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Pennsylvania Nuns Build Chapel in Middle of Cornfield in Effort to Block Pipeline

Catholic order files religious freedom lawsuit to keep Atlantic Sunrise pipeline off their land

By Harriet Sherwood

Catholic nuns in Pennsylvania are resisting plans to build a $3 billion pipeline for gas obtained by fracking through its land by creating a rudimentary chapel along the proposed route and launching a legal challenge, citing religious freedom.

photo of climate march Photo by Mark Dixon Catholic nuns in Pennsylvania have built a chapel and filed a legal challenge to stop the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline, which passes through their land. A local activist group, Lancaster Against Pipelines, has pledged to mount a vigil at the chapel if the nuns lose their case.

The Adorers of the Blood of Christ order has filed a complaint against the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) in a bid to keep the pipeline off their land. The nuns’ lawyers argue in court papers that a decision by FERC to force them to accommodate the pipeline is “antithetical to the deeply held religious beliefs and convictions of the Adorers.”

The Adorers, an order of 2,000 nuns across the world, have made protection of the environment central to their mission. The plan for the pipeline “goes against everything we believe in — we believe in the sustenance of all creation,” Sister Linda Fischer, 74, told the Washington Post.

The 183-mile Atlantic Sunrise pipeline is “designed to supply enough natural gas to meet the daily needs of more than 7 million American homes by connecting producing regions in northeastern Pennsylvania to markets in the Mid-Atlantic and southeastern states,” its website says.

It is an extension of the Transco pipeline, which runs more than 10,000 miles from from Texas to New York, and will carry gas extracted from the Marcellus shale region since fracking was permitted by the state.

photoname Photo by Adorers of the Blood of Christ A section of the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline is planned to run under land owned by
the Adorers. Earlier this month, the nuns dedicated an outdoor chapel at the site.

Williams, the company building the pipeline, wants to pay farm owners to allow it to dig up land, install the line, and return the land to farm use. It has offered compensation for lost crops and regular inspections to ascertain if the pipeline affects agricultural output.

About 30 landowners who refused to do a deal with Williams now face being forced to comply by a FERC order.

A section of the pipeline is planned to run underneath a strip of land owned by the Adorers in West Hempfield Township, Lancaster County, and leased to a local farmer.

Earlier this month, the nuns dedicated a makeshift outdoor chapel at the site, consisting of some wooden benches and an arbor surrounded by corn, with 300 people in attendance.

“We just wanted to symbolize, really, what is already there. This is holy ground,” said Sister Janet McCann.

If the court rules against the nuns, Lancaster Against Pipelines, a local activist group, has pledged to mount a round-the-clock vigil at the chapel.

In 2005, the nuns — whose order was founded in 1834 — adopted a “land ethic” upholding the sacredness of creation. It says the earth is a “sanctuary where all life is protected” and which must be protected for future generations.

Their lawyers have told the court that the nuns’ religious beliefs include “educating and addressing important issues of social and environmental justice, such as poverty, war, racism, and global warming that separates humans in a way that the Adorers do not believe mirrors their hope for the Kingdom of God.”

Their conviction that the earth is part of God’s creation “compels the Adorers to exercise their religious beliefs by, inter alia, caring for and protecting the land they own as well as actively educating and engaging on issues relating to the environment, including the current and future impact on the earth caused by global warming as the result of the use of fossil fuels.”

The Guardian
The Guardian UK, one of Britain's top daily newspapers, provides coverage of international environmental issues. Earth Island Journal is a member of the Guardian's Environment News Network.

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