Image 01 Image 03

Pennsylvania Nuns Build Chapel to Block Gas Pipeline

Pennsylvania Nuns Build Chapel to Block Gas Pipeline

These nuns have made environmental protection part of their mission.

The Catholic nuns of the Adorers of the Blood of Christ in West Hempfield, PA, have built an open air chapel on their land as a last effort to stop a company from building a natural gas pipeline on their property. From

A federal judge agreed this month that the pipeline’s parent company, Williams Partners, can condemn a portion of the order’s property for an easement. A hearing in U.S. District Court of the Eastern District in Reading is scheduled for Monday morning.

So erecting the arbor is a sort of dare to Williams to rip it down. The sisters cannot call it a chapel because it has not been consecrated by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Harrisburg. But their quest has drawn national attention.

“It exploits the land to make a profit,” Sister Bernice says of the pipeline.

“Holy Land” Claims a Somewhat New Thing

Dan Dalton, a land-use and zoning attorney based in Michigan, told The Washington Post that the courts haven’t seen many cases on “holy lands.” WaPo also noted that judges on U.S. appeals courts “have ruled inconsistently on whether federal law protects religious groups from eminent domain.

The nuns of this order, which formed in the 1920s, “have made environmental protection and activism a key part of their mission.” Since its beginning, the order “has acquired nearly 100 surrounding acres over the years,” which includes “a home for the elderly.

Activists have said that the system doesn’t really allow landowners to say no:

Federal law gives energy companies the right to seize property through eminent domain once the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has signed off on the project. The Adorers, who also sponsor a nursing home near the field, are among fewer than 30 landowners who have not signed agreements with the company, leading to eminent-domain proceedings, Stockton said.

In a complaint they filed in federal court Friday, the nuns argued that FERC’s authorization of the pipeline on their property violated their religious freedom, protected under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

“FERC’s decision to force the Adorers to use land they own to accommodate a fossil fuel pipeline is antithetical to the deeply held religious beliefs and convictions of the Adorers. It places a substantial burden on the Adorers’ exercise of religion,” the nuns’ attorneys wrote.

The nuns may have protection under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 “depending on a judge’s interpretation.” The Post reported:

That law seeks to shield religious institutions from land-use laws that would otherwise impose a substantial burden on their religious exercise. But the nation’s appellate courts have offered differing opinions on whether the law applies to eminent domain. The 3rd Circuit, where the Adorers are located, has never ruled on that question, several lawyers familiar with this area of law said, so the nuns may be the ones to set the precedent.

The Pipeline

The nuns have agreed to “conduct their business transactions in keeping with the principles of ecological justice the sisters drafted in 2005, known as their ‘land ethic.'” They turned to this agreement when a surveyor from Williams Partners, the company that wants to build the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline, came to speak with them. The nuns told him “that they couldn’t even discuss it.” The Post continued:

Christopher Stockton, a spokesman for Williams, says that at that point the company was willing to negotiate on where it drew the path of its pipeline, which will carry the natural gas that has been gushing out of Pennsylvania’s Marcellus shale region since extraction by fracking was authorized in the state.

The Atlantic Sunrise pipeline will connect with the company’s Transco pipeline, which carries gas north from the Gulf of Mexico to East Coast markets, to transport Pennsylvania gas to other states.

“It’s an important project,” Stockton said. “Since the advent of shale discoveries, now Pennsylvania produces the second-most natural gas in the country behind Texas. What’s happened is you don’t have the infrastructure in place to connect those supply areas with market areas. . . . Now they’ll have access to Pennsylvania natural gas.”

Stockton said the company wants to limit impacts, which is why the company always wants to sit down with the landowners. The sisters won’t even “sit down for a conversation.”

Stockton reminded the sisters that the pipeline “will run about three to five feet underground and topsoil will be replaced,” which means the nuns can still use the land for farming.


Donations tax deductible
to the full extent allowed by law.


“have made environmental protection and activism a key part of their mission.”

That’s not religion, that’s activism.

Indians might be able to get away with that “sacred grounds” hooey, but that’s about it.

This sounds like a tax issue.

How funny! A year after the pipeline goes through, it’ll be like it was never there on the surface. In most places, the ROW will be better maintained, but Lancaster Co. is some of the richest farmland in the nation, and it’s people are pretty avid about keeping it neat and productive.

Poor Sisters Of The Druidic Religion Of Green…

    Tom Servo in reply to Ragspierre. | July 17, 2017 at 10:49 am

    There was a fascinating fight, recently concluded by settlement, by a rancher in Henderson County, Tx (near Athens) and the Tarrant County Regional Water District; the rancher won.

    BUT it was a vastly more complicated issue than this one in Pennsylvania, plus the “gentleman rancher was also the CEO of a hotel management company, and had a few million of his own to throw into the fight. I gotta give him credit for creativity; one of his tricks was that he actually dug up a small family cemetery and moved it into the path of the pipeline, so that they would have to get a court order to dig up his family’s graves. Now that’s cold!

    And even though he was not your average “rancher”, a whole lot of people sympathize with him. This is all tied in with DFW’s ongoing attempts to secure water rights from across East and North Texas to meet their projected demand for the next 50 years, and even thought that’s a laudable goal, the Regional Water Authorities have built up a reputation for very ham handed dealing with anyone who doesn’t do what they say. Certainly no one in Henderson County is very interested in Dallas and Tarrant Counties attempts to use eminent domain to take their water away from them.

    It’s a fascinating, ongoing legal battle with a cast of thousands, as they say.

The nuns have agreed to “conduct their business transactions in keeping with the principles of ecological justice the sisters drafted in 2005, known as their ‘land ethic.’”

This is outside the Sisters’ scope, and is flagrant political activism disguised as religiously inspired do-goodism.

    Tom Servo in reply to MTED. | July 17, 2017 at 10:35 am

    There used to be this place known as the Papal States, where Religious law was the only law, and what the religious authority decreed was binding on all.

    I don’t think the Papal States are around anymore, and I’m sure they’re not in Pennsylvania.

If they specifically built it for the purpose of blocking the pipeline, no protection should apply whatsoever.

I think it’s kind of comical that they just set some benches in a cornfield and called it “their chapel”. AFTER the route was shown to them.

People not too familiar with the industry don’t realize that fights of this kind between pipeline owners and landowners have been going on for well over 100 years, and the pipeline owners have gotten quite good at it, generally all having entire legal staffs dedicated solely to fighting eminent domain cases.

How they all go: first you win the case, then you get the writ, then you get the sheriff to threaten the landowner with arrest (or actually arrest him or her if they persist), then you put armed guards on your camp at night to make sure the angry landowner doesn’t burn it, then you fill it all in with dirt and go away.

I can’t believe the Dakota Pipeline people forgot #4 and didn’t post guards on their equipment, they should have known better. (they lost some as a result) Like I said, these kinds of fights have been going on for over 100 years. The stated reasons may be different in different places, but that actual fight is always the same.

Many people/organizations arrive at a conclusion, then will go to any lengths to achieve it. Some are more creative than others. A corn field chapel is a real stretch. Put in the pipeline, then see if these “environmental” nuns rebuild it.

    Liz in reply to Romey. | July 17, 2017 at 11:35 am

    Based on the embedded video, the activists are planning to have people at the chapel site continuously.

    So, is this a “build it and they will come” type of thing? Will they stay once the weather gets bad? Will they pollute the land like the other pipeline protest did?

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you[*].”

*Especially the part about building unpermitted structures in inappropriate places.

I wonder what these nuns use for their energy needs? Do they use use heating oil or natural gas as their utility of choice? Do they drive cars? How did they plant that field of corn? How are they going to harvest and then clear the land for the next crop?

I bet they would also object to large wind turbines or a large-scale solar panel installation.

    rinardman in reply to Liz. | July 17, 2017 at 12:02 pm

    Why, everyone knows you just get gas at the filling station, and the electricity comes in on wires, and the farmer that actually farms their ground gets his diesel from…somewhere.

    And, they wouldn’t object to solar panels or wind turbines…as long as they’re not in their back yard.

Sister Bernice objects to the pipeline because “it exploits the land to make a profit.” Really??!! Does not farming do the same? Do the nuns use electricity? Etc., etc. Such stupidity! I’m Catholic but these nuns are an embarrassment to me.

The Nuns will lose this one. Utility easements have long been recognized as a valid use of eminent domain. The biggest sticking point for the Nuns is that the pipeline will be buried approximately 4′ underground, in the middle of a cornfield and will not affect the use of their property.

    Something to comment on here that’s applicable to me. My home farm when I was growing up had the gas company go through and replace a smaller city-to-city NG pipeline, around 6″ pipe if I remember right. They paid dad for the torn-up corn (went through when it was about knee-high) and were in, out, and done in under two weeks. I had not even realized there *was* a pipeline there except for the orange steel ‘mushroom’ markers, and by the next year (and planting) there was no sign at all that they had been through.

    The pipeline companies take great care in rural areas to stay away from houses. Not only are they far more expensive to trench nearby, but in case of a pipeline rupture, safer for the neighbors. (About every 10-20 years in the state, some nitwit runs a bulldozer into one while doing a terrace or other dirtwork, despite OneCall and the big orange steel markers. Last one I saw caught fire (bad) but nobody was hurt (good) and the end result was a bunch of dirt that had been burned so hard it turned into a rock-like substance like volcanic pumice before they turned off the spigot.)

If it is their land, they should be allowed to do with it as they wish. I am not a big fan of eminent domain and of easements.

If the ladies don’t want it there, they will need to go around.

Don’t care for their politics but land rights…

    Tom Servo in reply to onlyabill. | July 17, 2017 at 1:37 pm

    The practice of land condemnation for public purposes, known as “eminent domain”, is explicitly authorized in the Constitution. Public carriers, ie utilities, have been recognized as qualifying for this from the very beginning of this country.

    So legally, there simply is no foundation for anyone to say “they need to go around”. No, they don’t need to. And the reason for this is easy to see – if this provision was not in there, then wealthy speculators could easily pick up key pieces of land and block all public projects until they were paid an exorbitant price.

    If you oppose the use of Eminent Domain, you oppose all highways, all utilities, all water systems, all public sewer systems – really, modern civilized life completely.

    That’s why the nuns have no case here.

      onlyabill in reply to Tom Servo. | July 17, 2017 at 2:08 pm

      I oppose uncompensated “taking”. You want to make use of my land? I should be compensated (fairly), not run over so a developer can have their way.

      I understand this is not that but it is still a taking that does not have any benefit to the folks it was “took” from.

      Not a fan of the high court’s position on this either…

        Milhouse in reply to onlyabill. | July 17, 2017 at 4:28 pm

        There is no such thing in this country as uncompensated taking, and nobody is discussing it. This is about compensated taking. Like you I’m not a fan, wish the constitution had banned it, and would support an amendment to do so; but the fact is that the constitution we have explicitly endorses it.

        I also wish the Supreme Court had narrowed the definition of “public use”, but even quite a narrow definition would include this case.

i hope the nuns don’t heat their buildings during the winter, because they’d be hypocrites if they do.

Nothing against nuns being environmental activists, but their activism is not a mission from God. Nuns don’t magically convert random virtue signalling activities into religious causes.

“It exploits the land to make a profit,”

Well, duh. What else is land for? These nuns pretend to believe in the Bible, which explicitly endorses exactly that. To paraphrase someone else they pretend to hold in high regard, the world was created for man, not man for the world.

I don’t see how a RLUIPA suit could possibly succeed

But the nation’s appellate courts have offered differing opinions on whether the law applies to eminent domain.

If WaPo says so I suppose it must be true, because it never lies, but I don’t see how. RLUIPA would certainly forbid compelling the nuns to agree to an easement, but that’s not what happens in the eminent domain process, and I don’t see how it can prevent the state from simply seizing the easement without their consent and giving them just compensation.

Here is an interesting story about Perry (Energy dept) visiting a National Lab in western PA.

Hurry up and put the pipeline thru, before these troublemakers get a ruling from the archdiocese that they CAN call their little thing a chapel.

Run LNG through the county in tankers and trains. See if they like that better.

Char Char Binks | July 18, 2017 at 2:58 pm

These nuns aren’t really Christian. They’re just lesbians who worship Gaia and intersectionality.