We are often asked about our community’s status in the Catholic Church. The following points should help to clarify this.
Our congregation is a private association of the faithful. Our chapel is an approved house of worship of the Diocese of Manchester, with a priest licitly offering Mass here and enjoying the proper faculties to hear confessions as well.
As baptized Catholics who hold the Catholic faith in its entirety, we are in communion with the Holy Father, Pope Francis. We pray for him, as well as for our local bishop, in all of our Masses.
Our right to defend and promote our doctrinal position — the so-called “strict interpretation” of the binding Catholic dogma, “outside the Church there is no salvation” — has been affirmed by those in authority in the Church. This includes our current Holy Father, while in his former capacity as Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. (For documentary proof of this claim, see the letters linked further down[*] on this page.)
For the professional opinion of a competent canon lawyer on whether or not a loyal disciple of Father Leonard Feeney can be a Catholic in good standing, please see the linked PDF file of a letter from Mr. Peter Vere, J.C.L.
Some helpful considerations on our status are contained in the following six points. These touch upon Father Feeney himself, our Richmond, N.H. community’s Catholicity, and the hierarchy’s view of our doctrinal position:
- Father Feeney died in the good graces of the Church, without even the slightest ecclesiastical censure remaining upon him. He did so without having changed his position on “no salvation outside the Church.” In fact, he made no doctrinal reversals of any sort. Knowing that he maintained his dogmatic “hard line,” Church officials lifted “any censures which may have been incurred” in 1972. This is minutely documented in the books Harvard to Harvard and They Fought the Good Fight, neither of which was published at the Center in Richmond.
- The Diocese of Worcester now has three religious houses whose members believe and actively defend exactly what we do regarding “no salvation outside the Church.” Additionally, they all defend Father Feeney’s good name. Those three houses are St. Benedict’s Abbey, St. Ann’s House, and Saint Benedict Center. In 2007, Abbot Gabriel Gibbs, O.S.B., the Abbot of St. Benedict’s Abbey, wrote a book defending Father Feeney, Harvard to Harvard. Until his death in March of 2010, Abbot Gabriel remained a Benedictine Abbot — a prelate of the Catholic Church — in good standing.
- Brother Thomas Mary Sennott, who was one of Father Feeney’s original followers, wrote a defense of our doctrinal position in his book, They Fought the Good Fight, which was published in 1987. Besides Brother Thomas Mary’s narrative and annotations, the book has long excerpts from Father Feeney’s most pointed writings on “no salvation outside the Church.” Significantly, the book bears the Imprimi potest of Bishop Timothy J. Harrington, the Bishop of Worcester. (His Excellency granted this on January 15, 1987, thus indicating that the volume is free of doctrinal or moral error.) The book is now out of print, but is available on Amazon.com (ISBN #0-9620994-0-6) is back in print. Brother Thomas Mary, who is now deceased, had a web site that a friend of his now keeps on line.
- A well-known “Feeneyite” named Charles A. Coulombe was created Knight Commander of the Order of St. Sylvester by Pope John Paul II on 1 October, 2004. In other words, a “Feeneyite” — and a friend of our community — is a Papal Knight. Mr. Coulombe is a well-traveled and brilliant scholar and historian. Along with several other books and numerous articles, he wrote a much-acclaimed history of the popes, Vicars of Christ. His lecture circuit includes Oxford, Cambridge, and Edinburgh Universities. Mr. Coulombe spoke at our annual conference in 1998. His talks were entitled “Laureate of Little Towns: Fr. Feeney’s Place in Catholic Literature” and “London is a Place: Father Feeney and the Conversion of England.”
- Our long-time chaplain, Father Michael Jarecki, is a priest of the Diocese of Ogdensburg, New York. He is in good standing with his own bishop and retains faculties to hear confessions. He is also an heroic, tough, and dedicated old priest who, despite failing health, keeps us fed with the Bread of Life and hears our confessions. He is now 93 years old.
- We are Catholics, members of the Catholic Church in good standing. We, in Richmond, have never made a claim of having canonical status as a religious house of the Diocese of Manchester. (The two realities — membership in the Church and canonical approval of a religious house and chapel — are quite distinct. Any Moral Theologian or Canon Lawyer can testify to this elementary bit of Catholic erudition.) Even before our chapel’s recent approval, Father Edward J. Arsenault, then diocesan Moderator of the Curia, stated, “I have no knowledge that any member of the St. Benedict Center has been separated from the communion of the Church or formally declared to be in schism.” This quotation comes from a letter we have on file, dated October 16, 2003.
Below are links to three graphic files. They are all on letterhead from the Diocese of Worcester, MA, where our Center was located prior to coming to the Diocese of Manchester, NH, in 1989. They demonstrate the good relations that existed between us and His Excellency Bishop Harrington of Worcester, MA. (To preserve the letterhead and the signatures, the files are in .jpg format, not html files. They may take some time to load and will open in another browser window.)
First letter: From Father Lawrence A. Deery, J.C.L. to Mr. Gene Cameron. It affirms that the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary are “indeed very much Catholic,” while not enjoying “regular” status in the Church; that is, we have no formal canonical recognition. Father (later Monsignor) Deery was the Judicial Vicar and the Vicar for Canonical Affairs for the Diocese of Worcester.
Second letter[*] [page 1 / page 2]: Father Lawrence A. Deery, J.C.L. to Father John McCormack, then Secretary for Ministerial Personnel for the Archdiocese of Boston, in which it is explained that the community in Still River, MA (St. Ann’s House) which underwent canonical regularization, did “in no manner abandon Father Feeney’s teachings.”
 Mr. Vere obtained his Licentiate of Canon Law from the Faculty of Canon Law at Saint Paul University. As a Catholic writer, canonist and apologist, his work has appeared in numerous Catholic publications, including Surprised by Truth 3. He is the co-author of Surprised by Canon Law: 150 Questions Catholics Ask About Canon Law and More Catholic Than the Pope. Additionally, Mr. Vere is the lecturing professor for the Masters-level course in Canon Law offered by the Catholic Distance University.