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Monday, May 20, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Nuns Cry Foul Over Brewery Permit Denial

CHICAGO (CN) - An Illinois Zoning Board engaged in anti-Catholic discrimination when it denied a permit to a monastic order that wants to build a brewery on its rural property, the order's nuns claim in court.

In a complaint filed in Rockford, Ill. Federal Court, the nuns of the Fraternité Notre Dame say they've been the frequent target of discrimination ever since they first applied for a conditional use permit for a 95-acre property they own in McHenry County.

In 2005, the year it applied for that permit, the order sought and was granted permission to build various buildings to further its religious mission, including a church, a monastery, a seminary, a convent, a retreat center, a bakery, a printing press, and a cemetery.

The petition was rabidly opposed by certain members of the community, who questioned the order's association with the Roman Catholic Church. Fraternité Notre Dame is a Traditional Catholic order that does not abide by the reforms of the Council of Vatican II, and is not recognized by the Vatican.

It was also questioned as to whether the order's members were French or U.S. citizens.

"Opponents of the petition commented that they would make the 'penguins' (a derogatory reference to Catholic nuns) want to move back to Chicago, and that the cassocks and habits worn by the Order's priests and nuns would make them 'easy targets in their gun sights,'" according to the complaint.

Shortly thereafter, vandals desecrated religious statues of Jesus and Mary on the property, by spray-painting "go away," and "KKK" on and around the figures and blackening the Virgin Mary's face.

Unbowed by such behavior, in Sept. 2014, the order approached the McHenry County Zoning Board, seeking to amend its permit to add a barn with a commercial kitchen to make wine and brew beer, a school, a nursing home, and a gift shop.

"Religious orders have brewed beer and made wine at monasteries for millennia. It is a religious practice with deep historical roots which, today, allows some religious orders to generate a modest amount of income to support their ministry.

"Fraternité Notre Dame sought permission to brew beer and make wine not to engage in a large-scale commercial enterprise, but as part of and in service of its mission," the order claims.

Once again the order again ran into opposition for not being recognized by Rome, and members of the community alleged speculated that the proposed school would raise crime rates in Marengo "due to the bussing in of 'troubled youth' from Chicago's Austin neighborhood."

The order's U.S. headquarters are based in Austin, a predominantly black neighborhood on Chicago's West side.

This time, however, the opposition proved persuasive, and in Sept. 2015, the Zoning Board denied the order's petition.

In its Dec. 16 complaint, the order says the denial was discriminatory, as there was no reasonable traffic or environmental concerns to block its request.

The Chairman of the Zoning Board appeared to agree, observing that "since I've been on the board we've had 25 churches in the county that have been proposed, not one of which has been turned down, none of which have ever been restricted as to what type of events they could have on their church grounds," the complaint says.

The lawsuit notes that other nearby religious organizations have wineries, retreat centers, and gift shops similar to the ones proposed by Fraternité Notre Dame. And its proposed nursing home and school would be smaller facilities than others already located in McHenry County.

Fraternité Notre Dame seeks an injunction directing the Zoning Board to approve its use permit, and a judgment finding that the original denial violated its Equal Protection rights.

It is represented by Joan Ahn with Burke, Warren, MacKay & Serritella.

McHenry County Department Director Dennis Sandquist told Courthouse News, "I have no comments." Norman Vinton, Chief of the State's Attorney's Civil Division, said he had not yet been served with the lawsuit.

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