Falsifying Father Feeney: The Wanderer Makes a Mistake

One could easily grow a bit weary of correcting the blunders about Father Feeney so commonly made by writers in Catholic publications. But I think Father would exhort us to patience and a charitable correction, rather than a boisterous and high-handed diatribe in return.

In that spirit, then, I would like to make some brief comments about an article appearing on page eight of the January 22 edition of The Wanderer. (The article has just made its way into my hands in Florida.) In a piece entitled “The Cardinal Martini Problem for the Church,” R.M. Pilon, STD, contrasts the Church’s manner of handling dissent before Vatican II with its current, comparatively lax, discipline. His pre-Vatican II example is Father Feeney, who was “excommunicated” for “his dissent from Church teaching.” This is incorrect. Even if the excommunication were valid — which we would contest — the alleged crime for which it was a punishment was not dissent from Church teaching. It was a specific response to a specific directive of an entirely disciplinary nature. Those wanting the facts painstakingly documented may consult Brother Thomas Mary’s They Fought the Good Fight, which publishes the written correspondence between Father Feeney and Cardinal Pizzardo, of the Holy Office.

Here is another factual error in the article: “Fr. Feeney, of course, eventually retracted his teaching and was reconciled to the Church.”

Not so. The lifting of Father’s supposed excommunication entailed absolutely no alteration of “his teaching” — no retraction, signed or merely oral, was stated, requested, obtained, implied, consented to, demanded, offered, or otherwise made. This detail of the Father Feeney affair upset Father William Most (RIP), a respected and erudite priest who contributed pieces to The Wanderer in his day, but who was no friend of Father Feeney. Father Most — who propagated the base falsehood that Father Feeney taught that it was necessary for one’s name to be on a parish register in order for him to obtain salvation — was at least forthright in his assessment of Paul VI’s handling of Father Feeney: He dissented from it. Father Most, in a “more-Catholic-than-the-Pope” moment, asserted that Father Feeney should have been forced to retract. But while he did not like them, Father Most did have a better command of the facts better than R.M. Pilon.

Among regular contributors to The Wanderer are some great admirers of Father Feeney, like Jack Kenny and C. Joseph Doyle. There have even been quite positive reviews of our annual conference printed in the pages of this publication, which has a wonderful tradition of Catholic journalism going back to its origins in the vibrant German Catholicism of our nation’s Midwest.

I respectfully request that The Wanderer’s untruthful and unfruitful attacks on the name of our Founder be put to an end. After all, we ought to be on the same side.

As much as I hate to credit her — especially considering the context of the comment — Sinead O’Connor’s devilish apothegm could be transformed into a proverb of Christian prudence, one that might profitably be employed by those trying to advance the Catholic cause in these confusing times:

“Fight the real enemy.”