Dispute between Buddhists, shrine heading for trial


Recorder News Staff

FONDA -- The road spat between the Auriesville Shrine and the World Peace and Health Organization is going to trial.

In a scheduled appearance at Montgomery County Court Thursday, Judge Felix Catena set a pre-trial calendar and a November trial date, said court Clerk Timothy Riley.

Riley said the appearance was brief, less than 10 minutes, and no other matters were discussed.

A complaint was filed against the Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs, its director, Father George Belgarde and maintenance worker Larry Steiger in May by Yik Cheng, a religious worker of the Western Supreme Buddha Temple.

The dispute centers on a pair of access roads leading to a Jesuit retreat house the Buddhist group purchased from the shrine in 2006. Known as the Western Shrine, it's the headquarters of the Western Supreme Buddha Temple and the World Peace and Health Organization.

The purchase agreement included an addendum requiring the group to build its own access road to the property by 2007, which was completed by 2009 and named Friendship Road.

After it was built, the Buddhist group, and tourists visiting the shrine, continued to use both roads to access the former retreat house. In an interview with the Recorder last week, members of the WPHO attributed that to a "friendly relationship" with Belgarde's predecessor.

There has been little communication between the WPHO members and Belgarde since he became the shrine director, according to both parties.

On April 1, shrine employees erected a blockade on the Shrine Road just before the Buddha Temple, preventing anyone from accessing the it using the road.

The shrine employees apparently thought that the construction of the new access road meant the WPHO would no longer use the shrine's road for any reason, and the WPHO seem to have believed that both roads would continue to provide access to the temple.

The complaint filed in May seeks removal of the roadblocks and signs, and an order to prohibit the shrine from closing the road in the future.

The group also wants an apology, reimbursement of legal fees, and any other relief the court finds proper under the circumstances.

Neither WPHO Spokeswoman Jennie Wong nor Belgarde returned calls Thursday seeking comment.