The Loyolas and the Cabots

Chapter 30

It was a fact long deplored by St. Benedict Center that Archbishop Cushing had had no direct communication with the Center since the Sunday in May 1948, when the procession in honor of the Infant Jesus of Prague took place on his grounds. The four professors had sought him out in their vain attempt to get from him a doctrinal pronouncement. The Center students had likewise vainly sought him for a pronouncement on their marriage. But the Archbishop, on his own, had never paternally written or come to see- or even asked to see- Father or any of the members of St. Benedict Center.

When, therefore, on the last evening in August, the Center telephone rang and the person on the other end said he was Archbishop Cushing wishing to speak with Father Feeney, no one believed it. Father thought it was one of his friends trying to be funny. However, it was the Archbishop. He asked Father if he would like, to come to the archiepiscopal residence the next day, at three o’clock, to hear a letter from the Holy Father, the Pope.

“It is a letter for me, Your Excellency?” Father asked.

“It is a letter concerning you”, the Archbishop replied.

“In what connection does it concern me?” Father again asked.

“If you would like to come up tomorrow afternoon, I will read it to you”, His Excellency answered.

“Why do you put it in such polite invitation, Your Excellency?” Father wanted to know. “If it is a letter intended for me to read, why don’t you give it to me? Or else why don’t you give me an order to come and listen to it?”

“I thought you might like to come up and hear some parts of it which I am willing to read to you.”

“Isn’t this a rather odd way to convey a message from the Supreme Pontiff to one of his subjects? Frankly, Your Excellency, you can very clearly see that I am not talking to you in filial fashion, and that is because you have for well over a year been to me so unpaternal. Frankly also, Your Excellency, I suspect because of the brutal way you have handled me for the last year, including the smearing of my name before the whole country by way of the public newspapers, that this is some further device for humiliating me and harassing the young people with whom I am working. I am trying so hard to protect them. You very well know how often they have pleaded for your protection. If you have something that concerns us by way of additional punishment or rebuke, why don’t you come over to the Center like a kindly father to his children and see us all here, as we study and we pray, and let us know what we are doing which is contrary to the laws and teachings of our Holy Mother, the Church?”

The Archbishop said he had no intention of coming, and that ended the telephone conversation.

The next afternoon at three-thirty, Monsignor Furlong, dressed in a red robe, and the Assistant Chancellor, Father Sennott, in a long black cape, and Monsignor Hickey, the Vicar General of the archdiocese, in street clothes, entered St. Benedict Center. In the presence of all the students, Monsignor Furlong asked to see Father Feeney. Father Feeney presented himself, and Monsignor Furlong then took out some kind of scroll, held it formally in front of him, and asked Father Feeney if he would like to hear part of its contents. Father Feeney said if the document was for him, he would be glad to receive it, or if there was something in it which directly concerned himself or St. Benedict Center, let Monsignor Furlong say what it was. But as for expressing a desire as to whether or not he would like to hear passages in it read, Father was inclined to feel that he would not. As Father later explained to the Center, it was like a sheriff pretending he had a warrant for your arrest, coming into your house and asking if you would like to hear a few choice passages from a document directed against you as a culprit. You could hardly be blamed for not leaping with joy at this idea, or imploring excitedly, “Oh, do go on!”

Monsignor Furlong turned with his retinue and walked out of the Center. An hour later, The Pilot came out with what it called an “Official Letter” from the Holy Office, condemning the actions and the teachings of St. Benedict Center. So that our readers may be able to judge for themselves what kind of a document this is by way of “an official decree”, and so that our readers may be able to inspect what a strange mixture of official pronouncement and local comment this purported decree was, we are publishing it here in full, exactly as it appeared on the front page of The Pilot, Volume 120, No. 36, for September 3, 1949. The idea of reading parts of it to Father Feeney was clearly part of the scheme to protect the Chancery against the charge of not having let the culprits know what was going to happen to them. They were given an hour’s notice. At the silencing of Father Feeney, no notice whatsoever was given, and so the Chancery had improved the charity of its technique in the interval of the five months that passed between Father Feeney’s silencing and his condemnation by what archbishop Cushing had originally referred to over the telephone as an official document from “Our Holy Father, the Pope”.

The Pilot

Official organ of the Archdiocese of Boston, Mass.
Established 1829

VOLUME 120. NO. 36.

Holy Office Condemns
Teachings and Actions
Of St. Benedict’s Center

“An official letter has been received by Archbishop Cushing from the Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office, through the Apostolic Delegate in Washington, the Most Rev. Amleto G. Cicognani, answering what are called ‘the opinions and contentions’ of the followers of Saint Benedict’s Center in Cambridge. Included in this, group are four young professors who accused the faculty of Boston College of teaching heresy, and two students of Emmanuel College who resigned from that institution on the eve of Commencement last Spring. The letter from Rome bears the signature of His Eminence Cardinal Marchetti-Selvaggiani.

“The Holy Office, over which the Pope himself presides, is the Congregation which safeguards the teaching of faith and morals. The Roman pronouncement reveals that this Sacred Congregation met in plenary session on Wednesday, July 27, 1949, and that the decisions set forth in this letter were approved by His Holiness, Pope Pius XII, in an audience on the following day.

“The Holy Office declares: ‘This Sacred Congregation is convinced that the unfortunate dispute is due to an insufficient study and understanding of the well known dictum ‘Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus,’ and that the dispute has been rendered more acrimonious because of the serious disturbance of discipline occasioned by the refusal of some members of the aforementioned group to revere and obey duly constituted authority.” The Sacred Congregation refers to the axiom as ‘an incontestable principle,’ but continues: ‘However, this doctrine must be understood in the sense in which the Church herself understands it. Surely it is not to private judgment that Our Savior committed for exposition the deposit of faith, but to the teaching office of the Church.’

“The Roman letter points out that the teachings of Saint Benedict’s Center are inconsistent with pronouncements of His Holiness Pope Pius XII concerning the relationship to the Church of those who are not of the Fold. The Holy Office condemns the teaching of the Cambridge group in these terms: ‘From all the foregoing it is clear that the doctrine presented by the periodical From the Housetops (Vol. 3) as genuine Catholic teaching, is far from being such, and can do nothing but grave harm both to those who are in the Church and to those outside it.’

“With regard to recent actions of the Center leaders, the Holy Office employed severe terms of censure, declaring it ‘beyond understanding how Saint Benedict’s Center can consistently claim to be a Catholic school, and desire to be called such, while actually refusing to conform to the prescriptions of Canon Law, and while functioning as a source of discord and revolt against Church authority, and as a cause of great upset to many consciences.’

“The letter singled out by name the sole priest associated with the Center and declared: ‘Similarly it is beyond understanding how a member of a religious society, namely Father Feeney, can present himself as a “defender of the faith,” and at the same, time not hesitate to attack the catechetical teaching proposed by legitimate authorities, and not even fear to bring upon himself the weighty sanctions of Canon Law leveled against his grave violations of duty as a religious, as a priest, and as an ordinary member of the Church.’

“The Sacred Congregation reproved the publishing activities of Saint Benedict’s Center, saying: ‘…it is nowise to be borne that Catholics should arrogate to themselves the right to publish a magazine for spreading theological doctrines, without that permission of competent Church authority which is called an ‘imprimatur’, and which is exacted by Canon Law.’

“Center spokesmen have repeatedly declared that they would be content only with a pronouncement from the Holy See itself. The letter from the Holy Office points out that now ‘Rome has spoken,’ and ends with a solemn warning to the dissident group ‘at the peril of their souls’ immediately to return to Church unity in belief and practice.

“Acting on instructions which accompanied the letter, the Archbishop telephoned Father Feeney on Wednesday night, Aug. 31, and invited him to come to the Archbishop’s house on Thursday afternoon to hear the decision of the Holy Office. Father Feeney did not come, nor did any of the group identified with him.

“In a further effort to reconcile these misled persons, the Archbishop sent the Vicar General and two representatives of Chancery to communicate the contents of the letter to Father Feeney and his adherents at their own address. They were unwilling to listen to the letter, thus refusing submission to the Pope and the Church. The Archbishop asks prayers in their behalf.”

This statement pretends to be a decree (it was reported as “a decree” in the Catholic press all over the country), and it is simply a letter. It purports to be an official letter, and yet only parts of it are quoted. We do not say that someone in the Holy Office is not willing to support these sentences, provided they be doctrinally vague, but it is clear that, what Archbishop Cushing, Bishop Wright, and Monsignor Furlong were attempting to give the impression was an official decree, was not such. It is patent to anyone who reads the announcement in The Pilot that there is no official character to it of the kind required for a decree. Professors of theology in seminaries outside this diocese have openly admitted this to their students.

Another astounding fact attendant upon the publication of this so-called decree is this: immediately upon its publication, a notice was sent from Archbishop Cushing to the various rectories and religious houses in the archdiocese requiring that the priests make no mention of the matter in their sermons or even in their conversations to others. The reason given was that the case was now closed. The notice even went so far as to quote the saying: “Roma locuta est; causa finita est.” (“Rome has spoken; the case is finished.”) However, as everybody knows, this saying, “Roma locuta est; causa finita est“, has always been used to indicate that those in whose favor Rome has spoken are now free to teach and talk, and that the opponents must stop talking and teaching. It is a strange kind of a “decree” which will keep the priests whom it is supporting from uttering the truth in which they have been supported by Rome, and from letting the faithful know the errors which are being taught by their adversaries.

The Pilot release had rather the appearance of a technical protection of ecclesiastical prestige. It did not give the confused people of Boston an answer to the doctrine, and it gave added encouragement to the Liberals, who immediately outstripped themselves in wide and erroneous statements in the newspapers, as we shall show.

The newspapers had telephoned us that The Pilot statement was coming out. One newspaper reporter brought us what he said was one of the first two Pilots off the press. When we saw the statement we were for awhile at an utter loss to know what to make of it. The reporter, whose treatment of us all through the case had been consistently fair, human and untouched by pressure, was waiting for a statement from us.

We read the release through several times, and typed out the following for him:

“It is reported by The Pilot in the letter from the Holy Office, which it partially quotes and partially composes, that ‘the decisions set forth in this letter were approved by His Holiness, Pope Pius XII in an audience.’ (Italics ours.) St. Benedict Center still knows that it has had no answer on its doctrinal crusade and its appeal for an ex cathedra pronouncement from the Holy Father. Is there salvation outside the Catholic Church, or is there not? If we have said something inconsistent with Catholic doctrine, we would like to know what it is from the Holy See and in clear, definite statement.

“The one unmistakable statement from the Holy Office that got through the censorship of The Pilot is the reaffirmation of the fact that the doctrine that there is no salvation outside the Church ‘is an incontestable principle.’ This is exactly the principle which Archbishop Cushing, Bishop Wright and Boston College have contested, and the principle for which we have been suffering for a solid year. The Pilot advises us to “return to the unity of the Church at the peril of our souls.” That we are outside the unity of the Church we deny.”

The next day many of the newspapers pilloried us in the headlines and in the news. The Boston Daily Record ran two inch headlines which screamed from every news stand:

Censures St. Benedict’s Center As Source of Discord and Revolt.

The Boston Daily Globe wrote:

Vatican Condemns
Cambridge Center

“The Vatican has condemned the teachings of the Saint Benedict Center, Cambridge, and has warned Rev. Leonard Feeney, S.J., four discharged Boston College professors and their followers at the Center that they remain outside the authority of the Catholic Church ‘at the peril of their souls,’ it was revealed last night.

“Announcement that Rome had acted in the matter of the doctrinal dispute was made by Archbishop Cushing, who disclosed that the Vatican ruling was contained in an official letter from the Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office:…”

The story went on for columns.

The next serious consequence, from the standpoint of doctrine, was headlined in the Worcester Telegram, for Friday morning, September 2, 19.19. We sent this first page of the Worcester Telegram to the Holy Office. The headlines ran:


Holds No Salvation
Outside Church
Doctrine to Be False
(emphasis ours)

There it was, plain as day. The Vatican holds No Salvation Outside the Church to be a false doctrine. No one could deny that this was one wolf the shepherds had let into the sheepfold. That the Worcester Telegram should draw this conclusion is not surprising. It would have been surprising if someone had not drawn it.

The News-Tribune of Waltham, Mass., headlined: Vatican Statement Supports Archdiocesan Stand, and then went on, with the aid of Monsignor Furlong, to make some astounding statements:

Hits Heresy
At Center
As Harmful

Dissidents Still
Seek Papal Word

“A ruling by the Boston Archdiocese that St. Benedict’s Center in Cambridge is off-bounds to Catholics as a result of teaching the heresy that there is not salvation outside the Catholic Church has been vindicated by a letter from the Vatican censuring the group severely.

“The chancellor of the Archdiocese, Msgr. Walter J. Furlong, told the News-Tribune this morning that Rev. Leonard Feeney, S.J., director of the center, was asking for the rarest of pronouncements when he refused to respect the letter from the Supreme Congregation of the Holy Office and demanded an ‘ex cathedra’ statement.

“This type of statement, in which the Pope speaks directly on matters of faith and morals, would result only in case of a seriously disputed point of doctrine needing clarification, according to Msgr. Furlong. He added that doctrine on the point of salvation outside the Roman Catholic Church is clear….

“The latest edition of the Baltimore Catechism, official body of Catholic Doctrine in this country, published earlier this year, stated positively there may be salvation outside the church under certain conditions where persons of good will are acting according to the dictates of their conscience. The doctrine is not new but stems from the post-reformation period….” (emphasis ours)

The newspapers and radio broadcasts of Friday, September 2nd, repeated over and over the warning to Saint Benedict Center to “return to the Church (as they put it) at the peril of their souls”. Father answered as many times, “That we are outside the Church (as you say), we deny.” On Saturday, to add to the list of inconsistencies, we found the newspaper headlines declaring that we might not yet be outside the Church, after all! The Boston Traveler, Saturday, September 3, 1949, said:

Church May
Oust Priest,
Four Others

“Vatican City, Sept. 3 (UP) — An unimpeachable Vatican source said today that a Jesuit priest and four discharged Boston Catholic college professors may be excommunicated if they persist in their ‘obstinate ways.’…

“The source implied that Archbishop Richard J. Cushing of Boston would decide on the matter….

“‘After they have been deprived of the sacraments, they may even be excommunicated. It is absolutely out of the question that the Pontiff will say anything after the action of Archbishop Cushing and the Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office. Now it is only a matter of procedure according to canon law. There is no further need for Vatican action because their archbishop has full jurisdiction, authority and guidance.'”

The New York Times for Sunday, September 4, 1949, printed Father’s answer to this latest new release:

Feeney Will Appeal
To Vatican If Banned

“Boston, Sept. 3 — Commenting on a report that he faces possible excommunication, the Rev. Leonard Feeney said today that he would appeal any such action to the Pope in person.

“An unofficial Vatican source has been quoted as saying that Father Feeney and four of his adherents may be excommunicated if they persist in their ‘obstinate’ ways.

“Father Feeney, head of Saint Benedict’s Center in Cambridge, has not receded from his contention that there is no salvation outside the Catholic Church….

“His appeal to the Vatican would have ‘the backing of thousands of Greater Boston Catholics who are ready to support me in an emergency,’ Father Feeney said. He added that he was sure that the Pope would want to hear ‘the true story’ of the controversy, ‘which has never been presented to him by Auxiliary Bishop John J. Wright and his political friends in Rome.’

“The noted Jesuit author and lecturer insisted that, even though excommunicated, ‘I will never withdraw my allegiance to the holy Catholic faith or to the Holy Father.’…”

On September 17th, 1949, Father Feeney sent the following letter to His Eminence, Cardinal Marchetti-Selvaggiani, Secretary of the Holy Office and Vicar General of Rome:

(Translation from the Latin)

It is now being proclaimed everywhere in American newspapers, both secular and Catholic, that the Holy Office edited an official decree, signed by you, and approved by the Roman Pontiff, and partially quoted by the official newspaper of the diocese of Boston, “The Pilot”, in which decree it is announced that the dogma of the Church “Outside the Church there is no salvation” we must now interpret according to the norms of American liberalism according to which salvation is bestowed on everyone on account of his own sincerity.

The servant and son in Christ of Your Eminence,

(signed) Leonard Feeney, S.J.

The Catholic press throughout the United States announced The Pilot release of the letter from the Holy Office as a “decree from the Holy Office”, and printed columns of commentary upon it. Their condemnation of Father Feeney and Saint Benedict Center was complete. A great many of the facts in their stories of Father and the Center were so unfounded that we thought, for a while, of writing to the National Catholic Welfare Council, from whose news service much of the copy had been obtained by the Catholic papers. The N. C. W. C. had never telephoned us for a verification of any of the facts about us which had gone out over the country. We were so aghast at what had happened to the doctrine, however, that we did not get around to protesting the treatment of ourselves.

In the meantime, people had been thinking the matter over. So many letters came to the Center asking for our interpretation of The Pilot statement and saying that they could get from it no definite answer on the doctrine, that Philip Gammans wrote “Report to the Catholics of Boston — No. 6”. Actually this report was sent to all parts of the United States, to Canada and to Europe, as well as to the Catholics of Boston. It read as follows:


“On September 1st,, the Pilot, the official paper of the archdiocese of Boston, published what it called a condemnation of St. Benedict Center by the Holy Office. What was called a ‘decree’ of the Holy Office was in reality a letter from the secretary of the Holy Office to Archbishop Cushing. Although this letter was written on the 27th of July, it was more than a month later, just before Bishop Wright and Archbishop Gushing sailed for Ireland, that parts of it were published (after considerable recomposition) by the Pilot.

“This letter was not a decree; if it were, it would have been quoted in full, and it would have said DECREE across the top of it. Although a decree of the Holy Office is by no means infallible, still it is a shocking thing that Bishop Wright, with the cooperation of the secretary to the Holy Office, should allow the people to draw the conclusion that this letter was a decree. Saint Benedict Center still has not seen this letter; diocesan officials offered to read to us parts of what they said was a copy, but merely as a formality, for the Pilot was off the press an hour after the offer.

“The world may not realize for some time the horror of what has been done by Bishop Wright and Archbishop Cushing. With the weak and sinful cooperation of political friends in Rome, they have spread throughout the world the belief that the Church has repudiated one of its dogmas. They have done this at the very moment when the Vatican is exhorting the Polish and Czech peoples to resist Communism. Why should these people be asked to die to preserve the Faith for their children if these children can become ‘sincere’ Communists or ‘sincere’ anything else and still be saved?

“No other dogma of the Catholic Faith has been more often infallibly defined than that for which we at the Center are fighting. The dogma is that there is no salvation outside the Catholic Church. This is not taking it upon ourselves to condemn those outside the Church to hell. It is telling them what God has revealed on the subject of salvation. It is telling them that it is God’s arrangement that in order to be saved they must join the Catholic Church, and persevere in it in holiness until death. It is not uncharitable to say this; but it would be a great uncharity not to let people know where they must find salvation.

“If the Church is not necessary for salvation, then why did God let His Son die on the Cross? Why did He let the first 28 Popes be martyred? And why did he, permit so many millions of early Christians to be slaughtered? What kind of charity is this on God’s part, if the Church is not the one way to Heaven? To say that it is not is sheer blasphemy. And this is what the Liberal Heresy implies!

“In the face of this Liberalism, we of Saint Benedict Center know that we must continue to profess the full Catholic Faith. Our appeals to Rome, even to the Holy Father, have so far gone unanswered. Our priest is silenced, our Center interdicted, our couples unjustly refused the Sacrament of Matrimony, but we know that we must continue, like Saint Athanasius, to profess the Faith. We know as a part of the Catholic Faith that it is impossible for the Pope to define infallibly something which is contrary to a previous infallible pronouncement. Therefore we know that the dogma will eventually prevail.

Pray for us.

We take this opportunity to thank our many friends for their support in the midst of the present confusion, and to fulfill their requests by publishing this Report.

And so another chapter in the life of St. Benedict Center came to a close.