Angry Jesuit Blocks Entrance to Buddhist Temple

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The angry Leprechaun pictured is Fr. George H. Belgarde, S.J. Director of Our Lady of Martyrs Shrine in Auriesville, NY, who recently ordered a barricade built on Shrine Road, blocking access to the Western Supreme Buddha Temple and headquarters of the World Peace and Heath Organization adjacent to the Shrine. The barricade, built with tree trunks and a sawhorse, was adorned with a large black sign with the word CLOSED painted in red.

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This blogger received a call today from WPHO spokesperson, fellow Buddhist and friend Jennie Wong who had just returned to this area from another mission in China. She asked if I would meet her at the WPHO headquarters to help figure out why this barricade was blocking access to their property at 174 Shrine Road. This barricade not only blocks Buddhists it also prevents mail from being delivered and emergency vehicles from reaching the Temple.

I arrived before Ms Wong and decided to go to the Shrine Office and ask about the barricade. A pleasant receptionist greeted me and I introduced myself stating my business. She entered the next room informing the occupants and told me I could go right in. I saw a small man dressed in black talking with someone else and heard him state “…and he has a camera”. As I approached the next room he stated, “You can wait” and went on with his conversation for another five minutes. I was met by a visibly angry and generally disagreeable little man who I found out later was Fr.Belgarde, the Shrine’s Director. I introduced myself and asked about the barricade. He declined to answer any of my questions stating he would need to see my identification. I gave him my driver’s license which he stared at for about a minute. He then asked me for documentation stating I was a Buddhist. Apparently my physical appearance differed from what he assumed a Buddhist should look like. Another man wearing a red plaid shirt entered the room and stated, “I think I’m the person you want to talk to, I put up the barricade”. He was then silenced by Belgarde, still clinging on to my license, who told the worker he (Belgarde), was taking care of this. After refusing to answer any of my questions, it appeared that Belgarde was enjoying trying to antagonize me. I then asked for my license back and left the building.

Jennie Wong and three other members of the WPHO arrived and we all took another trip down to the Shrine Office only to be met outside by the Jesuit and maintenance worker. Once again they refused to answer any of our questions, referring us to their lawyers. Ms Wong tried reasoning with the Jesuit, asking him to remove the CLOSED sign as it looked as if the WPHO headquarters was closed and not just the road. The antagonistic Jesuit then ordered us to leave HIS property. We then took a trip to the NYS Troopers headquarters in Fonda. Trooper Matt Wheeler, a true professional, listened to the story, made suggestions and agreed to take a look at the barricade and talk to Belgarde. When we returned to Shrine Road we were greeted by a Montgomery County Sheriff who quickly entered his vehicle and moved it to further block the road when he saw us coming. He then exited his vehicle and was in the process of telling us to leave when Trooper Wheeler arrived explaining the other side of the story.

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The result of the debate between the law enforcement officers hinged on whether Shrine Road was a County road or a private road. It appears on maps as a County Road, in which case the barricade is illegal. Part of the original deed agreement was that an alternate access road would be built. While this road was built connecting the Temple with Ridley Road, it has not been graded or paved and does not appear on official maps, GPS or EMS response systems. The steep base of the road makes it difficult to travel without sliding.

What was once a harmonious relationship under the Shrine’s former Director Fr. Murray is now antagonistic and non-communicative under the direction of Fr.George H.Belgarde who appears to have an ax to grind.

Can’t we all just get along?

UPDATE:

Journalist Ed Munger Jr. wrote a great, objective article about this incident titled “Surprise barricade cuts Buddhist Temple access”. It is published in the April 8, 2013, edition of the Daily Gazette. The article can be found at http://www.dailygazette.com.

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Categories: Amsterdam, Human Rights, Law, Politics, WPHO | Tags: , , , ,

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27 thoughts on “Angry Jesuit Blocks Entrance to Buddhist Temple

  1. What is the issue? The property was transferred years ago with the written proviso that access from the Martyrs Shrine road would be a temporary easement only, if I am reading what you yourself have written correctly. Absent any other written agreement between the parties, why should the WPHO have a right to expect that the Martyrs Shrine would do anything other than enforce the agreement between the parties? The WPHO has certainly had plenty of time to bring their property into compliance and provide their own access. What am I missing?

    • It was unnecessary and capricious on the part of the Shrine to physically block the road in the manner they did. The previous Director encouraged access and there was an agreement to also allow the Catholics access to the Christ Statue in front of the Buddhist Temple.

      I realize you consider yourself a defender of the Catholic faith but even you must see how petty this action was. What harm was there in keeping the road open? If the Shrine administration felt there was a problem with the original agreement, it should have been handled in the courts.

      This was not the selfless act of a Jesuit Priest but by a narrow minded, revengeful man who by this action disgraces the catholic faith.

      What happens if there is a fire or medical emergency in the Western Supreme Buddha Temple and the fire trucks or ambulance cannot get in to respond?

  2. rgoing

    I am judging this strictly on the facts you presented. It was obviously contemplated from the very beginning that there would be an access road built by WPHO so that the Martyrs Shrine would not be required to maintain a permanent easement over their own property for the sole benefit of a third party. It is hardly a petty matter, as the Jesuits, by not enforcing their exclusive right to the land, would risk creating a permanent easement by their failure to enforce their exclusive right. How long does it take WPHO to build their own road? Why haven’t they done so? Why should the Jesuits have to take the matter to court? From what you’re saying, their right to block the road, which is really a driveway, is indisputable. It’s their land.

    • I never made that statement.

      Shrine Road is open to the public. The Western Supreme Buddha Temple is located on 174 Shrine Road. NYS Police are still researching whether or not it is officially classified as a County road. NYS also advertises the Shrine as a tourist attraction. From the Shrine website: “Visitors are welcome to drive or walk through the Shrine grounds, weather permitting.” Why should this apply to everyone and exclude Buddhists?

      The Buddhists did comply with the requirement to build an access road, but Shrine Road, open to the public cannot be considered a private road. There are no signs stating it is private property and everything else I could find states the contrary.

  3. rgoing

    My understanding has always been that Shrine Road is part of the Shrine property, maintained by the Shrine and therefore not a public highway. If I am correct, end of story. From what you’re saying about the new road, I can only conclude that this was the understanding of the parties when WPHO bought the building from the shrine. Just because a street shows up on a map does not make it a public road. Neither one of us has seen the legal documents creating the rights between the parties, so therefore, we both should shut up until we do. 🙂

    • “Neither one of us has seen the legal documents creating the rights between the parties, so therefore, we both should shut up until we do.”

      If seeing legal documents and having all the facts were prerequisite to discussing an issue, blogs, podcasts and radio talk shows like “The Show With No Name” would have very little content.

      You gotta love that First Amendment!

  4. diane

    Jerry, I find that the paper you are using with the crinkles makes it hard for me to read. I guess I am going to have to get new glasses this year. I like the paper, it is just not clear.

    As for the article, in an emergency, the fire trucks are going to take the path of least resistance and go where they want……As for the road they built, knowing it was to be a permanent road, why did they make it narrow and with gravel if there is an incline? Just curious.:) Would it not be best to just put a sign at the bottom that says cars this way for Temple? That should solve the temporary issue, and then just add a sign that says “Road closed to traffic” on the barricade?

    Glad you have a new article, nothing has been changed for months it seems. Great pictures as always.

    Happy Spring 🙂

    • Sorry about the “crinkles” Diane, unfortunately there is no way to change them. I picked this blog theme because it was optimized for pictures. You will be seeing more blog entires as the weather gets warmer.

  5. Going has it right. The bottom line is the Buddhists have not lived up to what they agreed to. Now they are whining about it, as they have so many other things. I wrote a piece for the Gazette several years ago, defending the Buddhists against the unfriendly way they were received in Amsterdam, but they have not helped their own cause by some of their actions. People like me, who were very supportive of the Buddhists when they first came, are finding it increasingly difficult to support them.

    When the road was open, it was open to all. Now that it is closed, it is closed to all. Is there some way that groups that are not Buddhists can get over and around the barricade? Maybe angels fly them over it or something? How are the Buddhists or anyone else for that matter being discriminated against? The Buddhists have their own entrance off of Ripley Road which they have had plenty of time to complete, and are legally obligated to create their own entrance.

    There is enough true victimhood and discrimination in the world without creating is where it does not exist.

  6. The Buddhist fulfilled their agreement by building an alternative access road off of Ripley Road.

    There are differences in cultural norms and expectations that affect the way the Chinese Buddhists are perceived and treated here. For the most part, that has not changed.

  7. Maybe a suitable access road could be made and paved for the Temple visitors to use, since the other one is not accessible due to the agreement from the county. Just a thought.

    • The alternate access road does need more work to make it passable by all vehicles. For over six years the two groups coexisted harmoniously. The barricade was put up just two weeks ago while the main contingency of Buddhist Monks were on their mission in China. They recently returned to find their main mode of access cut off. This was done without any conversation between the two parties. There were no other signs erected directing traffic to the Ridley Road entrance, just a large CLOSED sign.

  8. Jean

    “I want you to stop being AFRAID of other Americans, of other Religions, of other Classes, of speaking out. You’re Americans FIRST. ACT LIKE IT! If you don’t get it, ask an American who does.”
    -Unknown

    • “I think we have to own the fears that we have of each other, and then, in some practical way, some daily way, figure out how to see people differently than the way we were brought up to.”
      –Alice Walker

  9. Rob

    Why don’t they go over this FR. Belgrade’s head? I’m sure he must have a boss someplace.

  10. I think Fr. George H. Belgarde could have handled this in a better manner. It’s fine to make a claim that the WPHO should build their own road, but it’s another thing to impose your way without having a discussion or providing some type of advance notice. Why didn’t he provide a friendly reminder that he would like to close off the road if he believes it’s a private road? At least give the Buddhists a chance to work with him. If both sides do not agree, then they can agree to take the matter to the courts allow the legal decision of what should be done. Everyone can then happily co-exist. 🙂

    • Jean

      Rog, I believe there is two sides to every story. We do not know if Fr. Belgarde had or had not spoken with the Buddhists about this matter. I think both sides of the story should be brought forth before such rash action (ie. “going over Fr. Belgarde’s head”) be sought after. I do agree there should be an attempt on working this out through the legal system oppose to “tattle-tailing” to someones boss (thats just nasty).

      • “We do not know if Fr. Belgarde had or had not spoken with the Buddhists about this matter.”

        Jean, we do know. Belgarde refused several requests to meet with the WPHO or have any conversation concerning this matter or other concerns. My personal experience trying to communicate with the man also proved this to be true.

        As the Daily Gazette article points out, the barricade was not sanctioned by the Shrine’s attorney who was the contact person the WPHO was referred to regarding this matter.

        • Jean

          Gerald, Was the attempt to speak with Fr. Belgarde only done when the barrier was put up? If so then why did the Buddhist wait for it to come to this? There had to have been some form of either miss-communication or ignored attempts by either party that would have enticed Fr. Belgarde to enforce the barriers being placed. Fr. Belgarde actions, I really do believe, speak louder than words will. There has to have been some form of communication and probably lack of a response back in a timely manner that has brought this whole situation to a head. I do not believe that any human being would do such an act without due reason. Somewhere in the path the Shrine and the Buddhist took different directions. I understand the concern over such a barrier, but for The Shrine to have acted in such a way, there has to be more to the reasoning over it. I do no believe Fr. Belgarde planned to cause any harm, but to make a loud and bold statement to get someones attention.

        • Jean, according to the WPHO spokesperson Jennie Wong, there have been several attempts to meet with Fr Belgarde to discuss a variety of issues since he took over as Shrine Director. There was no response from Belgarde regarding any of the requests. The former Director Fr. Murray enjoyed a congenial working relationship with the WPHO.

          A registered letter sent March 12, 2013 from Belgarde to the WPHO asked the Buddhists use their access road exclusively as of April 1, 2013. There was no mention of erecting a barricade. As Bob Going pointed out, the registered letter was probably a legal maneuver on the part of the Shrine to prevent a permanent right of way that may be granted by the courts after proving seven years of continuous access.

          The letter was probably sufficient to prevent the granting of a permanent easement. In my opinion, the barricade was an unnecessary and hostile statement on the part of the Shrine.

  11. Jean

    Why didn’t the Buddhists finish the access road in the time frame given? Why should someone take another to court over something that was already established, agreed upon, and given a time frame to have completed? I think both parties are just as in the wrong as the other. There were time frames and conditions that were set and required to be acted upon in a timely manner. It seems that Fr. Belgarde is exhausted with waiting on something that should have been completed. His actions I feel speak louder than words would ever.

    • There was no violation of any agreement on the part of the WPHO.

      “May disagreements be overcome and a renewed spirit of reconciliation grow.”
      –Pope Francis

      • Jean

        Gerald, That is a very true and to the point quote by Pope Francis. 🙂

  12. Jean

    Gerald, then stating that the Buddhist did not get a notice of any sort (in the beginning) about lose of access to Shrine Rd is incorrect. They received a legal notice letting them know that as of April 1, 2013 they were to use their access road that they created. Why were they still using the Shrine Rd? At that point the Shrine has made it clear that Shrine Rd is no longer available for the WPHO to use. The Shrine had every right to place a barrier on their property to enforce a notice that was sent almost a month prior. In the end you just proved that the Shrine has done nothing wrong other than to enforce the legal document that was given to the Buddhists. Their actions may seem harsh, but in all actuality they have every right to do what they want with their property especially when NOTICE WAS GIVEN. There is no reason at this point the Buddhist should be using the Shrine rd at anytime. Once a legal document stating that their access had been cut off as of April 1 2013, there is no purpose for them to use the Shrine Rd and therefore a barrier should not have proved to be a problem if the Buddhists have complied with the regulations set forth in the legal document that they received on March 12 2013. To sum it up, the Buddhists need to finish their access road to Ripley Rd. They have known since they purchased the property that there was a time frame to when the access to Shrine Rd would be cut and they would have to use their own access road. Just because they haven’t finished the road and designed it the way they did is not the Shrine’s fault.

    • Jean,

      While I appreciate your comments and respect your opinion, you are now assuming facts that simply are not true. In doing so, you offer little more to the argument than already stated.

      I did edit one of your previous comments characterizing the actions of the WPHO through what a third party told you. I did not post the comment because it was defamatory and highly suspect.

      1. I stated the road was blocked without notice, this remains true.
      2. Shrine Road is open to the public. The World Supreme Buddha Temple is located on 174 Shrine Road.
      3. Blocking the road stopped mail delivery to the WPHO headquarters.
      4. Blocking the road creates a delay in response from police, fire and ambulance service that could cost lives.
      5. A registered letter from the Shrine Director is not a legal notice.
      6. The Shrine Director has no authority to issue an ultimatum or alter the original agreement without consent of both parties.

      No matter how you try to justify this action it remains unnecessary, hostile and damaging to the World Peace and Health Organization.

  13. charlie sum

    Any follow up on this story. It is interesting since I worked at the Shrine in the summers when I was in college and grad school

    ________________________________

    • Since the Shrine is run by Jesuits, it does not fall under the supervision of Bishop Hubbard who oversees the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, who would otherwise supervise Catholic Churches in this location. After contacting the Bishop, the Buddhists were given the name of the Provincial Superior in charge of Jesuits in this geographic location. The Provincial Superiors answer to a Superior General who answers to the Pope.

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