No Salvation outside the Church! By a most amazing and clearly providential set of circumstances, this doctrine, on Holy Thursday morning, 1949, eight months before the turn of the half century, went out over the national and international wires of the great daily newspapers. It went out into a world greatly in need of its compelling message, to a world full of foreboding, confusion and despair, which had twice in fifty years been bathed in blood, and was again contemplating war- a world gone very far away from Christ.
In the Old Testament, in such times of impending catastrophe, God was wont to raise up prophets, who warned men of what would befall them unless they returned to God. In the ages of Faith, the saints and doctors of the time, fearless men, raised their voices in the land. They thundered and exhorted, and drew the people back from their own destruction.
Now, in 1949, there were prophets also, Catholic priest prophets, whose voices came, not from public squares, but over radios and television. Their tones were rich and pleasant. They warned, too- vaguely and charmingly. Unlike the prophets of old, however, they made no enemies, hurt no feelings. One would never dream of stoning them. And likewise, one would never dream of believing that what they were saying was the entire truth, for they had not the ring, nor the credentials of the holy ones, either of the Old or the New Testaments. They did not drive the people back to Christ. They but added to the confusion!
Now, the time was growing short. The Mother of God had said so, at Fatima, in Portugal. She had said that God’s punishments are very close. The people must be prepared. Ah, yes! But how? The voices of the priests were muted. There was no longer anywhere to be found a Saint Paul, or a Saint Athanasius, or a Saint Bernard. There seemed to be nobody with eyes to see, or courage with which to speak.
And then suddenly, on a morning in Holy Week, at a time when those who would have stopped it (as they later stopped news) were so occupied with duties in preparation for Holy Thursday that they were unavailable for comment, there flashed across the radios and newspaper wires of the world the message of salvation, its necessity, and the place where it was to be found.
What other message would men, whose civilization was threatened with annihilation, need more desperately than how they might save their souls? Unfortunately, the priests whose calling it was so to teach men were every day speaking more like members of the Chamber of Commerce (as one non-Catholic Harvard student aptly described it), more like sociologists or psychiatrists, than priests ordained with a divine mission to preach salvation.
After he had fired the teachers, Father Keleher, it so happened, left the city and could not be reached that Wednesday evening by the press. The newspapers did not telephone Bishop Wright, at this time, since the firing of the four professors, as far as anyone could tell, concerned only Boston College. And so the story got out, providentially, and along with it the news that the Roman Catholic Church had taught and defined again and again, in the days before Liberalism, that there was no salvation outside it, nor without personal submission to the ancient Father of Christendom, Christ’s Vicar, the Roman Pontiff.
The members of the Center discovered Salvation in the headlines on Holy Thursday morning in various ways. Father Feeney read it on his way to the Center; my daughter, Nancy, and I on our way to Mass. The “four professors”, as they came to be called, had been awakened by the newspapers during the night to answer questions about their academic training, their families, the length of their teaching. We found them together at Dr. Maluf’s house, in the Middle of the morning. A press conference had been scheduled to meet there, for an amplification of the early news. As yet Father Keleher of Boston College had made no reply in the press.
The report of one morning newspaper, the Boston Post, for Thursday, April 14th, is similar to that carried in the other Boston papers. The Post Account read:
FOUR B. C. TEACHERS FIRED AFTER PROBE
College President Discharged Them, They Claim, When They Refused to Retract Statements Made to General of Jesuit Order- Charged Father Keleher with “Heresy”- One of Men is Teacher in B. C. High School- Other Three on College Faculty- Had Been Told Theories They Held Not Approved- Final Action is Immediate
Four columns of the story followed upon these headlines, with a clear statement of the propositions which the teachers had accused Boston College of teaching, in their letter to the General of the Jesuits. The Boston Post said:
“The propositions which were accused to the General are- at Boston College are taught both explicitly and implicitly that (1) there may be salvation outside of the Catholic Church; (2) that a man may be saved without admitting that the Catholic Church is supreme among the churches; (3) that a man may be saved without submission to the Pope.
“Efforts to reach Father Keleher last night were unavailing. At Boston College it was reported he would not be at his office until today.”
Father Keleher returned before noon on Holy Thursday, and issued a statement. It appeared in the evening papers, and to us it was unbelievable, coming as it did from a Jesuit priest, the president of a Catholic college. The Boston Evening Globe, April 14, 1949, carried it in headlines on the front page:
B. C. REPLIES TO OUSTED TEACHERS
“They continued to Speak in Class and Out. . . Ideas Leading to Bigotry and Intolerance” Fr. Keleher Says: “Their Doctrine Is Erroneous and Could Not Be Tolerated”- Instructors Cite Academic Freedom
“…Father Keleher’s statement today was as follows:
“These gentlemen in question were under contract at Boston College to teach philosophy and physics. They had been cautioned by me and others to stay within their own fields and leave theology to those who were adequately and competently prepared.
“They continued to speak in class and out of class on matters contrary to the traditional teaching of the Catholic Church, ideas leading to bigotry and intolerance.
“Their doctrine is erroneous and as such could not be tolerated at Boston College. They were informed that they must cease such teaching or leave the faculty.”
The paper went on to state the charge made against Boston College by the four professors:
“The ‘heresy’…lies in the teaching ‘both explicitly and implicitly’ at Boston College that ‘1. There may be salvation outside the Catholic Church; 2. That a man may be saved without admitting that the Roman Catholic Church is supreme among the churches; and, 3. that a man may be saved without submission to the Pope.'”
Father Keleher’s statement revealed many strange things:
- He perfectly substantiated the accusations of the professors against the teachings of Boston College. He said that the three defined doctrines of the Church (defined by Popes and Councils) were erroneous and against the traditional teachings of the Church. He said they were actually ideas leading to bigotry and intolerance!
- Father Keleher denied the liberty of a Catholic to profess his Faith either in class or out of class, and thereby subscribed to the fallacy of the secularization of religion.
- He said, in effect, that the Catholic Faith is not the simple Faith which anyone, learned or unlearned, can know and hold, but, even in its basic substance, it is something which only the specialist can understand and teach.
- He brings into serious question the amount of academic liberty allowed by his College to men in the noble profession of teaching.
- If, on the other hand, Father Keleher holds, in his heart, the defined dogma of the Church on salvation, but at the same time feels that it is, religiously or politically, not expedient to confess it at this time, then he would be subscribing to the fallacy of “Americanismus”. This is the name applied to the false policy against which Pope Leo XIII wrote in his encyclical letter, “Testem Benevolentiae” of January 22, 1899, to His Eminence Cardinal Gibbons, Archbishop of Baltimore- Pope Leo said, in part:
…For they contend that it is opportune, in order to work in a more attractive way upon the wills of those who are not in accord with us, to pass over certain heads of doctrines, as if of lesser moment, or to so soften them that they may not have the same meaning which the Church has invariably held. Now, Beloved Son, few words are needed to show how reprehensible is the plan that is thus conceived, if we but consider the character and origin of the doctrine which the Church hands down to us. On that point the Vatican Council says: “The doctrine of faith which God has revealed is not proposed like a theory of philosophy which is to be elaborated by the human understanding, but as a divine deposit delivered to the Spouse of Christ to be faithfully guarded and infallibly declared. . . . That sense of the sacred dogmas is to be faithfully kept which Holy Mother Church has once declared, and is not to be departed from under the specious pretext of a more profound understanding.” (Const. de Fid. cath. c. iv.) . . . Far be it, then, for any one to diminish or for any reason whatever to pass over anything of this divinely delivered doctrine: whosoever would do so, would rather wish to alienate Catholics from the Church than to bring over to the Church those who dissent from it. Let them return; indeed, nothing is nearer to Our heart; let all those who are wandering far from the sheepfold of Christ return; but let it not be by any other road than that which Christ has pointed out.
The late Sports Edition of the Boston Traveler for Holy Thursday carried across the front page in two-inch, heavy, black headlines a variation of Father Keleher’s amazing statement. It read, OUSTED TEACHERS AIDED BIGOTRY.
We were sure that Father Keleher had not made his releases to the newspapers without having been in consultation about the matter with Archbishop Cushing and Bishop Wright, and we were amazed that this extraordinary treatment of defined doctrine came not from traditional enemies outside the Church, but from the Church itself, in Boston.
We had studied for years, at St. Benedict Center, the Fathers and Doctors, the Popes and Councils, of the Church. Our work in Holy Scripture was done from the Greek and Latin. We were studying Hebrew. The whole program was a full-time job, along with theology, philosophy and the history of the Church. Knowing this to be true, we wondered at Jesuits and other priests at Harvard, and similar universities, who were working for advanced degrees in modern science, anthropology, sociology, experimental psychology, and other subjects. which left no time for the study of the one truth which every priest is ordained especially to teach. Their sources in history, when they entered that field, we knew to be secular rather than patristic and doctrinal. We also knew how little the Fathers and the Doctors were read in Catholic seminaries, colleges, or in private study.
But never, until now, had it come home to us with such force (nor so tragically) to what extent this absorption in secular studies had drawn the priests of our country away from knowledge of theology, scripture, and the history of the Church. It explained the inroads which Liberalism has made into the ranks of the clergy, who, in turn, taught Liberal doctrines to their people.
The accusation of Father Keleher, that the professors’ stand on salvation aided bigotry, was tantamount to calling Our Lord Jesus Christ a bigot or St. Paul, St. Augustine, St. Thomas, St. Robert Bellarmine, and innumerable Popes and saints. The teachers had taken their three enumerations of doctrine directly from the defined dogmas, and their defense, actually, was pale and unspirited, mild and measured alongside the blazing utterances of the Fathers and the Doctors concerning salvation outside the Church:
If the Church in Boston did not know the doctrine and the history surrounding it, Harvard did. Several times word was brought to us from people at Harvard: “We don’t agree with what Father Feeney is saying, but we know he is telling the truth. That is what the Catholic Church has always taught.”
On Holy Thursday evening, when Father spoke, the room was filled with students. Father did not talk on the controversy, but on the Passion of Jesus Christ.