Radical Traditionalist Catholic Groups Sour Life in Peaceful New England Town
N.H. Town Split by Radical Traditionalists
By Susy Buchanan
'Rooted in Hatred'
Paul Anthony Melanson, a Catholic writer who lives in nearby Manchester, has been warning of the SBC's extremist rhetoric on his blog for years. In an interview with the Intelligence Report, Melanson said he first became aware of the SBC in 1990. What bothered him most, he said, was the SBC's wholehearted embrace of the thinking of the late Father Leonard Feeney, the founder of the Slaves. Melanson described Feeney as "a tremendously gifted writer and talented man, but also an individual who was on the verge of a nervous breakdown and began to say and do strange things."
Feeney founded the Slaves in Cambridge, Mass., in 1949, long before the Vatican sought to begin a reconciliation with Jews in the 1960s, during the liberalizing Vatican II reforms. He became known for the Jew-bashing sermons he delivered regularly on the Boston Common, like this 1953 rant: "Every Protestant hates the Jews. Harvard loathes Jews. That is why they got a new president — to keep the Jews away! I don't hate Jews for the reason he hates them. I hate them because they hate Jesus. They hate Jesus because they are Jews!"
Feeney was excommunicated that same year, and although he reconciled with the church shortly before his 1979 death, the Diocese of Manchester states that it "has no relationship" with the current Saint Benedict Center (neither does the official Roman Catholic Church). "Therefore," a diocesan official said recently, "faithful Roman Catholics are urged to not participate."
Yet the Slaves hotly defend Feeney and his beliefs from any criticism, echoing the anti-Semitism of their founder as they do.
In 2004, SBC prior Louis Villarrubia, who goes by the name of Brother Andre Marie, put it like this: "If anti-Semitism means opposing the Jews on religious matters, opposing the Zionist state in Palestine (as St. Pius X did), or opposing the Jewish tendency to undermine public morals (widely acknowledged by Catholic writers before the present age of PC [political correctness]), then we could rightly be considered such."
That same year, The Boston Globe quoted Brother Anthony Mary, whose real name is Douglas Bersaw, blaming the Jews for the murder of Christ and denying the World War II Holocaust: "There's a lot of controversy among people who study the so-called Holocaust. There's a misperception that Hitler had a position to kill all the Jews. It's all a fraud. Six million people… it didn't occur."
In 2005, at a radical conference hosted by a group called St. Joseph's Forum, Bersaw added that "the perpetual enemy of Christ is the Jewish nation" and said Jews should be dealt with using "blood and terror if it's required."
Today, Douglas Bersaw is Richmond's town moderator.
To Melanson, that is frightening. "The Saint Benedict Center cult is a house built on sand," he said. "Its philosophy is rooted in hatred. And this hate, which is anything but holy, will eventually consume those who embrace it." Melanson says he has visited the SBC compound several times over the years. On one such visit about a year and a half ago, he says he was told that SBC members were training in the use of firearms and Tae Kwon Do. "The fact that a religious community would be training in martial arts and weapons struck me as odd," he said, adding that he worries even more now as the situation heats up.
In a recent blog posting, the writer referred to his ultimate fear. "I just hope that we don't have to experience another Waco," he said, referring to the 1993 Texas standoff that left some 80 people dead, "before most people come to realize that something is radically wrong in Richmond, N.H."
Since last December, Richmond has become a rhetorical battleground, with parties squaring off on an Internet forum set up by the local paper, in letters to the editor, and in heated discussions at town and planning board meetings. At the crux of this most recent debate is the SBC's proposed expansion of its school, which currently has an enrollment of about 40 students. SBC wants to build a 10,320-square-foot, cross-shaped building on its 26-acre compound, which is set upon a wooded hill at the end of a narrow, winding dirt road.
Many residents argue that the building is too large for Richmond, that traffic on the road is already too high and doubling the school's capacity would require serious improvements at the town's expense. Some even fear that the Slaves really intend to draw children away from public schools in favor of their own, possibly crippling secular public schools by de-funding them in the process.
There are also concerns about damage to wetlands, the potability of wells on the SBC property, and local residential zoning laws that appear to prohibit private schools from operating in the area.
For their part, SBC members claim anti-Catholic prejudice is fueling their opponents' objections. In an extended argument on the local newspaper's "religious tolerance" Internet forum, they deny they are anti-Semites.
"The opposition in town to the Center's expansion is precipitated by silent bigotry," Steve Boscarino, an SBC member who is also Richmond's tax collector, wrote there on Jan. 23. "Do you think those who oppose us are going to publicly admit that? The cat would surely be out of the bag along with a big fat lawsuit.
"These folks, sadly, are dishonest and mean-spirited."
Then, as if to prove his opponents' point, Boscarino posted a series of comments attacking "Zionism." In one, on Jan. 31, he wrote that the "Zionist Agenda is a one-sided program aimed solely to advance the one world, one religion, one government, anti-Christian/anti-Catholic work of Godless men." SBC also offered its own official commentary on the Jews in a March newsletter. "Our Lord goes on to warn the Jews that they cannot remain bystanders," the newsletter said in part. "[T]heir lackadaisical attitude, their unwillingness to commit, and their damnable complacency will soon have a price."
At the same time, SBC added an essay to its website entitled "Are You Anti-Semitic?" Examining itself, the essay pronounced the SBC innocent of anti-Semitism. Then it went on to describe the Jewish Talmud: "The Talmud, a two-part collection of rabbinic commentary which defines Orthodox Judaism, is a mixture of authentic Jewish oral tradition and shocking blasphemy. It is filled with attacks against our Lord and our Lady, and is racist in the extreme."
The volatility of the debate has thrust it onto the pages of The Keene (N.H.) Sentinel in several articles, and also onto the airwaves in the form of a New Hampshire Public Radio story. On the radio, Brother Andre Marie, the prior, complained of religious intolerance. "Our religion claims we are the one true church founded by Christ and there's no salvation outside the Catholic Church. That's not something that's exactly politically correct," he said. "Some people seem to be under the delusion that there is a democratic process which allows people like them to prevent people like us from building buildings in the town of Richmond."
It didn't help the situation when SBC was profiled in a Winter 2006 Intelligence Report story on radical traditionalists that described it as a hate group. The article circulated widely among Richmond residents. One anonymous local even slipped it under tax collector Boscarino's door, much to his outrage. The SBC's reaction may not have helped its case. Officials there described the Southern Poverty Law Center, which publishes the Report, as an anti-Catholic "rainbow Gestapo" of "intolerant homosexual thought-crimes thugs who want to enforce their wicked lavender agenda on the world." They also issued a press release that sounded a lot like a call to martyrdom — or a new Crusade.
"Virulently standing up for Catholic doctrine and the Rule of Christ the King are becoming hate crimes now and Catholic men should not stand for that one bit," wrote Brother Andre Marie. "In the not-too-distant future, we may well be openly attacked in a bloody persecution, but until the time comes for such a show of fortitude and endurance, we must make another show of these virtues — and that is a free and open resistance to the irreligious death-spiral afflicting our American society, which can only be saved by Jesus Christ and His Church."