made over into a hunting lodge with several modern additions built onto it. There was a life-size wooden statue of Charlie Chaplin by the stairway plus lots of other pop art which the current owner was into. Pretty jarring.

    I think it’s good for bishops to consider how a church building will be used after its sale but there’s no way to control this ultimately.

  6. Melody says:

    The situation of St. Vibiana’s makes me cry.

  7. gloriainexcelsis says:

    I not only cry about St. Vibiana’s, which I knew well growing up in Los Angeles, but what happened to St. Vibiana herself? She was unveiled at times over the altar in the old Cathedral. I heard she is “stored” someplace?

  8. Fr_Sotelo says:


    St. Vibiana’s wax effigy containing her relics (bones) is lying in a sarcaphogus underneath the modern cathedral, inside a chapel dedicated to her. She is like the crazy aunt who embarasses the modern church, but this time locked away in the basement crypt, as opposed to an attic (sigh, tears).

    As a college seminarian, I enjoyed the trips to St. Vibiana’s for the pontifical Chrism Masses of Cardinal Manning, where pomp was splendid and the old organ shook the building. Los Angeles, hard to believe, was a powerhouse of glorious liturgy in her yesteryear.

    I cannot open the links and see the pictures of the old cathedral converted into a concert hall. It makes me physically ill. Cardinal Manning has turned over in his grave so many times that I think he has bored a hole to China (said only half-jokingly). Manning used to love to tell the story of how Bishop Amat acquired Vibiana’s relics from Blessed Pius IX, with the promise “I shall build her a cathedral!” When she arrived to California around 1870, the church in Santa Barbara where she lay burned down, but her wax effigy miraculously remained intact.

    With a twinkle of Irish humor and wit, Cardinal Manning said this first miracle was her splashy way of letting it be known that she was happy to be the new patroness of southern California and that she wanted no doubt that she chose Los Angeles, not the other way around.

    Manning also recounted how Cardinal McIntyre, his predecessor had written a scathing letter to the Vatican when Vibiana’s feast was dropped from the calendar, “for which Angelenos should venerate him for rightfully defending the honor of their patroness.”

    If there is one thing I could resent John Paul II for, and even for which I would wish him not raised to the altars, was his approving the handing over of the old cathedral for alienation and its current profanation. I know he is not responsible personally, but I am stupefied how the most integral relic of our California Catholic history was simply obliterated with the vengeance of an Oliver Cromwell.

  9. medievalist says:

    There are several examples of fine medieval churches being put to other uses in York, England and, since they are historic buildings, they cannot be torn down. Most become community or charity centres, but St John the Baptist hosts a club/pub named “The Parish”. Of course, if the Anglicans find that they have redundant medieval churches, there’s now a new solution…

  10. FrCharles says:

    Our beautiful old theologate and closest thing to a provinvial mother house is not a Buddhist retreat center.

  11. pelerin says:

    Medievalist mentions old redundant churches being converterd in England. In my own town there is a converted protestant church which is now a pub called ‘The Font and Firkin.’ An appropriate name I suppose – a firkin being an old measure of ale.

  12. pelerin says:

    I was reminded of the closure and sale of the Catholic Junior Seminary in my area and just looked it up to check my facts. Yes the buildings designed by the great Pugin are now an Islamic school.

  13. robtbrown says:

    A top contender has to be the Culinary Institute of America, which was once a Jesuit retreat house (tertianship). Some years ago a friend, who considered attending the Institute, returned from his visit with “You would never guess who’s buried in the back yard. Teilhard de Chardin!”

    Once again, the Jesuits are the leaders.

  14. irishgirl says:

    robtbrown-yes, I know about the Culinary Institute of America! It’s in Hyde Park, NY, not very far from FDR’s home. My brother-in-law attended classes there after he got a scholarship.

    Its chapel is now the place where the graduates get their degrees.

    I also heard about Chardin’s grave ‘in the back yard’.

    Speaking of the Jesuits: at Auriesville Shrine, the old tertianship building in back of the shrine, which later became a retreat house [I went there for a private retreat in the mid-90s’, not long before it closed] is now owned by Buddhists. The new ‘owners’ are putting oriental touches on the rooftops. Shameful-and blasphemous, too, just feet away from where the Jesuit Martyrs shed their blood for Our Lord!

  15. gloriainexcelsis says:

    Fr._Sotelo, Thank you for the memories. I well remember Cardinals Manning and McIntyre. Cardinal McIntyre handed me my bachelor’s diploma at my ONCE truly Catholic college, Mt. St. Mary’s, now staring across the canyon towards the Getty. The dear nuns who shepherded me for 16 years through school are surely turning over in their graves due to the “wreckovating” of Mary Chapel and the liturgical abominations that take place there. It is one more thing that brings tears to my eyes.

  16. Kimberly says:

    There is a good book, “THE SEARCH FOR ST. VALERIA” by William Biersach that does a jab and a spin on the Cardinal Mahoney fiasco and St. Vibiana. Great reading.

  17. JimGB says:

    It is interesting to note that the Capuchin theologate in Garrison NY to which Fr. Charles refers and the Jesuit’s former building in Auriesville NY are now both Bhuddist facilities. I once visited a friend in the Capuchin order who was assigned to that friary and it is a gem of a building on a prime site overlooking the Hudson near West Point. I understand that in the former chapel of the Capuchin friary, a statue of Bhudda now occupies the same place where the tabernacle used to be!

  18. JimGB says:

    With respect to the former St. Vibiana’s Cathedral, I would not disagree that it was not of a size commensurate with the needs of a huge archdiocese like LA. For many years, there were various plane to replace it with a larger structure, including a huge Spanish-style edifice with a dome that was to be located on Wilshire Blvd. The plans for that building were developed in the 1940’s but shelved due to costs. A pity that they were not revived, because such a structure would be far better to what the Archdiocese eventualy ended up with.

  19. Francisco Cojuanco says:

    “What ever happened to the old cathedral of Los Angeles, St. Vibiana?”

    Part of it (the old cathedral school) is now a public library, while the remainder, having been essentially abandoned, is being sold to developers to convert the building to a restaurant next year.

    I wonder if, following the Big One (at this point, it’s a matter of when, not if), I wonder what the new Cathedral would look like? Hopefully by that time Mahony will have retired or moved on.

  20. How does the Diocese prevent this from happening? If they must sell the property who guarantees how it would be used and if the buyer agrees what if he sells it later to someone else?

    One answer (at least in theory) is for the diocese to retain a reversionary interest in the property. So the sale contract would stipulate that if the buyer or his successors try to use the property for a nightclub or bar, etc., it reverts back to the diocese. Naturally, this would affect the sale price, which may be one reason why this hasn’t been done.

    For many years, there were various plane to replace [St. Vibiana’s] with a larger structure, including a huge Spanish-style edifice with a dome that was to be located on Wilshire Blvd. The plans for that building were developed in the 1940’s but shelved due to costs. A pity that they were not revived, because such a structure would be far better to what the Archdiocese eventualy ended up with.

    These plans were never going to be revived under the present archbishop. The Taj Mahoney wasn’t built because there were no better plans: that WAS the plan all along.

    No doubt about it: the present Cathedral is a monstrosity, and a money pit into the bargain. To paraphrase Dolly Parton: it costs a lot to look this cheap!

  21. JoeGarcia says:

    To my knowledge — someone correct me if I am wrong — one of the very last remnants of the liturgical glories of L.A.’s yesteryear is St. Victor’s.

  22. Clinton says:

    One excellent solution to the problem of redundant/closed churches is to move them. St. Gerard’s, a beautiful Italianate church
    in Buffalo, NY will probably be taken down and shipped to Atlanta, GA to be rebuilt for a new parish there. The cost is comparable
    to that of new construction, with the added benefit of detailing and materials that would be prohibitively expensive if purchased
    new. Another benefit is that the land on which the church once stood remains, to generate revenue for the diocese.

    A few generations from now I believe we shall be harshly judged indeed for our cavalier disregard for our Catholic cultural patrimony.
    I cannot imagine why we can’t make more effort to coordinate redundant buildings with parishes looking to build–sort of an
    architectural ‘want ads’/data base linking seekers with sellers and keeping fine churches ‘in the family’ and working.

    As an aside, I don’t think that generations from now there will be preservation societies fighting to save any of the majority of
    churches built since the ’60’s.

  23. Mitchell NY says:

    Funny how when it is a Church no one cares for its’ arcitecture and splendour but the minute it is sold and retrofitted its’ details and architecture become its’ marketing points. Very sad indeed. And visitors to New York City always ask me “Where is that Church that is now a Disco?” It is always on their “to do” list.

  24. JimGB says:

    The Church that became a disco is a former Episcopalian church and rectory that became a notorious disco in the ’90s after the Episcopal diocese of New York sold it to a promoter. It went through various iterations of clubs and I think was finally seized by the government after its owners went to jail for income tax evasion. The church itself is a pretty Gothic building, not too large. It is still there but I am not sure of its present status. I read somewhere that the Episcopal bishop of New York regretted the sale after the building was used for drug-fueled clubbing. But I doubt that they considered buying it back. The Cathedral of St. John the Divine will likely never be finished and the Episcopal Church, which owns a fair amount of valuable property in New york, devotes its financial resources to community action projects rather than finishing their Cathedral. The diocesan leadership and many of the church’s adherents would regard that as a colossal a waste of money when compared to social programs, such as building low income housing.

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