An energy company’s plan to construct a major gas pipeline through a small Pennsylvania town is running into some unlikely opposition: a small order of Roman Catholic Nuns who are fighting back in the most nun-like way you can imagine.
The Order of the Adorers of the Blood of Christ has been a presence in the West Hempfield, PA, area since the 1920s. Earlier this month, a federal judge ruled that the Williams Partners energy company could use a 50-foot portion of the order’s land to construct a 42-inch-diameter pipe—part of the company’s Atlantic Sunrise pipeline—to carry gas from the state’s Marcellus region through to South Carolina.
For the Adorers’ sisters, however, the presence of a pipeline on their property is a non-starter.
“This just goes totally against everything we believe in,” Sister Linda Fischer told the Washington Post. “We believe in sustenance of all creation.”
In response to Williams’ court-ordered permission to condemn the land for an easement, the sisters have constructed a small, makeshift chapel—they call it an “arbor” since it hasn’t been officially consecrated by the local Catholic diocese—in an effort to demonstrate their commitment to the land, and their faith.
“[The pipeline] exploits the land to make a profit,” Sister Bernice Klostermann explained to the Philadelphia Inquirer.
According to the Post, some 300 worshipers attended the chapel’s opening ceremony on July 9, with more people stopping by each day to visit, pray, and show their support for the sisters’ cause.
According to Williams Partners, the company first approached the sisters with a generous monetary offer to use their land. When the nuns refused, the company turned to the courts.
Speaking with the Post, a representative for the company pointed out that Williams Partners wouldn’t be taking the land from the Adorers. Rather, they’d be laying their pipeline several feet below ground, then covering it up, so the sisters could continue farming.
But, for the nuns, the principal of a pipeline going through their land is simply unacceptable.
“We just wanted to symbolize, really, what is already there: This is holy ground,” said Sister Janet McCann told the Post.
It’s that argument—that theirs is “holy ground”—is at the heart of the sisters’ legal battle, which they filed in Federal appeals court on July 14.
In a blog post on their website, the order explains:
The Adorers, whose religious practice includes protecting and preserving creation, which they believe is a revelation of God, allege that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and its Commissioner, Cheryl La Fleur, have violated a federal law, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, by forcing the Adorers to use their land to accommodate a fossil fuel pipeline. Such use is antithetical to the Adorers’ deeply held religious beliefs.
The case is set to go before a U.S. District judge on Monday. Should Williams Partners be granted immediate permission to seize the land, Mark Clatterbuck, who leads a local grassroots group opposed to the pipeline, told the Post that his activists will descend on the site of the Chapel for a 24 hour vigil to prevent the company from continuing their construction.