Feb 28, 2017

Richmond religious sect rejects 'hate group' label

Sisters Marie Gabrielle, Marie Perpetua and Maria Therese outside the chapel after Mass on Saturday at the St. Benedict Center in Richmond. - See more at: http://www.unionleader.com/Richmond-religious-sect-rejects-hate-group-label#sthash.VZes8LK5.dpuf
New Hampshire Union Leader
February 25. 2017

The head of a New Hampshire religious organization that the Southern Poverty Law Center lists as a "hate group" rejects that label and accuses the Alabama-based civil rights group of being "a threat to American liberties."

Brother Andre Marie, whose real name is Louis Villarrubia, is the prior of the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Richmond. The group considers itself traditional Catholic; however, the Diocese of Manchester does not recognize it.

Brother Andre's group is listed under "radical traditional Catholicism" on the left-leaning Southern Poverty Law Center's "Hate Map" for 2016, released Feb. 15.

It describes the group's religious beliefs to include "anti-Semitism, angry opposition to homosexuality and a desire to convert others to their hard line views."

"We categorically reject" being called a hate group, Brother Andre said Thursday. He contends the law center is the hate group because "they profit from hate." And he said the law center specializes in profiling people or organizations as "bogeymen" to scare its liberal base into donating.

"He can say what he likes," said Mark Potok, senior fellow at the Montgomery, Ala., law center. "He's the leading anti-Semite there."

Immaculate Heart and its St. Benedict Center, where the brothers and sisters live, and its Immaculate Heart Media, are all a part of the Richmond complex. Immaculate Heart Media, which prints the material that the Slaves and St. Benedict Center promote, also is listed as a hate group by the law center.

Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary also operates a school for about 35 to 40 students.

The organizations are not recognized by the Roman Catholic Church as a religious group, according to Thomas Bebbington, director of communications for the Diocese of Manchester. However, the Diocese since 2008 has allowed an ordained priest to say Mass and hear confessions there.

"It's definitely a conundrum," Bebbington said. "On the one hand, the Diocese does not want to give recognition to the group which is in direct conflict with Catholic teachings. On the other hand, do you deny the sacraments to individuals who want to be part of the church?"

The Rev. Georges De Laire, vicar of canonical affairs for the diocese, said Immaculate Heart and the St. Benedict Center operate as separate entities.

The Most Rev. Peter A. Libasci, bishop of Manchester, is committed to the "spiritual welfare of all Catholics and seeks to provide for their spiritual development," De Laire said in explaining why a priest is allowed at the site. It was because of the bishop's concern for the souls of the individuals attending services there that a priest was approved, he said.

Slaves of the Immaculate Heart also has been accused of being Holocaust deniers.

In 2004, a member of the Richmond group, Brother Anthony Mary, whose real name is Douglas Bersaw, was quoted in the Boston Globe blaming Jews for the murder of Christ and denying the Holocaust.

"There's a misperception that Hitler had a position to kill all the Jews," he told the Globe. "It's all a fraud. Six million people ... it didn't occur."

Bersaw once was Richmond's town moderator and served as a Republican member of the New Hampshire House of Representatives.

The group, Potok said, refers to Jews as "the enemies of God's people." He said it is comprised of Catholics who reject Vatican II, the 1962-65 Ecumenical Council that modernized the church and ended the Latin Mass.

Brother Andre said his group is comprised of Catholics who adhere to traditional faith and celebrate the Mass in Latin. He describes Slaves of the Immaculate Heart as countercultural but committed to Catholicism, worshiping in the traditional way.

He denies they are anti-gay but says homosexual behavior is "objectively immoral." He cited the Bible as describing homosexuality as being wrong.

If homosexuals came to the center, he said the group would "help them overcome a sinful life."

The St. Benedict Center was founded by Father Leonard Edward Feeney, a Jesuit priest who advocated the strict doctrine of no salvation outside the Church. In 1949, Feeney and several other instructors were kicked out of Boston College for preaching their beliefs. Feeney was excommunicated in 1953, after he broke with Rome, but he was restored as a Catholic shortly before his death, Bebbington said.

After his death in 1978, the religious organization split, with the most radical faction moving to Richmond, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.


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