August 4, 2007
For a while now I have been wanting to address you regarding the controversy which has surrounded Saint Benedict Center’s plans to erect another building on our property. Recent events have reminded me that it is necessary to do this sooner rather than later.
With this letter I extend an olive branch to all our neighbors, whether you are in favor of our building project, against it, or are indifferent to it.
First, I would like to say that I’m very sorry that our attempt to build a 10,300-square-foot school and chapel has occasioned bad feelings in the community. This was certainly not our intention. We have lived at peace in this town for almost twenty years now and we intend to remain here in peace.
Nevertheless, there is something else at work. In an effort to oppose our project, some folks have tried to “stir the pot.” They have made very ugly and defamatory accusations regarding SBC and the families who worship here. Even friendly bystanders who do not practice our religion have been caught in the crossfire.
We are very sorry that some Richmond residents have had their peace disturbed, but we had no way of knowing that a handful of opponents would resort to these tactics.
The situation has escalated to the point that a nationally-known organization, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), has run an article on it in their publication, Intelligence Report. This article has been circulated around town. I have already responded to it on our web site (www.catholicism.org), but I will make some brief comments on it here.
The SPLC is well known for profiling organizations as “hate groups.” They started during the civil rights movement, by going after racist groups like the KKK and similar organizations. But then they moved on to other territory, making a lot of money in the process. As part of their multi-million-dollar annual business, they label many conservative, pro-family, and pro-American organizations as intolerant extremists. They very often create controversy where there is none, as when they portrayed the movie series, “The Lord of the Rings,” as racist propaganda. Americans on both the political left and the political right have questioned the SPLC’s credibility.
The story they ran on SBC included serious misquotations, non-factual statements, and untruthful rumors. A layman who comes to our chapel was accused of making the despicable statement that “Jews should be dealt with using ‘blood and terror if it’s required.’” This is a libelous claim. The vile quotation was fabricated.
The article also reported the unfounded rumor that people “heard the sound of automatic weapon fire at SBC on a regular basis.” SBC is a monastery, not a shooting range; we have no automatic weapons. This claim is untrue, as are numerous others calculated to make us look like a dangerous cult.
What got left out of the article is what we actually do in the community, like visiting the elderly in nursing homes, helping disabled neighbors with their firewood, sponsoring a Boy Scout troop, teaching children in our school, training altar boys to serve Mass, and entertaining people with wholesome, family fun at our annual festival. As a service to the community, we also typeset and helped publish two books on Richmond’s history: The Town in the Forest: Life Story of Richmond, New Hampshire, by Neith Boyce and The Only Mill in Town: The Story of the Pail-Making Industry in Richmond, New Hampshire, by Richard A Martin. We rendered these services for free.
Many of you have visited here and know us, or you know families who worship here. You know that these defamatory claims portray us in a very false light — as we were able to show in the detailed refutation on our web site. It is a terrible shame that outsiders based in Alabama, people who do not know us and who made no effort to interview us for their article, have attempted to stir up trouble in our small New Hampshire community.
That said, we bear no grudge against those who were quoted in the article. Neither do we hold it against people if they oppose our building project for one reason or another. Contrary to what the article claimed, we don’t want to chase people out of town. Rather, we want to remain your good neighbors. Here in Richmond, as everywhere else, there are bound to be disagreements of one kind or another; but that does not prevent us from being kind, civil, and neighborly to each other. And if we try to interest you in our Catholic religion, it is out of Christian charity, not out of hatred.
To those we haven’t met: We invite you to get to know us. Some folks may attempt to give this letter their own spin, causing doubt and confusion about who we are. This makes it even more helpful for you to get to know us personally. This year’s Blueberry Fiddle Festival would be a great opportunity for us to enjoy each others’ company. We hope to see you soon!
Brother André Marie, M.I.C.M.
Your neighbor, and the Prior of SBC