The decision to write a letter to the General of the Society of Jesus- which letter eventually brought about the dismissal from Boston College of the four teachers who signed it- was taken out of sheer inability to find a superior in Boston who was (1) not a Liberal himself, and (2) who knew much about or who was concerned enough about the doctrines of the Church to investigate the teaching of them.
Dr. Maluf and Mr. Walsh had, in a succession of interviews, made clear to the President of Boston College their worries about certain doctrines of the Church as they were taught at Boston College. The President, as a result, threatened to dismiss them From the College. They next presented their protest to him by letter, as a matter of conscience, begging him to investigate the matter For himself. The President thought the charges ridiculous, because his “investigation” was superficial and inadequate. The enigma of this was solved For us later, when by his own declaration it was found that President Keleher held the same liberal doctrines as his faculty were teaching.
Indeed, after the teachers’ protest to Father Keleher, matters went from bad to worse at Boston College. The head of Mr. Ewaskio’s department, Father Tobin, came to him. He reminded Mr. Ewaskio that he was a married man with children, and his loyalty to the particular doctrine of no salvation outside the Church could prove disastrous to a teacher with responsibilities. Mr. Ewaskio explained to Father Tobin that it was precisely because he held this doctrine that he had come into the Catholic Church, and Father Tobin was unable to move him.
Boston College students brought to us the dismal news that Father Philip Donnelly’s liberal article, “Observations on the Question of Salvation Outside the Church”, was now required reading in some of the religion courses at the College. Several St. Benedict Center students, employed in part-time work For large corporations in Boston, were given copies of Father Donnelly’s article, which was being circulated in their offices.
Boston College students were warned by the Jesuit Fathers not to come to St. Benedict Center. The doctrine of no salvation outside the Church became question material for examinations at Boston College, and the confusion of interpretation on the part of the Faculty went from inconsistency to contradiction. We were finally to see an examination paper of Father Russell M. Sullivan, S.J., of the Religion Department, For “Sophomore, 1st Semester”, entitled The Act of Faith, six pages in length, done in the form of a True and False score sheet. It is the most amazing thing of its kind we have ever seen. Questions 71-86 were unusual in that they were not on the reading matter which the examination was supposedly testing. (The questions were all expected to be answered as true.) Page 4 would seem clearly to be an attack on St. Benedict Center and Fr. Feeney. For instance, to quote a few sentences:
“My dear Joe: Just answer me briefly, as you did the last time, by marking True or False where I indicate it. My Pal is always talking about Religion. He knows very little. He said that they did not study religion in class at Hitch Hike University. He believes in God and in life after death. But is he off on the subject of Faith!
“…He said that he heard a teacher in a Catholic school say that it was impossible for a man to be saved who did not join the Catholic Church. I told him that I followed the teachings of the Catholic Church, not the statements of any one individual, and that is what Catholics are supposed to do (76). (True or false?) He got me sore when he said: ‘But this teacher said that the Popes had said that non-Catholics are in bad faith. I at once pulled out a copy of The New York Times and read to him the following: ‘. . . The Church surrounds dissenters in the faith with sincere love and prayer for their return to her, their mother, from whom God knows ! how many are separated without any fault of their own.’ “And I mentioned that the Pope had said that on September 5, 1948, in an address to the German people over the Vatican Radio (77). He asked if that was the teaching of Catholic theologians, and I said: ‘That doctrine is held as a certain and common doctrine by Catholic theologians as can be verified by looking at theological text books’ (78). He thanked me for the information but said ‘Is an act of divine faith absolutely necessary for salvation?’ I said; ‘There is no getting to Heaven without making an act of divine faith’ (79). Then he wanted to know how people who never heard about Christ or the Trinity or the Incarnation could make an act of divine faith in what Christ had taught. I replied: ‘If such people cooperate freely with the grace that God will surely give them, provided that they do not reject the means that God will give them, God will give them the grace to make an act of divine faith (80).’ “
The last sentences of this extraordinary paragraph evoked from a confused student reading it in the Center the inelegant, but apt, question, “What does that last mean? Is he saying: ‘Yes, if we have cream, we’ll have bananas and cream, if we have the bananas?”
“And Question Number 77 says,” remarked Raymond Karam, “You give me the decisions of the Popes defining, but aha! I pull out my New York Times on you, and there I’ve got you, for infallible pronouncement!”
It was decided to appeal to the General of the Jesuits. He lived in Rome, and we hoped that Italian realism and Roman orthodoxy would produce more in the way of common sense protection of the faith than Boston Liberalism mixed with Plymouth Rock transcendentalism seemed able to offer.
90 Putnam Ave.,
Feast of St. Matthias,
February 24, 1949
The Very Rev. Jean Baptiste Janssens, S.J.,
General of the Society of Jesus
Borgo Santo Spirito 5,
Dear Father General:
We are appealing to you on a matter of great gravity, involving the protection of our Holy Faith and the salvation of many souls.
We are professors at Boston College, which is under the direction of the Society of Jesus. We are convinced that at Boston College many doctrines are being taught by members of the Society of Jesus which are contrary to defined dogmas of the Faith. They are teaching implicitly and explicitly that there may be salvation outside the Catholic Church, that a man may be saved without admitting that the Roman Church is supreme among all the churches, and that a man may be saved without submission to the Pope.
We assure you that we would not have appealed to your high office unless we had exhausted every legitimate means of alerting all the proximate authorities of the Society without avail. We further assure you that we have very ample evidence to support our charges, which evidence will be produced at your demand.
We are your Reverence’s humble servants in Christ,
Asst. Prof. of Philosophy at Boston College
James R. Walsh
Instructor in Philosophy at Boston College
Asst. Prof. in Physics at Boston College
David D. Supple
Instructor of German, Boston College High School
No answer to this letter was ever received from the General of the Society of Jesus.
On April 5th, we received an acknowledgment of our letter to the Holy Father:
Vatican City, March 25, 1949
SEGRETERIA DI STATO
DI SUA SANTITA
The Secretariat of State, at the gracious bidding of the Holy Father acknowledges receipt, of the document submitted to Him by Mr. Fakhri Maluf, and bearing the signatures of various Professors of Boston College High School and of St. Benedict’s Center, and, while communicating that it has forwarded to the Supreme Congregation of the Holy Office for consideration and attention, has pleasure in assuring the signatories that His Holiness, appreciating the Catholic sentiments which prompted their gesture, cordially imparts to them His paternal Apostolic Blessing.
(stamped with the seal of the Secretariat of State)
On April the first, Father Feeney had his long and prayerfully awaited interview with the American Assistant to the General of the Jesuits, Father Vincent McCormick, S.J. At three o’clock on that afternoon, in the Provincial’s Room at Boston College, Father saw for the first time in years the priest who had been his teacher, long ago, at Woodstock College. Father McCormick greeted Father Feeney very cordially, took both his hands in his, and told him in affectionate terms how delighted he was to see him, how distressed he was at what had happened, and how anxious he was to see the matter settled according to God’s will.
Father Feeney told Father Assistant that he had been very anxious to see him, too, that he had always been led to believe through his superior, Father Gallagher, that someone higher than Father McEleney would arrange for a hearing for him, and that that was why he was so pleased ultimately to learn that he allowed him to remain in Boston until his visitation. They talked for a few moments about Father McCormick’s health, which had not been too good, but Father McCormick passed this off and then got down to business:
“I have not as yet seen Father McEleney”, he said. “I wanted to see you first and hear what you have to say.”
Father Feeney was tempted to ask Father McCormick if he had been in contact with Father McEleney by letter, by telephone, or by delegate, but he allowed him to say that technically he had not seen Father McEleney since his arrival in Boston a day or two before. Father Feeney was even tempted to ask Father McCormick if Father McEleney had come to see him. Father’s inner thoughts, in Father McCormick’s presence, will indicate the tenseness of the situation, which Father Assistant for all his obvious, kindly manner, could not dissipate. Father Assistant himself was extremely nervous, and was biting his fingernails all during the interview.
Father McCormick: I do not know anything that has caused so many people to be distressed as this unfortunate affair. I do not know anything ever that has evoked so many prayers from priests and nuns and even lay people, as this situation. I am anxious to see it settled not only for the good of the Society and your Province but also for the salvation of your own soul. The only way it can be settled is by doing the will of God no matter how difficult or unjust or harsh it may seem to be. And the will of God as indicated to you is the voice of Father Provincial, which means that you must go to Holy Cross as you were told and leave everything else to the will of God- that is what is meant by obedience, as every good Jesuit understands when he makes his vows.”
Father Feeney: “Well first, Father Assistant, I think you must agree that I have never been conspicuously hard to rule. I think I have been, if only by reason of temperament, a somewhat docile Jesuit.”
Father McCormick: “That I agree — and that is why I expect you to be in this emergency the splendid Leonard Feeney we all know and love and admire. You have great talents, great gifts, and great charm; and I am sure there is much splendid work left for you to do provided you do the will of God as is clearly indicated to you now by the voice of your superior.”
Father Feeney: “Do you realize how much it has cost me in suffering and misunderstanding and persecution not to do the ‘will of God’ as you call it! in this matter? You know very well that instead of commanding me under holy obedience to obey his fraudulent order, Father McEleney has gone out of his way, by every arrangement possible, with everyone with whom I was associated, to try to ruin my morale and my reputation so that his tyrannical order could be obeyed.”
Father McCormick: “Why do you call it tyrannical? Every order of obedience could be called tyrannical if you cared to term it so.”
Father Feeney: “Father, I know that you know that this was the strangest order ever given by a Jesuit superior. If it were a clear mandate of obedience, why did Father Provincial not give it to me on status day, when the time for the yearly appointments was at hand. Why must he wait for the Archbishop and Bishop to be two days out at sea, why must he inform the Vicar General before he has informed me, and then hide behind him so as to make his order effective? Why should a Jesuit superior assume that he has no authority over his subject who has taken a vow of obedience until he has made a secret arrangement with the Archbishop, Bishop, and Vicar General as to how he can make it effective? Why was my obedience so suspected by Father McEleney even before he gave the order?”
Father McCormick: “Now, come, come. We can’t go into all that. That is all involved and complicated and entirely beside the point. You are a subject, and a good subject must obey.”
Father Feeney: “But Father McEleney is your subject. Why don’t you insist that he rule decently?”
Father McCormick: “A superior does not have to tell his subjects why he does things. Father McEleney did not have to tell you why he moved you.”
Father Feeney: “He did tell me why he moved me. He said it was by the bidding of higher authorities and for my doctrine.”
Father McCormick: “Did he say that?”
Father Feeney: “Yes, he let that slip, and then regretted he had said it. But even if he hadn’t said it at all I know that it was the reason. I also know the reason why Archbishop Cushing went to Lowell House, and Bishop Wright spoke at the Liberal Union.”
Father McCormick: “You think Bishop Wright knew about this?”
Father Feeney: “I’m sure he did. It was even arranged that my dismissal should come exactly at the point when he and the Archbishop were on the high seas, and could not give me a hearing. I cabled to Archbishop Cushing. I cabled twice to Bishop Wright. It did me no good. Father McEleney tried to make my being pushed out of the diocese of Boston- which is the fact of the matter — seem as if I was merely being transferred to Holy Cross. The point of my being sent to Worcester is that it is out of this diocese, which is what Bishop Wright and Archbishop Cushing wanted. My whole vocation and priesthood and reputation are at stake, Father Assistant! If I am hitting back in strong fashion, it is because I terribly protest the type of vilification of my character which has been going on for seven solid months, in secret and sly ways, by my Jesuit brothers and my Provincial. You know, and so does every superior in this Province, and in every house I have ever lived in, that this is the first time in my life I have ever attacked a fellow Jesuit. You can go through all the files in Rome, and you will not find one sentence of complaint by me against anyone.”
Father McCormick: “That is true. And that is why I feel all this strong language does not represent your true character.”
Father Feeney: “I believe that my reasons for staying at Saint Benedict Center are loving ones, instead of resentful ones.”
Father McCormick: “What possible reason can keep you there, against the will of your superior, which is a loving reason?”
Father Feeney: “Just as no one in Rome has ever heard a word of complaint from me about anyone, so I believe there is no one of a complaining nature that has not perhaps had something to tell you about me. In my writings at least, I have been something of a public character. I do not think there is a priest or nun or Catholic school child who does not know some of my writings, and I know many converts have been helped into the Church by encouragement from some of the things I have written. I do not think I try to conceal my defects in my writings- And my defects are: that I use superlatives, that I raise my voice, that I gesticulate and make faces and push home a point too strongly, and that I am not overtactful in taking into account what non-Catholics will think when I talk. All these facts and general comments on my many defects are the property of all people who have ever heard me. And so I think I could say, almost better than any American Jesuit you will meet on your visitation, that I am not a saint. Now, while knowing this to be true, I still dare to say that it is Our Blessed Lady who is keeping me at St. Benedict Center. I hesitate to say this to you, because when I once said it to another priest, he spread the rumor around that I was claiming to have had a vision from Our Lady!”
Father McCormick: “If you think you are being changed for matters of doctrine, why did you not go to Holy Cross and then put in your appeal in devolutivo?”
Father Feeney: “First I wanted Father McEleney openly to state that was why he was changing me. He by accident admitted that it was the reason. I knew very well that it was the reason. But he did not want me to know that it was the reason, because then he would have to defend a heresy. Part of the whole horror of the heresy that has infected our Province, including the terribly incompetent professors in our seminaries, is contained in Father Philip Donnelly’s attack on From the Housetops. Did you read Mr. Karam’s article on ‘Liberal Theology and Salvation’ in the December issue?”
Father McCormick: “Yes, I looked at it.”
Father Feeney: “Didn’t you agree with it?”
Father McCormick: “There were some things in it which were wrong.”
Father Feeney: “What things?”
Father McCormick: “We can’t go into that matter now.”
Father Feeney: “You are now putting yourself in my regard in the same position as Father McEleney. What Mr. Karam holds is what I hold. If what I hold is wrong, why not tell me where it is wrong? Why go sending me to Holy Cross College? I am going to teach the same doctrine up there. If what I am teaching is heresy, you owe it to the boys not to let me teach any more until I have mended my doctrine. Don’t you think you ought to be solicitous for the dogmas of the Church?”
Father McCormick: “My solicitude for the dogmas of the Church I shall have to leave for another situation. My business now is the good of the Society, the good of the Province, and thereby the good of your soul.”
Father Feeney: “Why not be good to all souls? I think it would be better for me to be a disobedient Jesuit than an heretical one. Don’t you?”
Father McCormick: “You are supposed to obey your superior.”
Father Feeney: “A decent superior giving decent commands does so with decent credentials, — at appointment time, and not after deals with secular priests who are trying to control our Order. Everybody admits that Bishop Wright is trying to run our Order. I hope for a great deal from you. You know very well, Father Assistant, what havoc has been done to the Jesuit Order in the United States by the Visitors who have come over from Rome as American Assistants. All they looked to was the political advantage of our Order and never for its blazing ideals as outlined by St. Ignatius. Please don’t be a Visitor like that, and leave nothing but havoc behind you.”
Father McCormick: “You are making a mistake in calling me a full-fedged Visitor. I am not a Father Visitor to the American Provinces. I am over here to take care of a certain number of problems, but not to be a Visitor in full jurisdiction.”
Father Feeney: “Well, whatever you are, please tell Father General what I am trying to say. Did you hear from Father General about the letter written to him by the Boston College teachers?”
Father McCormick: “You mean accusing Boston College of teaching heresy?”
Father Feeney: “Yes.”
Father McCormick: “I did. And that is utterly absurd. There is no heresy being taught at Boston College.”
Father Feeney: “Father Assistant, you are wrong. It is being taught at Boston College that there is salvation outside the Church. It is being taught at Boston College that the Church is the ‘ordinary means’ for salvation but that there is another and ‘extraordinary means’. The dogma of no salvation outside the Church is so miserably explained in the religion classes that in one class you are flunked if you say there is no salvation outside the Church, and in another class you are passed for saying there is no salvation outside the Church provided you add an explanation to your admission of this dogma which undoes all its effect. Religion at Boston College is an absolute minor interest. Father Assistant, if you doubt that heresy is being taught at Boston College, I implore you to go over, I think it is the day after tomorrow, and listen to Father J. Franklin Ewing, S. J., lecture on evolution to the students. I think you have it on your conscience now to go, now that I have accused him of teaching heresy. If the General will not listen to the Boston College lay teachers, you certainly cannot refuse to listen to me. I have been your student; you know that I have not a too bad mind in Theology. I was offered an opportunity to study and teach it in our Society. I positively declare that Father Ewing and Father Doherty, in their anthropology classes, are teaching heresy, to the total undoing of the inspired book of Genesis and to making Catholic boys believe that the explanation of the origin of man is best derived not from Scripture or the definitions of the Church or the teaching of the twenty-nine doctors, but from a blasphemously atheistic hypothesis, like Hooton of Harvard gives. Father Ewing is one of Mr. Hooton’s leading disciples. 1 Why not trust me in this emergency for which you say so many people are praying? Why not go once to a Father Ewing lecture, or call in some of the Weston Fathers for a conference in theology, and then tell me if in conscience as a Jesuit Superior you can make arbitrary discipline your major interest and let Catholic doctrine go to the dogs?”
Father McCormick: “Couldn’t you have told all this to the General by letter from Holy Cross?”
Father Feeney: “No. I could not, and for many reasons. First of all, I had taken it for granted, due to Father Provincial’s appointment at status time, that I was to be at St. Benedict Center for the year. I had made commitments to these students. In strict natural justice, Father McEleney owed it to me to give me and my students a hearing in view of the fact of my year’s commitment. Every time one of my students or a committee of them tried to see him, he avoided them. He would not even answer a letter. He had already let it be known, through Father William FitzGerald, that they were a bunch of radicals, whom Father FitzGerald was going to take in hand and control. But even this point, strong as it is, is a minor one compared with the fact that I am being put out of St. Benedict Center because I held a dogma of the Faith. Subsequent events in every sector prove this, as well as Father McEleney’s absolute refusal to give me a hearing so as to make a doctrinal defense. And, oh Father, I beseech you to watch the theologians who come from the Gregorian in Rome. They do not know their theology lovingly and devoutly. They absolutely snub our two great Doctors, St. Peter Canisius and St. Robert Bellarmine. Their heroes are some second rater, usually some Liberal like De La Taille, Bainvel, or Teilhard de Chardin.”
Father McCormick: “Teilhard de Chardin’s works have been discarded.”
Father Feeney: “Why did you not discard him when he came to Weston some years ago and taught his evolutionary theories to our theologians? The Gregorian theologians seem to be superficial specialists. I myself heard the canon law professor at Weston, whose legalisms rule this Province in many affairs, state that the Athanasian Creed holds that Pater est creans, et Filius est creans, et Spiritus Sanctus creans, sed non sunt tres creantes sed unus creans. When I vehemently objected that the Athanasian Creed said nothing of the kind, but that what it did say was: Pater est increatus, et Filius increatus, et Spiritus Sanctus increatus, and that it was horrid to hear a professor of theology get the words creans and increatus mixed up, he merely put me down as a poet or possibly an excitable person who likes to make objections.”
Father McCormick: “All this is beside the point. My duty here today is to ask you once and for all, ‘Are you or are you not going to obey your Provincial?’ ”
Father Feeney: “Is it all over with me if I do not?”
Father McCormick: “I am afraid it is.”
Father Feeney: “Is this final?”
Father McCormick: “Yes, this is final.”
Father Feeney: “All right, Father. I cannot do what you ask me to do in conscience. I never had one doubt about my vocation all my years. I know I am doing what St. Ignatius would want me to do, and therefore I accept this as final. You can do what you care to.”
Father McCormick stood up and took Father Feeney’s hand. He said, “Oh come now. That must never be. I came here to do a work and I failed. But I am still not going to give up hoping and praying that this will turn out as it should. I am going to hope and pray.”
Father Feeney: “Thank you, Father. And I would like your blessing.” Father McCormick gave his blessing perfunctorily.
Father McCormick held Father Feeney’s hand, and said, “Good-bye, Good-bye.”
Father Feeney: “Apart from all this, I still remember you as my teacher in theology, and the happy year I spent with you in the study of the Sacraments. I want you to know that my gratitude and admiration and affection for you as my teacher I shall always keep.”
Father McCormick, very quietly: “Thank you.”
The interview lasted one hour. Father McCormick stayed on at Boston College for several days. He returned to Boston later in the summer, but he did not ask to see Father Feeney again.
1 Professor Earnest A. Hooton has taught at Harvard since 1913 and has written many books on evolution. Recently, January 6, 1950, he made headlines in Boston: Prof. Hooton backs “Mercy Killer”. The Boston Traveler quoted him as saying:
“If ‘thou shalt not kill’ is a law of God that convicts Dr. Sander of murder, let us have done with such a savage and subhuman deity and substitute a god of mercy and loving kindness!”
“…I hold (the medical profession) to be the noblest and most useful of human pursuits — not excluding religion.”
“Laymen will have to be educated and liberated from the thralldom of religious superstition before proper enactments can be made” (to make such killings legal).