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