Saturday, August 16, 2008

On Blueberries and Hate

I love community events like the Keene Pumpkin Festival and have often carved my share of pumpkins to make that event a success. So, why don't I support the recent Richmond Blueberry Festival? You would think I would love it. I adore blueberry pie, fiddle music, and hanging out with neighbors on a hot August evening.

The problem I have is that the Blueberry Festival is an annual fundraiser for the private school run by the Saint Benedict Center of the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, a controversial religious group based in nearby Richmond, New Hampshire.

I recently went to the group's website and, frankly, I was more than a little shocked. While the New Hampshire Catholic Dioceses of Manchester doesn't recognize the group as a Catholic order, the group identifies itself on its website as a militant crusader for the "traditional" or "conservative" or "right-wing" Roman Catholic Church, in contrast to "the heresy of liberalism" that they claim has afflicted the Catholic Church for sixty to seventy years. More chillingly, they also say that they stand firmly in the tradition of those "Catholics who fought in the Crusades" and "approved and upheld the Inquisition."

They even argue for the restoration of theocratic "Catholic states" around the world and they explicitly oppose "religious liberty," the "destructive program of ecumenism," and the "dangerous policy of opening up to the world through dialogue." Furthermore, in several places on their website, they identify the Jewish people as the arch-enemy of their faith, quickly adding, "This is not racism, bigotry, or prejudice. It is a fact of history, which is very documented."

The Saint Benedict Center is not just hostile to Jews though. On its website, the group describes its central article of faith--that only traditional, conservative Catholics like themselves can find salvation at the end of their lives--and that everyone else will be tossed "into the eternal fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels." In its list of those who deserve eternal punishment and torment, the group includes "the Episcopalians, the Quakers, the Unitarians, the Christian Scientists, and the Jehovah's Witnesses" and even the "the careless housewife who missed Mass on Sunday" and didn't confess her sin.

Why? Because all of these people are guilty of "contempt or even hatred of God." Indeed, the website says that anyone who doesn't share the Center's beliefs are the "personal enemies of God." They even add that every homosexual, and everyone who supports gay rights, deserves to die.

Furthermore, if you believe the Boston Globe, the core group even includes holocaust deniers. In a 2004 article, the Globe quoted the Center's Brother Anthony Mary, saying "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."

Nope. I'm just not going to donate my money to this group so they can teach such lessons to children. The Catholicism I admire is the Catholicism of Saint Francis, Thomas Merton, Ceasar Chavez, Dorothy Day, and Bishop Oscar Romero. I would happily pay to go to a Blueberry Festival that raises funds for a school that teaches their message of peace, justice, and compassion. The Richmond Blueberry Festival is not that. It is not even close.

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