Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

Nuns Head to Court to Defend Chapel Blocking Pipeline Route

Popular
Supporters of the nuns' fight to protect their farmland from the pipeline project gathered at their open-air chapel for a vigil on Sunday. Alex Geli / Twitter

By Jessica Corbett

A group of about 30 Catholic nuns in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, who constructed an open-air chapel on the proposed path of natural gas pipeline, are in court on Monday fighting efforts by the fossil fuel company trying to seize their land.

The sisters appeared at a U.S. District courthouse in Reading for an 11:00 a.m. hearing, following two prayer vigils earlier Monday morning.


About six months ago, they came up with the idea to build the chapel on their farmland as "a visible symbol of their commitment to the land," Mark Clatterbuck, of Lancaster Against Pipelines—which helped build the chapel—told the York Daily Record, a local paper.

"We have to pay reverence to the land God has given us," said Sister George Ann Biscan. "We honor God by protecting and preserving His creation."

Friday, seeking a federal injunction, the Adorers filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, claiming the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which regulates interstate natural gas pipelines, and its commissioner have violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, "by forcing the Adorers to use their land to accommodate a fossil fuel pipeline," the order said in a statement.

The nuns, the statement continued, "allege that FERC's action places a substantial burden on their exercise of religion by taking their land, which they want to protect and preserve as part of their faith, and forces the Adorers to use their land in a manner and for a purpose they believe is harmful to the Earth."

The complaint followed an emergency motion filed by the pipeline's developer, Tulsa-based Williams Companies, "in an attempt to take immediate possession of the property and get permission to deploy U.S. Marshals on the nuns and 'any third parties authorized by the sisters to be on the property,'" Sojourners reported.

The pipeline, called "Atlantic Sunrise," is slated to stretch across more than 180 miles of central Pennsylvania and link to the company's Transco pipeline, which carries gas from the Gulf of Mexico to the East Coast. FERC approved the project in February, and Williams began construction in early spring. The company has settled with more than 1,000 landowners impacted by the pipeline, and when attempts to negotiate with Adorers failed, it tried to seize the land through eminent domain.

Speaking of their battle with Williams, Sister Bernice Klostermann told YDR: "They've said we're just looking to get more money. We're not looking for money. We want to preserve this land."

The sisters belong to the Adorers of the Blood of Christ, which was founded in 1834 in the rural mountains of Italy. The order—which today has 2,000 members worldwide, with more than 200 in the U.S.—reached nearby Columbia, Pennsylvania, in 1925, and acquired 90 acres of farmland, which is now leased to local farmers. The order has made environmental protection a part its mission, and the sisters embroiled in this land battle with Williams seem to exemplify its motto: "You will lack nothing if God is with you. Be a woman of great courage."

Their chapel—nestled in a carved-out section of their cornfield—sits atop a bed of straw, and features an arbor as well as a pulpit composed of wood from fallen trees. Eight benches placed in front of the altar serve as pews. A rope full of colorful solidarity ribbons runs along the chapel's perimeter.

"People can come at any time of the day, and even night if they want to pray and they're free to walk around, to tie another ribbon on just to let people know that they've been here and that they are praying and supporting us," Sister Biscan said.

One supporter left a homemade wooden birdhouse at the site, with the inscription: "One day a family of beautiful choir singers will move in this house to help defend this chapel and to remind you of why you stand strong."

Sunday night, about 100 supporters gathered at the chapel for a public vigil sponsored by Lancaster Against Pipelines, according to local reports. "Everyone of good will is invited to join in this vigil as we continue to #StandWithTheSisters against corporate violation of religious, environmental and community rights," the group said Saturday. The vigil included a ribbon-tying ceremony, during which attendees added solidarity ribbons to the perimeter rope.

The fate of the sisters' cornfield chapel remains uncertain. As Washington Post reported Sunday:

U.S. appeals court judges have ruled inconsistently on whether federal law protects religious groups from eminent domain in such cases. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit, which covers Delaware, New Jersey and the part of Pennsylvania where the nuns reside, has yet to issue a ruling on the matter. Legal observers say a case could make its way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

However, even if the injunction is granted, it is unclear the degree to which the sisters' chapel will impact construction of the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline. According to a website managed by the developer, "Williams has already incorporated more than 400 route variations into the proposed route to address stakeholder concerns—and we are still making adjustments."

Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Much of Eastern Oklahoma, including most of Tulsa, remains an Indian reservation, the Supreme Court ruled on Thursday. JustTulsa / CC BY 2.0

Much of Eastern Oklahoma, including most of Tulsa, remains an Indian reservation, the Supreme Court ruled on Thursday.

Read More Show Less
The Firefly Watch project is among the options for aspiring citizen scientists to join. Mike Lewinski / Wikimedia Commons / CC by 2.0

By Tiffany Means

Summer and fall are great seasons to enjoy the outdoors. But if you're already spending extra time outside because of the COVID-19 pandemic, you may be out of ideas on how to make fresh-air activities feel special. Here are a few suggestions to keep both adults and children entertained and educated in the months ahead, many of which can be done from the comfort of one's home or backyard.

Read More Show Less
People sit at the bar of a restaurant in Austin, Texas, on June 26, 2020. Texas Governor Greg Abbott ordered bars to be closed by noon on June 26 and for restaurants to be reduced to 50% occupancy. Coronavirus cases in Texas spiked after being one of the first states to begin reopening. SERGIO FLORES / AFP via Getty Images

The coronavirus may linger in the air in crowded indoor spaces, spreading from one person to the next, the World Health Organization acknowledged on Thursday, as The New York Times reported. The announcement came just days after 239 scientists wrote a letter urging the WHO to consider that the novel coronavirus is lingering in indoor spaces and infecting people, as EcoWatch reported.

Read More Show Less
A never-before-documented frog species has been discovered in the Peruvian highlands and named Phrynopus remotum. Germán Chávez

By Angela Nicoletti

The eastern slopes of the Andes Mountains in central Perú are among the most remote places in the world.

Read More Show Less
Left: Lemurs in Madagascar on March 30, 2017. Mathias Appel / Flickr. Right: A North Atlantic right whale mother and calf. National Marine Fisheries Service

A new analysis by scientists at the Swiss-based International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) found that lemurs and the North Atlantic right whale are on the brink of extinction.

Read More Show Less
Nobody knows exactly how much vitamin D a person actually needs. However, vitamin D is becoming increasingly popular. Colin Dunn / Flickr / CC by 2.0

By Julia Vergin

It is undisputed that vitamin D plays a role everywhere in the body and performs important functions. A severe vitamin D deficiency, which can occur at a level of 12 nanograms per milliliter of blood or less, leads to severe and painful bone deformations known as rickets in infants and young children and osteomalacia in adults. Unfortunately, this is where the scientific consensus ends.

Read More Show Less

Trending

Data from a scientist measuring macroalgal communities in rocky shores in the Argentinean Patagonia would be added to the new system. Patricia Miloslavich / University of Delaware

Ocean scientists have been busy creating a global network to understand and measure changes in ocean life. The system will aggregate data from the oceans, climate and human activity to better inform sustainable marine management practices.

EcoWatch sat down with some of the scientists spearheading the collaboration to learn more.

Read More Show Less