Thursday, July 23, 2015

Iconoclasm in NYC: Removing the iconography of the Church of Our Saviour

The appropriate 'development of doctrine" (in iconography) at Our Saviour.
Solid Catholic teaching for all to see.

Undoing the Sacred at the Church of Our Saviour in Manhattan.

I call it a travesty.  I thought this type of personality 'marking' was gone - that a new pastor just can't show up and attempt to restore a parish to it's 'former glory' on his own initiative.  In this case, there was no former glory, just a bare canvas; allowing for the Church of Our Saviour to be appointed and given its visual glory by it's former pastor, Fr. George Rutler - financed in part by the donations of faithful parishioners.  As one author noted:
Fr. George Rutler was pastor of Our Saviour from 2001 until he was transferred in 2013 across town to St. Michael’s, a less prominent location. In the twelve years of his service to COS, he proved himself a gracious and effective steward. He reversed the parish’s decline, eliminated its debts, enlarged and revivified the congregation. Most visibly, he renovated the church building with great sensitivity. - MM - First Things
I can't tell you the number of churches I have seen 'renovated' in my lifetime.  By bishops, priests, seminary rectors, Catholic schools, religious superiors, liturgy committees, and so on.  Wonderfully appointed 'sacred spaces' white washed overnight, tabernacles exchanged for a lock box, statues winding up in antique shops, architectural details in architectural antique emporiums, and so on.  I worked in a Catholic institution for several years, and almost every time a new superior was appointed, the statuary in the building changed, memorials were ripped out, and replaced with new shrines.  The changes were made to suit the piety of one individual, or in an attempt to get on board with the latest liturgical trend.  It was subjective demolition, and a means of flaunting authority.

Is this diocesan competitiveness?   Is there some sort of vendetta against the former pastor?

It can be argued - perhaps - that Fr. Rutler did the same thing - until of course you examine the art.  The artist/iconographer Ken Woo is a master iconographer.  His work is of the highest quality, theologically, artistically and architecturally.  The interior of Our Saviour has been embellished, quite literally - divinely.  I know Rutler is perhaps 'disliked' by some - he's not your ordinary priest.  He can be off-putting to the more casual observer, since his manner may strike one as a little pompous.  Indeed, I had a hard time getting used to him when I'd see him on EWTN, but he won me over.  There are very few priests as erudite and doctrinally sound as he is.  Likewise he is an expert on art history and church design.  Until now I didn't know he was responsible for commissioning the exquisite design and iconography of Our Saviour.

Is it appropriate use of funds - spending money to 'fix' what doesn't need fixing?

The current wreck-ovation, vandalism, is handed off as a renovation.  That is unfortunate.   It seems to me it is an iconoclastic desecration and rebuke to faithful, devout Catholics as well as the former pastor.  Again, as Maureen Malarkey notes in her essay at First Things:
The new pastor began his tenure by making liturgical changes and, to the dismay of parishoners, by removing fourteen of the most prominent icons. In a gesture mimicking the iconoclasm of sixteenth century Reformers, the denuded pillars were white washed. On Tuesday we learned that the remaining ones, included the magnificent Pantocrator, are slated for eviction. Why? Is Fr. Robbins acting on his own initiative or at the behest of higher-ups? Certainly, a pastor has both his druthers and his prerogatives. But the severity—the totality—of this de-adornment gives off an odor of reprisal. It is hard not to sense malice at work. Whose? To what end? - MM- First Things
Please read the entire essay here, and at the end are instructions on how to contact the Cardinal, to politely ask that the church may be preserved from further dismantling.  Please be respectful.  I'll repost the address here:  Email: or by phone: 212.371.1011 Ext 2935. Letters marked “Personal and Confidential” can be sent to His Eminence Cardinal Timothy Dolan, 1011 First Avenue, New York 10022.

Taking the spoils and scattering pearls before swine.

There is much talk of why people are leaving the Church, why men no longer go to Mass.  This is one more reason.  When my Italian parish church was 'renewed', the high altar, communion rails, and central tabernacle were removed - as were the memorial plaques of donors.  Old timer Italians, who donated in the name of their deceased loved ones, donated piously to embellish the church with the most noble of furnishings, the best money could buy, for the honor and glory of God.  They were heartbroken when the marble altar rail was sent to a dump.  Now the church belongs to a Christian fundamentalist group - while another parish church of my youth has been desacralized, sold and is now a mosque.

It's a scandal.

Fr. Robert Robbins is the pastor at Our Saviour,
and the man responsible for the take-down.
He is also rehabbing-renovating his rectory:

Katrina Fernandez is updating on this story - check out her blog here: Help Prevent this Church Wreckovation.  Please avoid the innuendo and ad hominem you'll find in the links and commentary if you choose to respond or contact the Cardinal or Fr. Robbins.  Thanks.


  1. I heard Mass at the Church of Our Savior with Father Rutler presiding. The beautiful art work there gave glory to Our Lord. May I suggest that removing it rescinds the praise that was given to Him?

    Things are getting crazier every day. At "Crux" and "NCR" people are flaying Father Barron, calling him a "fundamentalist", an "ideologue" and a "holy roller" among other things. Of course, they are ecstatic that he is getting kicked upstairs so that he no longer can form "little monsters" and "Ken dolls" at Mundelein. What is going on?

    1. I love Bishop Barron - he's the best face of Catholicism we have.

      What is going on? The same old same old I think.

    2. I love Bishop Barron - he's the best face of Catholicism we have.

      What is going on? The same old same old I think.

  2. It hurt my heart to read this post.

  3. I find it ironic that all the rage is preservation everywhere except Catholic Churches. It seems that one Pastor can come in and destroy 100 years of sacred art in a heartbeat and move on to another target. I have visited a Cistercian Abbey in my diocese have for over thirty years. It was built in the 1970's by a youthful community of men. Nothing fancy but beautiful. Recently a major renovation, funded by sponsors, has changed the interior entirely. Although tasteful, it is now much more lighted with a different layout. I feel something was lost. The monks say they need accommodations for a declining and elderly community. It is still beautiful, but just not the same. I must be getting old!

  4. sit in silence before that magnificent image of our Lord Jesus must have been quite an experience. I know for me it would have been. Too bad such beauty is to be removed.

    I'll pass of visiting that other blogger you mention but thanks for the address to Cardinal Dolan.

    @ Frank Gibbons - I noticed the Church Militant folks on YouTube are also flaying Father Barron. They are calling him a heretic and a liar. It seems they claim that M. Voris put out some video a while back about Father Barron. I can't be bothered to view it since I have to steer clear of sites that I find toxic...left or right.
    They are claiming that Father Barron claims there is no hell. I have never heard of such rubbish.

    To smear Fr. Barron and to call him a heretic is unacceptable. He has only ever been a faithful son of the Church in love with Christ. He is always joyful and his joy is contagious.

    God bless and keep Bishop-elect Barron for many years to come!

  5. I hate it when people pile on priests. Why does the whole world think they have to interfere with a parish priest? He is not a pedophile, he is not a heretic. He is a diocesan priest in good standing with the Church. You can choose to disagree with him, but attack him? What he does or doesn't do with his church is none of our business. It is between him and his parishioners. And Father Rutler - whom I have personally met - really doesn't have any more say in this. He has his own church to worry about.

    Don't we have enough attacking without something like this? Christians are being slaughtered in the world, and we worry about icons in a church? The most important thing is that Our Lord is still in the tabernacle.

    1. I'm sorry. I wondered if you'd object to this. But I thought the days of stripping the churches were over and the church is not like a department store which gets remodeled with every new design director. I'm avoiding demonizing the pastor or casting slurs on the Cardinal - which only makes matters worse, BTW. But when I go to NY I stayed near this church - at the Morgan. Churches should be left intact - this is iconoclasm plain and simple. Churches have been stripped of devotional art and it's wrong. I made that clear with my anecdotal evidence of stripping parish churches in my area. The parish church is not the play thing of individual pastors. The fact that costly goods are dismantled in a costly 'renovation' is a scandal. It is obvious something is wrong here.

      I'm sorry - but as a Catholic - this concerns me. NYC is more or less an international city.

      That said - attacking the Cardinal or the Pope for this is so wrong. Publishing innuendo and suggestions against the moral character of the current pastor is worse. Wondering out loud if there is some sort of priestly one-up-manship is another matter. Clerical competition is a scandal.

      I'm leaving the matter at that - but I wanted my concern to be public.

    2. None of us know what this pastor has in mind. Is he just stripping the church of icons and then doing nothing else? Who knows? And he has been at this church for almost 2 years. It isn't like he just walked in and started removing everything. We know so little of the facts of this story. This is little more than mob rule.

      New York is an international city, but this is still a local parish. It is not St. Patrick's Cathedral.

      I am very upset that Father Rutler is turning people against another priest. That is probably the most disturbing part of this story.

    3. Did Fr. Rutler instigate this? I didn't know that.

  6. Who is funding the remodel at Church of Our Saviour? If the majority of the parish doesn't support it how can it be paid for?

    1. It appears the parish is in debt now - when it was debt free under the former pastor. The rectory is being remodeled as well. Capital expenses are normally paid for by the parish. Donors normally pay for things such as are in the process of being removed.

  7. When I went to a First Mass of a newly ordained priest friend of mine at the Church of Our Savior, I had my breath taken away by the beauty of the iconography. I will always remember it that way for that First Mass of his.

  8. While it is true that a parish owns a Church the Pastor usually drives renovations. I have heard too many stories about parishioners being steamrolled into accepting whatever the "design committee" ( aka pastor and friends) deem appropriate for the current fashion of the day. People who love art and architecture enjoy touring churches. Who knows how any conversions have resulted? A parish/shrine built in 1886 by German immigrants was closed several years ago by the new Bishop. By all accounts it was a viable parish. The Bishop wanted to sell it and had a buyer lined up. Supporters appealed to the Vatican who prohibited the sale. The Bishop refuses to allow anyone in so prayer takes place outside while the building deteriorates. The plan seems to be to let it deteriorate to the point of no return. Then tear it down and sell the land. To me this is a scandal and effects many more then just the parishioners. Sometimes ego trumps faith in our dear Church. I enjoyed Fr Rutler on EWTN years ago and remember the Church of the Savior from that program. It looked beautiful. I hope it can be saved from whatever fad is in the mind of the "design committee."

    1. St Anne's Parish and Shrine is located in Buffalo NY. Google it if you want to see a glorious church built with the pennies nickels dimes and sweat of German immigrants. It is irreplaceable. So needless and so so sad.


  9. "The priests who venerate me will be scorned and opposed by their confreres...churches and altars sacked; the Church will be full of those who accept compromises..."

    October 13,1973
    Our Lady of Akita

  10. The Cardinal doesn’t make many decisions in this diocese. The more important decisions are made by the Chancellor, Msgr. Greg Mustaciuolo.

    Please email Msgr. Greg Mustaciuolo if you are concerned about this.

    His email is:


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