Catholic group denied permit for St. Pio chapel sues Michigan town

St. Pio of Pietrelcina / Alexey Gotovskiy/CNA

Washington D.C., Jun 4, 2021 / 07:58 am (CNA).

A Catholic organization is suing a Michigan township after it was denied permission to build a chapel and prayer trail dedicated to St. Pio of Pietrelcina on land it already acquired.

The group, Catholic Healthcare International (CHI), is alleging that Genoa Township, located in Livingston County, Michigan, is violating its First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The group had wished to build a 95-seat chapel, along with a Stations of the Cross path and an image of Santa Maria delle Grazie, on land that they acquired from the Diocese of Lansing.

The township board rejected Catholic Healthcare International’s plans by a 5-2 vote on May 3.

The American Freedom Law Center filed the lawsuit on behalf of CHI. Robert Muise, the center’s co-founder and senior counsel, said in a statement that places of worship, “such as CHI’s proposed St. Pio Chapel and prayer campus, hold a special place in America.”

“The Township’s rejection of our clients’ right to religious worship on CHI’s private property is not in keeping with our proud tradition of accommodating people of faith, and, in fact, it violates our clients’ fundamental rights protected by the United States and Michigan Constitutions and federal statutory law,” Muise stated.

According to the lawsuit, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan on June 2, the proposed chapel, parking spaces, and prayer trail did not violate any of the township’s zoning laws. The Stations of the Cross, the suit claims, would not be visible from the street.

The suit claims that CHI only planned on developing about five acres of the 40-acre property, and that efforts would be made to preserve the “peaceful, rural nature” of the area.

“The Township’s denial of the Final Submission was not based on any measurable, objective criteria,” the lawsuit stated, alleging that it was instead “based upon amorphous, subjective considerations that were contrary to the facts and which permit an anti-religious/anti-Catholic animus to drive the Township’s decision.”

According to the Livingston Daily, several residents had complained about more traffic coming to the area if the chapel were to be built. “I think it’s a wonderful project,” the town’s treasurer Robin Hunt said, as reported by the Daily. “I just think it’s in the completely wrong area. This location is not a good fit for this.”

The group also said that the construction of the chapel and prayer trail was “essential” to its work and mission.

“CHI’s objective is to be a model of Christian healthcare delivery and medical education based on the ‘Work’ of St. Padre Pio: a ‘Clinic for the Soul’ for all in need; and to provide training and support to professionals of existing and developing hospitals, healthcare systems, medical schools, clinics, and physician practices desiring to participate in the fullness of its ministry,” the lawsuit stated.

“In the example of St. Padre Pio, this work is first built upon an extensive foundation of prayer by faithful Catholic supporters. Accordingly, prayer is an essential part of—indeed, it is the very foundation for—the important work of CHI. Accordingly, the construction of the St. Pio Chapel and prayer campus, as set forth in this Complaint, is essential to the work of CHI.”

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