Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary

Damien Fisher/Union Leader Correspondent This Richmond compound is home to the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, a controversial religious community that Roman Catholic Diocese of Manchester is trying to bring into reconciliation.

The ultra-traditionalist Catholic organization located in Richmond, the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, had their appeal of Bishop Peter Libasci’s restrictions on them rejected by Vatican officials.

“Rome chose not to consider the appeal,” said Rev. Georges de Laire, the judicial vicar and vicar for canonical affairs for the Diocese of Manchester.

The Slaves, who operate the St. Benedict Center on Fay Martin Road, were ordered to stop calling themselves a Catholic organization in January 2019 under the terms of a letter sent to the group by the diocese.

The group was given an extensive list of prohibitions in the precepts letter, including a restriction against raising money for any Catholic entity, and a restriction on having any priest celebrate Mass or any of the Catholic sacraments at its compound. New Hampshire Catholics are warned to stay away from the group.

The leader of the group, Louis Villarubia, who goes by Brother Andre Marie, did not respond to a request for comment.

The group appealed the orders to the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, or CDF, the Vatican governing body that defends Catholic teaching. However, they missed the deadline for that appeal, according to de Laire.

“The decision from CDF says that it was rejected because it fell outside the statute of limitations,” de Laire said. “The decision holds them to the observance of the decree.”

The ruling means that the Slaves must now follow the same rules as all other Catholics, de Laire said. The dispute between the diocese and the Slaves goes back to the Slaves’ founding principles. The Slaves were started by the Rev. Leonard Feeney in the 1950s. Feeney held anti-Semitic beliefs and was for a time excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church.

Feeney also taught that there is no salvation outside the Catholic Church. While that is the official doctrine of the church, the way the Slaves interpret that teaching has put them on the wrong side of Rome, according to letters from the CDF to Villarubia.

The group’s strict adherence to the Catholic teaching of “no salvation outside the Church” is in conflict with the instructions it received years ago from the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith. The CDF’s undersecretary, Monsignor Giacomo Morandi, wrote in a 2016 letter that the group’s theological position was “unacceptable,” and not subject to further discussion.

The group does not allow for the possibility that non-Catholics can be saved through the grace of God, which goes against the full teaching of the church, according to Morandi’s letter.

Villarubia, like the Slaves’ original founder, Feeney, has a history of making anti-Semitic remarks, which has garnered notoriety for the Slaves. Villarubia has called Jewish people the “worst enemy of the Church.”

The Slaves in Richmond are a splinter group that left the Still River, Mass., Slaves organization after Feeney reconciled with Rome shortly before his death. The Slaves in Massachusetts are no longer connected to the Richmond group.

Talks are now underway between de Laire and the Slaves on how they can live in compliance with the bishop’s demands.

“We are now engaged in an effort to dialogue, to encourage them to observe the (2019) document,” de Laire said. “It is a complicated relationship that the diocese has with the Slaves and vice-versa.”

Since Libasci’s precepts were published and the Slaves lost the right to have a priest celebrate Mass at their compound, Libasci has arranged for a priest from Nashua travel every Sunday to St. Stanislaus Church in Winchester to celebrate a Mass in in Latin using the pre-Vatican II form of the liturgy.

This is at the same time that Keene’s Parish of the Holy Spirit, which oversees the Winchester church, has been forced to eliminate Mass in English in Winchester because of a lack of priests.

De Laire said there is hope that the rift between the Slaves and Manchester can be mended, and Libasci remains dedicated to serving them as bishop.

“The bishop remains hopeful that a solution can be identified,” de Laire said. “The bishop is committed to the Slaves and their supporters, as they are members of the church and he owes them ministry.”

In 2009, the group’s then-leader, Brother Francis Maluf, signed a letter of obedience to then Bishop John McCormack renouncing anti-Semitism, and several articles about Jewish people were removed from the group’s website. McCormack then allowed the group to bring in a priest of good standing to celebrate Mass for them in Richmond.

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