Diocese Stalls Church Property Sale Over Nonprofit’s Care for Transgender Youth

A Michigan diocese’s property covenant prohibits buyers from supporting transgender youth, so the proposed sale of a shuttered Catholic church is at a standstill.

According to Fox 47 News, Children and Family Charities seeks to purchase the building of former Lansing parish, St. Casimir, that was closed a year and a half ago.

The nonprofit is a respected local organization that serves young people in a variety of ways, including providing care to transgender youth. According to City Pulse, the agency plans to use the property to open a youth shelter for up to 14 children who experience homelessness, as well as a community center and counseling operations headquarters.

Though neighbors in the area support the sale, and both the Lansing City Council and Planning Commission have approved the plans, the Diocese of Lansing is taking a strong stance of opposition. City Pulse reported:

“The Catholic Diocese of Lansing proposed a set of strict limits on the property that would forever prohibit the property from being use for, among other things, supportive services for transgender people or birth control distribution. Those restrictions, called a covenant, would be attached to the former church site indefinitely.”

David Kerr, the diocese’s communications director, told Fox 47 that the diocese will not sell to a buyer who opposes church teaching. He commented:

“‘Whenever the Catholic Church sells a pure building, a place of worship, potentially another entity, there’s always stipulations in that contract that makes sure the building does not contradict the ethical standards of the church…

“‘We just don’t believe that surgical and chemical intervention in these cases is the best practice for that person’s health and happiness. So if an organization or any organization wants to purchase a Catholic building to do that, that will be a huge stumbling block.'”

Healthcare professionals, including the American Psychological Association, disagree with the diocese’s assessment of best treatments for transgender and gender non-conforming people. These professionals advocate a transgender-affirming approach prompt better outcomes and reduce harm.

Nicole Hope, the Lansing Chapter Leader of Transgender Michigan, commented about the diocese’s decision:

“‘They could fall back to their religious tenets all they want, but basically what they’re saying is, “Yeah, we’ll rather let this property sit and be unused rather than helping out the community as a whole.”‘”

Nevertheless, legal experts said the restrictions may break both Michigan state law and Lansing’s Human Rights Ordinance. City Pulse reported:

“City Attorney Jim Smiertka said the city’s ordinance is unlikely to provide relief, but he noted a new property owner who doubts the legality of a deed restriction can ‘ignore’ it, triggering a court battle that would weigh the seller’s First Amendment rights with the buyer’s property rights.”

Many community and state leaders have stated their concerns about the proposed restrictions. The news article continued:

“Ingham County Health Officer Linda Vail called the proposed restrictions a ‘travesty’ and compared the proposed restrictions to historical covenants that have prevented people of color from living in certain areas of communities, resulting in disparate health and economic impacts.

“Race- and religion-based covenants on property deeds have a sordid history in Michigan. While the Fair Housing Act made such restrictions illegal, many of them remain on the books and on properties throughout the state. State Rep. Sarah Anthony introduced legislation in February that would allow those illegal property deed covenants to be eliminated statewide.”

Regarding the proposed restrictions for the St. Casimir property, Anthony commented, “It shows that we have some work to do to make sure we are an inclusive community.”

Lansing Mayor Andy Schor add his own comments, saying, “Our social service agencies work with everyone that comes to them, and this would be an excellent re-use of this empty space.” He called upon the diocese to reconsider.

Lansing City Councilor Patricia Spitzley described property covenants as “disappointing,” especially given their historical usage mentioned above. Spitzley added, “This proposal serves a critical need in our community and we must stand against any action that seeks to derail it.”

Robert Shine, associate director of New Ways Ministry, commented:

“Transgender and gender non-conforming youth are some of society’s most vulnerable. Care for them, like Children and Family Charities’ efforts to provide housing, is very much in line with the church’s social mission. The Diocese of Lansing’s opposition to caring for trans youth contravenes Catholic principles, especially when church teachings about gender identity remain unresolved. If the Catholic Church will not care for LGBTQ people, it should at the very least get out of the way of providers who do.”

–Beth Mueller Stewart, New Ways Ministry, May 26, 2021

4 replies
  1. Thomas Ellison
    Thomas Ellison says:

    Would the diocese back out of a real estate deal if the buyers planned to open a bar, or a casino, or any other enterprise that some might find unseemly ? The Church’s relentless obsession with any and all matters sexual is telling. Let them keep the property. No taxation involved, so costs are all upkeep. They will likely sell it quietly…when no one is looking…scruples aside.

  2. Loretta
    Loretta says:

    So better to leave kids on the street to face violence, sex trafficking, drugs, hunger, depression and suicide? May God have mercy.

    DON SIEGAL says:

    Diocese Stalls Church Property Sale

    What part of Matthew 25, The Final Judgement, does the Dioceses of Lansing not understand? “…I was sick and you took care of me…” [NRSV] among others. They scream church teaching, church teaching; what about Jesus’ gospel values? Do they not trump church teaching when they are at odds?

    Church teaching has been on the wrong side of science many times and will continue to do so because it originates from the human nature of the church.

  4. Rich Hensel
    Rich Hensel says:

    This is a disgrace. The building must be placed on the tax rolls, and the diocese should be fined for every infraction of the current municipal codes including nuisance ordinances. Once the building is sold they will need to pay taxes on their income. This is no longer a spiritual center it is a for profit venture with complete disregard for the health, welfare, and safety of the community. All three are reasons to prohibit them from profiting from their disgusting venture. It is High time that the decades of work NWM has done through the years be respected and advice acted-upon. SHAME


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