Faith

Roman Catholic archdiocese accuses city of Mission Woods of religious discrimination

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas and St. Rose Philippine Duchesne Catholic Church in Westwood are accusing Mission Woods of religious discrimination. Above, Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann knelt at the altar in St. Rose during a blessing and high Mass in January 2013.
The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas and St. Rose Philippine Duchesne Catholic Church in Westwood are accusing Mission Woods of religious discrimination. Above, Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann knelt at the altar in St. Rose during a blessing and high Mass in January 2013. jsleezer@kcstar.com

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas is accusing Mission Woods of religious discrimination for denying a request by St. Rose Philippine Duchesne Catholic Church to use a house in the tiny Johnson County suburb for meeting space and prayer groups.

Both the archdiocese and St. Rose filed a lawsuit Friday in federal court against Mission Woods, a city of 60 acres and 180 residents along State Line Road in northeast Johnson County. The lawsuit said that Mission Woods, a city so small that it doesn’t have any full-time staff, burdened the religious exercise of both the archdiocese and St. Rose by rejecting a plan to convert a single-family house it bought into additional space for the church.

St. Rose bought the house at 2216 W. 51st St. in 2015 from what the lawsuit described as a house flipper. The house’s interior had been gutted down to the studs, holes in the roof exposed the structure to the elements and animals roamed the attic, according to the petition filed in U.S. District Court of Kansas.

St. Rose, in the former Westwood Lutheran Church building, was blessed and dedicated by Archbishop Joseph Naumann in 2013. The church, at 5035 Rainbow Blvd. in Westwood, is immediately to the north of the Mission Woods house.

According to the lawsuit, St. Rose has grown to serve between 600 and 800 people weekly and bought the house on 51st Street, which is zoned for residential use, to use for meeting space, prayer groups and religious education.

The Mission Woods City Council twice denied the church’s land-use application.

Mission Woods Mayor Robert Tietze said Friday that he hadn’t seen the lawsuit and declined to comment. The city’s attorney was not immediately available for comment.

Minutes for the May 10, 2016, meeting of the Mission Woods City Council reflect misgivings from residents about traffic, parking issues and noise associated with the proposed use for the house. Dan Himmelberg, an architect presenting the church’s plans to the Mission Woods City Council, said the church would comply with city noise ordinances, according to meeting minutes. Himmelberg said that the house could hold up to 100 people at one time.

A majority of Mission Woods council members voted to reject the church’s plan at the May meeting and again on Nov. 17, when the church asked the city to reconsider.

The church’s lawsuit said Mission Woods has approved more intensive land uses by secular organizations, pointing to athletic fields for Pembroke Hill School and a parking lot for the University of Kansas Health System’s campus in Westwood.

“We are confident we will prevail in court, even though we are saddened that we needed to take this step,” said John Riley, chancellor for the archdiocese, in a written statement. “One of America’s time-tested virtues is its strong protection of religious liberty, enshrined in our federal and Kansas constitutions as well as many of our most cherished laws. We’re simply asking the court to reverse the City Council’s decision so that this relatively small church can start to make use of some needed additional space.”

Steve Vockrodt: 816-234-4277, @st_vockrodt

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