by Timothy Elphick THE Catholic bishops' conference of England and Wales this week welcomed a new government initiative pledging £11.5 million for the care of Britain's cathedrals over the next three years,
Nicholas Coote, assistant general secretary to the conference, said that the repair grant scheme recognised that "Catholic cathedrals form part of the architectural and cultural heritage of this country".
The new fund, which will be administered by English heritage, was officially launched in Chichester cathedral by Heritage Minister Sir George Young on Wednesday, following the publication of a government white paper, This Common Inheritance, last autumn.
The country's 19 Catholic and 42 Anglican cathedrals, until now excluded from state subsidy, will be eligible to apply for funds to help pay for restoration and maintenance of their fabric.
Stephen Williams of English Heritage said that although there were few pre-1850 Catholic buildings in the country, a number of Catholic cathedrals were more than a century old. A survey was currently in progress which would assess the needs of all cathedrals before funds for repair would be allocated.
But Sir George emphasised at its launch "that the new scheme is intended to supplement existing fund-raising efforts, not to replace them." Ile said the government was making the money available because it recognised that "some urgent work is already delayed or postponed through lack of funds."
English Heritage stressed that many Catholic churches, mostly nineteenth century, had benefilled from the church repair scheme set up in 1977, including the parish church of St Francis Xavier in Liverpool and the Brompton Oratory in London. The commission expected that Catholic cathedrals would he helped with their appeals in the same way.