Issue Date: January 11, 2008
Mepkin monks to leave chicken business
By PATRICK ONEILL
Tired from a 10-month battle with an animal rights group, Trappist monks from South Carolinas Mepkin Abbey have decided to phase out their egg-production operation by mid-2009. Abbott Fr. Stan Gumula announced the decision in a media statement distributed in December.
The decision comes after a prolonged effort by Norfolk, Va.-based People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, to force the monks to stop an operation PETA says is cruel to chickens.
Gumula defended the abbeys 50-plus-year-long production of eggs as honorable work and did not acknowledge any wrongdoing on the part of the abbey, which uses an industry-wide standard where laying hens are kept in small battery cages, their beaks trimmed. The abbeys egg operation, which includes more than 20,000 hens and produces about 9 million eggs annually, accounts for about 60 percent of the monasterys earned income of about $140,000, Gumula told NCR last year.
While the monks are sad to give up work that has sustained them for many years, a hard and honorable work of which they are proud, the pressure from PETA has made it difficult for them to live their quiet life of prayer, work and sacred reading, Gumula wrote. The monks have also found it difficult to extend hospitality, which is their hallmark, under such conditions.
The December statement said the monks are looking for a new industry to help us meet our daily expenses and hope to remain in an agricultural business, which suits Benedictine tradition of work that fosters contemplation and care for the environment.
Gumula thanked all the people in the Charleston area who have so faithfully supported us by buying our eggs. We are especially grateful to the folks at [grocery store chain] Piggly Wiggly and the Charleston Air Force Base who have carried our eggs for over 40 years. We hope to have a product that they will be proud to feature as they have our eggs.
A year ago, a PETA representative posed as a retreatant at the monastery and secretly videotaped Mepkins chicken operation. PETA released the tape to media last February and PETA vice president Bruce Friedrich called the operation hell on earth for chickens (NCR, March 3, 2007).
Reaction to the abbeys decision to end its egg operation has been overwhelmingly critical of PETA, said Barbara Williams, editorial page editor of the Charleston Post and Courier, the local paper that has been following the story.
Since the abbey announced it was leaving the chicken business, the paper had received 48 letters, 44 in support of the abbey, Williams said. All of the people have eaten those eggs over the years. They didnt understand this at all, she said.
Among a page of letters printed in the Post and Courier was one from Gabriel Virella, who urged consumers to buy lots of the abbeys eggs in hopes that the monks would reverse their decision.
All of us, irrespective of where we stand in the political spectrum, should demonstrate to the monks and everyone else that PETA activists are a group of fanatics who have very little support. I hope that if we show enough support to the abbey, the decision to stop egg production will be reversed. Common sense should prevail and intimidation should not be tolerated, Virella wrote.
Friedrich told NCR he was pleased with the abbeys decision. Then he added that as a Roman Catholic with a special love for the Trappists and especially Thomas Merton, he is disappointed that Gumula continues to claim that he sees no immorality in what is, objectively, extreme cruelty to animals.
Patrick ONeill is a freelance writer living in Raleigh, N.C.
National Catholic Reporter, January 11, 2008
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