Cincinnati Enquirer / cincinnati.com
July 28, 2021
By Rachel Smith and Sharon Coolidge
Cincinnati residents will find out today if a controversial Roman Catholic order will be allowed to convert a grand historic home into a monastery.
A zoning official is set to determine the fate of the homein Cincinnati’s North Avondale neighborhood.
The religious order, Legionaries of Christ, has applied for permission to use the “Lake Como on Rose Hill” mansion built in 1903. If approved, the property would house seven to 10 priests and change the single-family home into a group home.
There has been a string of protests from residents who have cited the order’s past sexual abuse allegations. They’re also worried the rezoning may set a precedent for other houses in the neighborhood.
City staff, in an updated zoning report, recommended a conditional use of the home for a monastery be granted, but with three conditions:
- No more than 10 residents;
- No religious services at the residence;
- It can’t be used for any transitional housing or other group dwelling.
How we got here
Brother Ryan Carlin, a representative and member of the Legionaries of Christ, attended a recent North Avondale Neighborhood Association (NANA) meeting, where he said the order has looked at over 400 properties in Cincinnati over the last three years. The Lake Como mansion is the only home that met all of its requirements, according to Carlin.
According to Carlin, the home would not be used for any public ministry.
The request by the Legionaries says seven to 10 missionary priests would live in the home, which is for sale for $789,000. The market listing describes the six-bedroom home, with four bathrooms and three partial bathrooms, as “Lake Como on Rose Hill,” with stunning “Italianate architecture.”
City zoning officials had recommended the change be made. The officials’ reasoning: There would be no substantial change to the property and it would be used almost as if it were a single-family dwelling, the report said.
At a July 7hearing, many North Avondale residents claimed they were not given proper notice of the order’s request to move into the neighborhood. The Rev. John Bullock and Carlin said the order had sent notice to NANA and invited people to speak privately with them about any concerns. At the request of citizens, Hearing Examiner David Sturkey delayed the hearing to today at 10 a.m.
Who is opposed and why
Around 60 letters of protest have been submitted to city officials over the order’s permit request, with concerns ranging from the order’s record of pedophilia allegations and the idea that the home’s rezoning could lead to more group homes in the neighborhood.
“It doesn’t matter who, it’s the what,” said Jeff Herr, chair of the North Avondale Joint Strategic Development Committee, which acts as a liaison between neighborhood groups and government entities like The Port and Cincinnati city government.
“This is a permanent zoning change and sets precedent. It’s the fear of the unknown,” he told The Enquirer. “If one home is allowed to change, what’s to say others won’t follow?”
Others brought up the order’s controversial founder and recent members who have been linked to the sexual abuse of minors.
The Legionaries of Christ was founded in Mexico in 1941 by the Rev. Marcial Maciel, a priest who rose to prominence as a fundraiser and seminary recruiter – and later infamy following reports of his decadeslong sexual abuse.
In 1997, a group of former students accused Maciel of abuse, prompting an investigation by the Vatican that later resulted in his retirement and public rebuke. During his ministry, Maciel is now known to have abused at least 60 minors, according to a 2019 report by the Legionaries of Christ.
In that report, 33 members of the order were found to have committed abuse as priests or deacons, including 18 active members as of 2019. Of those 18, 14 priests do not have public ministry and the remaining four have pastoral work that excludes contact with minors. The report does not include the names of these priests.
“Will any of your residents be in any way connected to pedophilia?” Gerry Kraus asked Carlin at the NANA meeting. Carlin directed residents to review the emails the order has sent to the city addressing it.
In one email to the city, Carlin wrote: “Over the last several years, in response to its past failures, the Church and our Congregation have put protocols in place to create and preserve safe environments, including background checks, training, external audits, and transparency in reporting.”
He said each member is required to participate in Protecting God’s Children Training and must obtain a certificate of completion that is good for four years.
A revised staff report issued July 13 addressed opposition by the neighborhood, noting the city received over 40 letters of opposition from neighboring property owners.
The reports notes the letters focus on a variety of concerns primarily related to the applicant’s religious order and their beliefs, a lack of financial ability to maintain the building, misunderstandings that the applicants are requesting a zone change, parking capacity, and concerns that the conditional use will set a precedent for future group homes or multi-family uses in the neighborhood, the report said.
“While staff understands the concerns of neighbors, the focus of a conditional use analysis is a land-use analysis of the impact of the proposed use on surrounding properties. Religious beliefs and the ability to maintain the building are not zoning considerations and do not affect the Conditional Use standards as outlined above,” the report said.
Who supports and why
Legionaries of Christ has received some support as well, most notably from Cincinnati Archbishop Dennis Schnurr in a May 18 letter.
“The Catholic Church has a long-standing tradition of religious men or women living together as a community,” Schnurr wrote. “I am writing to confirm that the Legionaries of Christ are a recognized congregation of the Catholic Church who have been residing in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati since 2012.”
Some residents have supported the move. In a July 5 email, Charles and Shelley Dumoulin wrote that they had been able to meet with the priests and are “convinced they will be good neighbors.”
“One of the most striking aspects of our neighborhood is the diversity of people who live
here. It is clear from the signs in the yards and the people strolling on the sidewalk that
all are welcome,” Charles and Shelley Dumoulin wrote. “While the priests who hope to live at 3980 Rose Hill may not be related by blood, they form their own special family unit.”
A zoning hearing will be held today at 10 a.m. via Zoom. Zoning officials will decide whether the city will approve of the order’s permit request. If approved, the order would be allowed to officially purchase the property and establish a monastery in North Avondale.
That order can be appealed in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court.