Religious order petitions Supreme Court over gas pipeline

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Long pipes in refinery during sunset. Credit: Shutterstock

An order of religious sisters in Pennsylvania has petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to stop the drilling of a government-sanctioned gas pipeline through the religious order’s property. The Adorers of the Blood of Christ claim the plan is a violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).


“These nuns have every right to tell the government and its corporate partners to stay off the convent’s land and respect the nuns’ right to exercise their religious beliefs about the sacredness of God’s creation,” John Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute, said in a statement Nov. 28. The institute has filed an amicus brief on behalf of the order.


In the petition to the Supreme Court, Adorers of the Blood of Christ et al. v Federal Energy Regulatory Commission et al., filed in October, the sisters asserted that the construction of a high-volume natural pas pipeline on their land by invoking eminent domain violates their religious beliefs and conscience by “forcing them to use their own land to facilitate a fossil fuel pipeline that will harm the earth.”


The religious sisters cited Pope Francis’ environmental encyclical Laudato Si in their press statement, “Living our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork is essential to a life of virtue; it is not an option or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience,” the quote the pope as saying.


Lawyers for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission objected that the sisters had not previously based their objections to the plan on religious freedom grounds, and the Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Company maintained that there is insufficient evidence that the pipeline violates the sisters’ religious beliefs.


The Atlantic Sunrise pipeline would run directly through the religious order’s land, which includes a nursing home, convent, and a chapel.


The Adorers of the Blood of Christ have opposed the construction of the pipeline accross their farmland since July 2017, when they dedicated an outdoor chapel on their property in the path of the fossil fuel pipeline.


“When the Adorers established a presence here in Columbia in the 1920s, working the land was part of their daily existence ... This ground is seeped with their love and their sacrifices. Our spirits and our hearts are permeated with their legacy of responsible stewardship for this land,” Sister Janet McCann said at the chapel’s dedication.


A priest was arrested for protesting the pipeline being built on the property in 2017. Father Bill Pickard was charged with defiant trespass along with five other Catholic participants in the peaceful protest.


The Adorers of the Blood of Christ were founded as a teaching order in Italy by Saint Maria De Mattias in 1834, and went on to found nearly 70 schools. The order expanded to the United States in the late 19th century, eventually establishing a ministry to assist the elderly in Pennsylvania in 1925.


St. Maria De Mattias was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 2003.


“When St. Maria DeMattias founded our congregation in 1834, she spoke of our call to help ‘bring about that beautiful order of things,’” Sister McCann said.


“As Adorers, we believe that ‘beautiful order’ happens when we reverence and respect creation. We ‘bring about that beautiful order of things’ when our decision-making and our influence honor our interconnectedness and oneness with all creation.”

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