The Loyolas and the Cabots

Chapter 26

Father Feeney had spoken in the Press (the only place he had been given a hearing of any kind) about the invalidity of the procedure against him. He said he had been silenced without any warning, despite the canonical requirement of three warnings.

He now, on April 22nd, four days after his silencing, received for the first time an order in virtue of Holy Obedience. It came from Father John J. McEleney, S.J., Provincial of the Society of Jesus in New England, and it read:

297 Commonwealth Avenue,
Boston 15, Massachusetts

(Translation from the Latin)

The 25th day of April, 1949.

To the Reverend Fr. Leonard Feeney, S.J.

In view of your protracted, scandalous and contumacious disobedience, no effect can be hoped to follow from canonical admonitions and rebukes, and therefore we must proceed to a penal precept.

In virtue of Holy Obedience, and under the penalties threatening in Canon 2331 X 1, I order and command you to go to the College of Holy Cross at Worcester within twenty-four hours from the reception of this letter to present yourself to the Rector of that College, thereafter to comply with his commands, and not to go outside the limits of that College without my express permission.

(signed) John J. McEleney, S.J.

(signed) Edward L. Murray. S.J.


Father replied to this letter on April 23rd.

St. Benedict Center
23 Arrow Street
Cambridge, Massachusetts

April 23, 1949.

Rev. John J. McEleney, S.J.,
Loyola House,
297 Commonwealth Ave.,
Boston, Massachusetts

Dear Father McEleney:

My children at St. Benedict Center are now in grave danger, even subject to constant threats of physical violence, due to their championing of a Catholic dogma which you and the institutions under you are denying and for the holding of which they are being persecuted. Under these circumstances, it is my clear duty in conscience as their father, protector and counsellor not to leave them without a shepherd until this dogmatic matter has been settled definitively by official authorities at Rome.

It is also my duty to let the people of America know that no Catholic priest can ever be suppressed the way you have brutally tried to suppress me for holding a dogma of the Catholic Faith.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

(signed) Leonard Feeney, S.J.

It was on this same day, April 23rd, that the Boston Herald announced the forthcoming defense by America, the Jesuit weekly, of Archbishop Cushing’s action against Father Feeney. The Herald quoted the Jesuit article at length. The following Monday, April 25th, Father received a copy of this issue of America (the April 30, 1949 issue, Vol. 81, number 4) containing the editorial. Attached to the magazine was a note from the Editor, Rev. Robert C. Hartnett, S.J., in which he thanked Father for sending a copy of From the Housetops. He added, “Sorry to have to take issue with you, but we tried to do so inoffensively.”

We found the America editorial an untrustworthy report on every ground. It began:

Boston College Case

“On April 18 Archbishop Cushing of Boston publicly announced that Rev. Leonard Feeney, S.J….has lost the right to perform any priestly function….He also forbade Catholics to frequent St. Benedict’s Center…

“This drastic action became necessary because of recalcitrance dating back two years on the part of the St. Benedict’s group. These Catholics attending various nearby colleges, joined by several teachers and graduate students at Boston College, published (without ecclesiastical approval) a quarterly called From the Housetops. They contended that persons dying ‘outside the Church’ could not be saved. For this and other reasons Fr. Feeney’s superiors took action several months ago, only to meet with defiance. From January 1, 1949 his faculties for hearing confessions were withdrawn.”

The number of untrue statements in this last paragraph appalled us. For example, it was not yet a year since the whole Center (on May 2, 1948) had held a procession in honor of the Infant Jesus of Prague on the Archbishop’s grounds, in the presence of the Archbishop. It was but a few months over a year since the Archbishop, at the Center, had enthusiastically praised the work of the Center and begged “Father Leonard” to take care of himself, lest “the whole show be over”.

The quarterly From the Housetops was not published by Catholics attending nearby colleges, but by members of Saint Benedict Center, studying at Saint Benedict Center. And not only was From the Housetops not published without ecclesiastical approval, but His Excellency, Archbishop Cushing, had himself contributed articles which were published in two issues of the magazine! Before plans for From the Housetops were put into operation, Father Feeney and the editors had gone out to Archbishop’s House, presented the plans to the Archbishop, and received his full approval of them.

Father Feeney’s faculties were not withdrawn on January 1st. It is true that they were not renewed through the ordinary channels, but how did the Editor of America know in what manner Father Feeney might have presented them? And how does one priest dare to attack the sanctity of another priest’s conscience in a matter so close to the confessional by way of giving an “impartial” newspaper report in a Catholic weekly?

We were interested to note that America admitted that Father McEleney’s action against Father Feeney in September 1948, was for doctrine, in the statement:

“They contended that persons dying ‘outside the Church’ could not be saved. For this and other reasons Fr. Feeney’s superiors took action seven months ago…”

That the matter was a question of doctrine — on which he requested his right of a doctrinal hearing — Father Feeney had always maintained. This was the first time the Jesuits had admitted it, however. Father refused, in conscience, to go to Holy Cross until he had had a doctrinal hearing, thereby incurring censure for what his superiors called disobedience. If there were “other reasons” for Father McEleney’s action “seven months ago”, Father Feeney, who was directly concerned, had never been told them, and Father Hartnett, whose concern was only of a journalistic nature, had apparently been told them.

We found that Catholic papers all over the country made this article the basis of their own reporting on the case. This last fact caused us to wonder about the ethics of Catholic Journalism. As Father Feeney told Father Hartnett over the telephone, after he had read this editorial, even as a good journalist he expected that before he wrote these “facts” he would have telephoned Saint Benedict Center for verification of them.

America‘s editorial is a very long one. It goes on, after these first two paragraphs, to give the “background” of the “Boston College case” and what Father Hartnett termed the “Church’s Teaching”. When Father Feeney had read it all he put in a long-distance telephone call to Father Hartnett, and in a few brief sentences, told him how outraged he was to see a Catholic priest and a son of St. Ignatius talking this way to the people of America. Father Hartnett, very ill at ease, asked Father Feeney if he would like him to make any corrections of the statements made about him, in the next issue of America. Father Feeney told Father Hartnett that he was not in the least interested in Father Hartnett’s personal attack on himself. He was only horrified at the way the most fundamental doctrine that concerns salvation was presented to the people by a supposedly competent theologian.

Later, in a lecture to the students of Saint Benedict Center, Father Feeney had this to say of the Hartnett article:

“This kind of reasoning”, said Father Feeney, “in the sacred field of Dogmatic Theology, by incompetent theologians of the calibre of Father Hartnett, is the greatest scandal there is in the Church in our day, and perhaps one of the main reasons why the National Catholic Weekly, America, has been having such a farcical career since it started putting Liberal writers on its staff. There is not an informed Protestant living who, in his heart, does not look upon Father Hartnett’s interpretation of the dogma No Salvation Outside the Church, as anything but sheer casuistry and subterfuge.

“All the ‘Christianity’ of the dogma seems to come from Father Hartnett’s kindly presentation of it, for the sake of well-meaning Americans. The ‘bigotry’ and ‘intolerance’ of the doctrine is made to come from the way it was originally devised and phrased by the Church. All Protestants in the United States know very well that the Liberal Catholic clergy they are lately reading and listening to, particularly the Liberal Jesuits, are phrasing the teachings of the Church differently for American ears than they were once phrased for European ears by the saints and the doctors of the Church.

“Father Hartnett’s method of off-setting the challenge of the dogma: No Salvation Outside the Catholic Church, by means of arbitrary and softly-phrased evasions, is the one method monotonously employed by every Liberal apologete of our day. The Liberal first admits the dogma to be true, calls it a ‘basic principle’, an ‘incontestable axiom’, an ‘ancient truth’, or some such phrase. He then proceeds to present the dogma in a sense that makes the form in which it was originally phrased utterly meaningless. This is what is called the ‘charitable’ presentation of doctrine; or the adaptation of it to the modern mind. What this dishonesty really does is to kill off the chastity of truth, by reason of the promiscuous manner in which it is presented. This is intellectual license of the wildest kind, and every churchman in the United States knows this to be so.”

None of us could hear Father Feeney make this statement and not realize two things: first, how much it cost Father to talk this way, he whose style had always been so kindly and gay; and second, how undeniable was the truth of what he was saying.

The statement which moved Father Feeney to telephone Father Hartnett in New York the moment he finished reading the editorial in America, and the statement which Saint Benedict Center protests as serious misrepresentation, is this:

“In fact, the fathers of the Vatican Council taught that an explicit knowledge and profession of the Catholic faith are by no means necessary for salvation…”

We do not know what grounds Father Hartnett can possibly have for this teaching of his.

The “fathers of the Vatican Council” is the name given to all of the prelates, be they bishops, archbishops or cardinals, who were present at the Vatican Council. About a year before the Council met, the theologians and canonists, chosen from many nations for their learning and experience, came together in Rome to do the preparatory work for the Council. They assembled the material to be placed before the Council for consideration at its sessions. They then arranged this material under various headings, and drew up what was called “draft-decrees” (or “schemata”) so that the Fathers of the Council would have all phases of the question which they were about to consider placed clearly and concisely before them.

These theologians and canonists were not the “fathers of the Vatican Council”, if the America editorial had these men in mind, and the “draft-decrees” which they drew up were in no sense offered as authoritative pronouncement. Pope Pius IX himself declared this to be so in his Apostolic Letter regulating the order to be kept during the Vatican Ecumenical Council. The Holy Father said:

“…We have taken care to call to this Our Holy City theologians and ecclesiastical jurisconsults from the various regions of the Catholic world, so that, together with other men from this City who are versed in the same disciplines, they might prepare the things which belong to the scope of this general Synod, and so that the way of treating things by the Fathers might thus be made more expedite; We now wish and order that the ‘schemata’ of the decrees and canons expressed and written by these same men, and which We reserved integrally for the knowledge of the Fathers, these ‘schemata’ being vested with no approbation from Us, be subjected to the examination and judgment of these same Fathers gathered together in general congregation.”

Now, it is a well-known fact that the Vatican Council had time to pass only two Dogmatic Constitutions. These were approved by the Holy Father, and are binding upon the Faithful. These two constitutions are all that the “Fathers of the Vatican Council” can truly be said to have taught. There is no mention in either of them of the doctrine which Father Hartnett says is the teaching of the Council.

If Father Hartnett is referring to the “draft-decrees” drawn up by the theologians before the Council met, surely he must know that these “drafts” were entirely without authority and were in no way the work of the prelates officially known as the “Fathers of the Vatican Council”. We could show from the “draft-decrees” not voted upon at the Council how much more the theologians who prepared the “schemata” of the Vatican Council were minded to support the doctrine Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus (Outside the Church there is no salvation) than they were to provide support for the Liberal innovation. However anxious Father Hartnett and his auxiliaries were to interpret some of the preliminary transactions of the Vatican Council in their own favor, we believe it was theological foul play to present preliminary discussions as though they were final teachings in a matter of such sacred importance.

That an American Catholic priest should do this — and without public rebuke on the part of his superiors, or public correction so that the people might not be deceived — constitutes grave betrayal of the Faith.