Editor: Father Malachi Martin interviews Brother Francis. Recorded on May 4, 1992, by Pat Romano. Father Martin gave the interview here at the monastery in Richmond. He died seven years later in 1999. He authored seventeen books of fiction and non-fiction. At the time of the interview Father Malachi was interested in writing a book on Father Leonard Feeney. Please be aware that this is a live interview. I have done very minimal editing. There may be some typographical errors. A huge thank you is due to Jan Montgomery for transcribing this from an audio cassette — a very difficult job indeed. The original, unedited, audio recording is available via our website, on CD and MP3.
Brother Francis: Our special guest is Father Malachi Martin. I don’t need to say much by way of introducing him. He is very well known through his many books. Father Malachi Martin is a priest who, like Father Feeney, has suffered through the decline of the order that both joined with tremendous love and enthusiasm. In fact he wrote a book titled, The Jesuits. I taught at Jesuit colleges for nine years of my life and I know the kind of disappointment that I had when I discovered that the Jesuit order, even back in the 1940s, was infected with liberalism. So I am very happy to say “Welcome Father Malachi.”
Father Martin: Brother Francis thank you very much. It is my privilege to be speaking to you today on a topic which is of prime importance for not only ordinary lay Catholics, but for priests and bishops and for cardinals and for the entire Church because the truth of the Catholic Church stands or falls on what we are going to discuss with you today.
Tell me, Brother, when did you meet Father Feeney for the first time?
Brother Francis: Actually, this is the 50th anniversary (1992) of my first meeting of Father Feeney.
Father Martin: Where did you meet?
Brother Francis: First, I have to give you a little of my background in order to understand why I ended up in Boston. I was born in Lebanon and I was educated at the American University at Beirut, and I taught physics there five years. In 1939, just before the World War, I was granted a fellowship to continue my graduate studies at the University of Michigan where I obtained a doctorate in philosophy in 1942. I had a student visa so the university could not give me a job, so instead they granted me a kind of exceptional fellowship, post-graduate, to the University of Harvard. I had just been two years a Catholic, having been received into the Church at Saint Thomas the Apostle Church in Ann Arbor. I would have wanted to go to a Catholic institution, but I took the fellowship as the Will of God, a providential thing, and came to Boston. After I met Father Feeney, I knew why God had arranged the affair. It was not long after coming east that I visited Saint Benedict Center in Cambridge and listened to Father Feeney speak for the first time.
Father Martin: What was it that struck you about Father Feeney from the first moment?
Brother Francis: That very first evening I sat down to listen to Father who, as you know, was very popular, the hall was very crowded. Students were flocking to the Center from all the academic institutions in the area. After his talk, he sent someone for me and I was very surprised. I told the young man that he must be mistaken, Father Feeney and I had never met. He said no, I am absolutely certain you are the one he wants to speak to. So I went to his office in the back room. He asked everyone to leave and he looked at me and said “You agreed with everything I was saying.” I said “Yes, Father,” I did enthusiastically. What made you think so, I asked, I thought everyone here was behind what you were saying. Father then told me that he had many, many listeners, friends and so on, but no disciples. He said they listen to me: “They enjoy my jokes; they applaud; they laugh and about five minutes later they are back at Harvard or at Radcliffe or at MIT making wisecracks about the lecture. They don’t really take seriously what I am preaching.” I asked him what made you think that I was different? He said that during his talk he would look at the faces in the audience and he noticed that there was one face there that told him that that’s the way a priest should talk.
Father Martin: All right, now let’s jump a little because as we know Father Feeney became a figure of controversy. On what main issue did he become a figure of controversy?
Brother Francis: Father Feeney became a figure of controversy, because he was living up to the charge given to Saint Benedict Center from its founding which was in 1940 by the Cardinal Archbishop of Boston, Cardinal Wiliam O’Connell. Cardinal O’Connell made the founders of the Center [Catherine Clarke, Avery Dulles, and Christopher Huntington] promise that the Center would not become a kind of Newman Club for Harvard or MIT or Radcliffe, or any other non-Catholic university. The Cardinal did not want to give Catholic parents the impression that we would be encouraging them to send their children to those institutions where they could easily lose their Faith. He also asked that Saint Benedict Center teach the Faith with no compromise. It was in view of that commission by the Catholic official authority that we finally found ourselves defending a fundamental dogma.
Father Martin: Brother Francis what is that fundamental belief or dogma?
Brother Francis: It is the dogma that outside the Catholic Church there is no salvation.
Father Martin: How was that received; how was his teaching received and reacted to by the clergy and the local bishops?
Brother Francis: Father lectured weekly on Thursday nights and he assigned me to give philosophic talks on Tuesday night. We also began publishing a periodical From the Housetops. I wrote an article for it titled “Sentimental Theology” and showed it to Father. In the article I raised the issue of the dogma, lamenting its abandonment. Father was very excited about it and it appeared as the lead article in the next issue. That started a campaign against me personally with some of the Jesuits at Boston College where I was teaching. Father then got into the controversy when he came to my defense and that of three other professors who had joined in the profession of that dogma.
Father Martin: Brother Francis, what precise objections had the clergy and the bishops got to the dogma of the Church outside the Church there is no salvation?
Brother Francis: Since the issue arose at Boston College I would say the Jesuits were divided 50/50. There were those who would have said right away that yes, this is a dogma of the Church, and there was another half that would do everything they can to suppress it. Unfortunately, even the Jesuits who were saying, yes this is a dogma of the Church, had already covered it with so many loopholes that in the end they were saying what the other liberal Jesuits were saying. There was only one Jesuit priest at the College, the famous J. F. X. Murphy, who was unqualifiedly for Father Feeney and never changed. Sadly, he ended up having a nervous breakdown and disappeared, and died.
Father Martin: Well, Brother Francis, once the opposition arose, tell us briefly the sequence of events that led to the disgrace and the expulsion of Father Feeney?
Brother Francis: The President of Boston College at the time, Father Keleher, accused us of being narrow-minded, bigoted, divisive, and so on. He used all the epithets that the masonic media would have used and they eventually fired us from Boston College, an event which was received immediately worldwide publicity.
Father Martin: Then once you were expelled from Boston College what happened to Father Feeney? Was he still allowed to continue with Saint Benedict Center?
Brother Francis: Well, after Father came out with a statement supporting the four professors the axe fell. Archbishop Cushing of Boston imposed a silencing on Father and placed the Center under interdict. While Father questioned the validity of the silencing but he went into foro interno, stopped preaching publicly and only offered Mass privately for the Center community.
Father Martin: Well that didn’t continue on for long, Brother Francis. What happened next?
Brother Francis: Father entered an appeal of nullity and sent it to the Pope and the Holy Office. He argued that the silencing was unjust and that did not consider it binding but still he did not defy it openly.
Father Martin: What was the result of that appeal?
Brother Francis: At that point, we know from an interview to the press given by Cardinal Wright just before he died (Cardinal Wright died just about the same time as Father Feeney if I remember) that he was told to come to Rome to explain what was going on. He was the Auxiliary Bishop of Archbishop Cushing. He described in the interview a private meeting with Pope Pius XII which is very surprising of course. No one else could testify as to the truth of his testimony which he didn’t make public until over twenty years after the meeting. Cardinal Wright claimed that he and the pope alone went over a letter that would settle the controversy. That was the famous letter, signed by Cardinal Marchetti-Selvaggiani, which was later on, in the early sixties, put in Denzinger’s Enchiridion Symbolorum by another Jesuit, Karl Rahner.
Father Martin: Please tell us who wrote that letter and what it said.
Brother Francis: I believe Cardinal Wright wrote that letter. I could defend that thesis but that would be would take much longer. It was pretended to have been issued by the Holy Office. Well, as you know the Prefect of the Holy Office has a weekly appointment with the Pope to report to him all the measures taken that week. Why would Cardinal Wright, Bishop Wright at that time, be the one to carry the letter to the Pope and have a long interview with the Pope as he described it at great length in an interview over twenty years later? The letter was signed by Marchetti-Selvaggiani who by the way is the one who ordained Wright as a priest and therefore I would say that the liberal gang had taken hold of some very important positions in the Vatican. They were getting together to suppress the dogma that was very annoying to them. It was done with that famous letter which is almost a precursor of so much of the double talk that came out of Vatican II.
Father Martin: Now give us precisely the point of that letter, not the entire letter, but the main point. What did it say precisely about Father Feeney and the doctrine?
Brother Francis: First, it went on talking the language of tradition saying that the dogma extra Ecclesiam nulla salus (outside the Church there is no salvation) is an axiom of the Catholic Faith and is beyond any argument or dispute and so on. Finally, it ended up with the one loophole that destroyed the whole thing. It introduced the idea that people could be in the Church by desire and that desire need not be explicit but implicit. So, in the end, you can say that there is no salvation outside the Church but it means absolutely nothing. I mean we could applaud 99% of the letter, but the last part of the letter undid the whole thing.
Father Martin: But did the letter condemn Father Feeney by name and condemn his interpretation?
Brother Francis: It did. It mentioned Father and expressed surprise that a member of the Society of Jesus famous for obedience should be not towing the line as he was told to by his superiors. The letter did not excommunicate Father; it merely sustained or gave moral support to the silencing that had already been done by Archbishop Cushing.
Father Martin: So the purpose of that letter by Cardinal Marchetti-Selvaggiani was to support the silencing of Father Feeney. It did not say his doctrine was false, his teaching was false, nor did it say that he was excommunicated.
Brother Francis: Right. It just referred to some articles in our magazine From the Housetops and, in very general terms, said that these articles do not represent the mind of the Church and so on; but it did not call the articles heresy and, as you said, it supported the action taken by Archbishop Cushing.
Father Martin: But there was no personal sanction against Father Feeney by way of excommunication or suspension?
Brother Francis: Not at that time.
Father Martin: What was the next step? What happened after that?
Brother Francis: In my memory of the story, the next thing we heard was that one Cardinal in Spain, the famous Cardinal Segura, had raised his voice and said it was a great scandal that the Archbishop of Boston should silence a priest for holding that there is no salvation outside the Church and he wrote to the Pope about it. Some of our friends visited Cardinal Segura and told them that he had received an answer from Pius XII, saying that in his next encyclical he’s going to take care of the matter. The next encyclical (August, 1950) was Humani generis which, among other things he was worried about, was strongly critical of the modernists and the liberals. I think the pope conceived it as an updating of the famous Pascendi Dominici gregis in which Pope Saint Pius X had condemned modernism. In that encyclical, Pope Pius XII expressed dismay that some of “Our sons,” and you can say what does he mean by his sons, theologians? bishops?, “are reducing to a meaningless formula the necessity of belonging to the true Church in order to obtain salvation.”
Father Martin: Brother Francis, from what I know about papal statements and papal style, he was speaking to the universal Church as universal Father dwelling on what was then at that moment a local incident; but it is quite clear in papal language that he was saying Father Feeney is upholding the doctrine of the Church. He wasn’t going to deal in an encyclical with the disciplinary aspect of it, the suspension and silencing of Father Feeney. Now then, after that, what was the next step in the degradation imposed on Father Feeney?
Brother Francis: Well, I would like first to comment on what you just said. That’s unquestionably what the pope intended and that is exactly how it was taken universally. I was with Father Feeney when we received a call from the New York Times and the reporter said to me “Does Father Feeney know the Holy Father just upheld his position on the controversy,” and so I got Father to the phone and he was informed that an encyclical had just been issued and he told us the title of the encyclical. Now having heard from Cardinal Segura that the Pope was going to do something, we knew that that was what the cardinal was talking about. There was jubilation at Saint Benedict Center and all the press, local and international, immediately said that the pope had vindicated Father Feeney in the controversy with Archbishop Cushing and with Boston College.
Father Martin: Brother Francis, that must have been a bitter pill for his enemies to swallow. And they were not going to let up on him. The sequel was much more hurtful and disgraceful for him, wasn’t it?
Brother Francis: Absolutely, then we started to see a very special kind of persecution. Now the tragedy as we see it is that while Pope Pius XII unquestionably with the height of his authority took our side and upheld the doctrine, when it came to the practical order he let them do anything to us. He figuratively threw us to the wolves and looked in the other direction. He didn’t want to know what they were doing.
Father Martin: Yes, that is one way of understanding it. The way I understand it too is that a pope is limited in his information; he doesn’t read the newspapers; he gets briefings and clippings; he probably didn’t know what was finally done to Father Feeney until it was done and then, after that, he was ill and dying in the early 50s and up to 1958, when he died, he was hardly able to cope with what then seemed to him a local phenomenon; he was dealing with something much worse than that. Please tell us now what was done to Father Feeney.
Brother Francis: Father, this interpretation of Pope Pius XII is something we have heard from many people, very knowledgeable people. As a matter of fact Boston was thoroughly convinced of it. It was even in the public papers that the Pope was so embarrassed by the action of Archbishop Cushing that he would never make him a cardinal. By that time the Archbishop of Boston was almost an immediate candidate to the cardinalate. So, everybody knew that the pope was very much embarrassed by the actions of Archbishop Cushing.
Father Martin: Well eventually it became impossible for Father Feeney to continue. How did the Jesuits behave with him after that?
Brother Francis: Well it didn’t take long for the Jesuit superiors to dismiss him from the Society.
Father Martin: On what grounds?
Brother Francis: They pretended that there was an issue of disobedience. You will have to see the documents but I don’t think they even mentioned any doctrinal matter. They ordered Father Feeney to leave the Center and go to teach at Holy Cross. As a professed Jesuit Father Feeney had taken the vow personally to the pope to obey sight unseen. If the pope wants me, Father would say, he could send me to the North Pole and I would never stop but when Father went to his superior, Father McEleney, who was the Provincial, and asked him why he was being reassigned when he had a commitment to an institution where students had planned their whole year on the fact that they want to study under him. Father asked why his superior was doing this after the appointment time — that is when they assign to every Jesuit what he is going to be doing that year — and so suddenly to change that. Father McEleney was not cautious enough. He could have as his superior just said never mind for what reason, but he said to him that it was because of his “doctrine.” That was a word Father McEleney should never have used.
Father Martin: So he made it quite clear through his lack of tact that what they were after was suppression of Father Feeney as teacher of this dogma of the Church.
Brother Francis: Very good.
Father Martin: Did Father Feeney refuse to go.
Brother Francis: Father Feeney did refuse to go.
Father Martin: And so they put into effect the normal process by which they expel a Jesuit from the Society.
Brother Francis: They didn’t even do it according to their rule. You know the rule, they never dismiss a Jesuit until they have him incardinated in some diocese and Father was a priest and not excommunicated.
Father Martin: In today’s Church, given the new developments, he could have taken them to an ecclesiastical court and sued them and got them to do the proper thing, but that wasn’t the issue at stake in Father Feeney’s mind. The issue at stake in his mind was the dogma of the Church. So, being expelled, he retired from Harvard, or did he? What did he do immediately?
Brother Francis: He continued, as I told you already, protesting canonically the measures taken against him by the Archbishop of Boston. He still respected him as his bishop in the public forum but, in the inner forum, he continued to teach us, hear our confessions, say Mass for us, but it was behind closed doors.
Father Martin: Now, I think Brother Francis at this moment in our talk, we should branch onto the main topic that being the doctrine itself the dogma at issue here. I have been 28 years in this country. I have never yet heard a bishop or an official theologian state quite clearly in public or write that indeed outside the Church of Rome the Holy Roman Catholic Apostolic Church there is no salvation possible. So I think we should start with that. We have called it a dogma. A dogma means something that the Church has proposed as infallible without belief in which, you cannot be saved. Where in Church history is this more definitively proposed?
Brother Francis: Father Feeney, contrary to the general impression in the public world, rested his case much more on the words of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ as you find them in every Gospel than he did on the measures that were done by the Church eventually to canonize this doctrine as a dogma of faith. As you know a dogma of faith is defined officially by the solemn magisterium not as something you start to believe the first time, but as part of the Deposit of Faith that has been believed from the beginning. It is what the martyrs died for; and there is plenty of examples of martyrs who shed their blood just for that dogma. Usually a dogma is defined officially by the pope once somebody begins to deny it. At the time of the rise of what we call rational theology there were good theologians doing lots of thinking, but at a certain point, you didn’t know whether it’s still God speaking or a good thinker, a good philosopher. They were putting this dogma under a cloud, and the pope who first came out and defined it is Pope Innocent III.
Father Martin: Roughly what time. What years did he live? What century?
Brother Francis: Innocent III is the pope who summoned the Fourth Lateran Council. The Lateran Councils on a whole were disciplinary councils more concerned with abuses, but the Fourth Lateran Council under Pope Innocent III, in 1215, by the way the same year that the Magna Carta was signed, defined that “There is one universal Church of the faithful outside of which no one at all can be saved.”
Father Martin: And since 1215 has there been a reiteration a repetition of that statement by the infallible Church?
Brother Francis: I would think that when Pope Innocent III defined it in these terms he thought that he took care of it for good. He didn’t think that there would be any tampering after that. A person who doesn’t accept it, just becomes a heretic, walks out of the Church, but again, as I said, it was the age of reasoning, too much reasoning. Much of that reasoning was good. After all, it is the age of the Summa Theologica of Saint Thomas, of great doctors of the Church like Saint Bonaventure and Saint Albert. There were theologians who started saying, yes that is true, you have to belong to the Church, but you don’t need necessarily to be subject to the pope. I mean you can belong to any kind of congregation or group that holds substantially the faith taught by Jesus Christ accepts the Gospel believes in the Divinity of Christ accepts all the definitions of earlier councils but you don’t have to be subject to the pope. So Pope Boniface VIII another great pope came out and proclaimed, “We say declare define and pronounce that it is necessary for the salvation of every human creature to be subject to the Roman Pontiff.” In other words, you have to belong to that religion whose head, whose visible head on earth, is the pope, the Bishop of Rome.
Father Martin: There’s no doubting about the meaning of Boniface VIII. He was a man who called a spade a spade. Now after Boniface VIII we come down to say the Reformation time and into the 15th/16th century. Did the Council of Trent state something about this particular dogma?
Brother Francis: Before we come to the Council of Trent there was the Council of Florence in 1441-43 through which Eugene IV tried to restore unity in the whole Church. They had succeeded in healing the famous western schism but then in the light of the principle of Boniface VIII they tried to invite all the eastern churches the Copts, the Armenians, and so on, to come and proclaim that same faith — and they succeeded. The major body the schismatic easterners, the second Rome, Byzantium, which was called the Roman Empire of the East, the Patriarch of Constantinople and the eastern Christians were very well represented at Florence. They professed at the Council of Florence the same Catholic faith you and I hold today, and a new definition arose because of certain loopholes that had affected the definition of Pope Boniface. So in the Council of Florence under Eugene IV they came out with a statement that I’m sure they couldn’t conceive any human mind able to introduce any more loopholes in it. For anybody of good will who wants to know what the Church really officially has taught on this doctrine there is no question whatsoever that it’s not what the liberals were trying to sneak into the Church.
Father Martin: What did they state exactly in that statement of the Council of Florence?
Brother Francis: What they stated at the Council of Florence and at the time it was agreed to by the whole Christian world east and west was trying to take care of all the possible loopholes that had been introduced. You say what loopholes could be introduced after Pope Boniface VIII said it is necessary for every human creature to be subject to the Roman Pontiff. Well I hear Jesuits tell me every baptized baby becomes a subject to the Roman Pontiff, so in other words a man could be subject to the Roman Pontiff even if he is in schism or belongs to the Presbyterian church or the Methodist church or something.. The Council defined that the most Holy Roman Church firmly believes professes and preaches that none of those existing outside the Catholic Church not only pagans but also Jews and heretics and schismatics can have a share in life eternal but that they will go into the eternal fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels unless before death they are joined with her.
Father Martin: Nothing could be clearer than that. Now after that that was the 15th century we come to the Council of Trent.
Brother Francis: By the time of the Council of Trent it was taken for granted. The Council of Trent did not come out with a fourth definition. But in the documents of the Council of Trent it pervades like the air of the atmosphere in everything they did or said.
Father Martin: Very good. Now the reason I find that very interesting Brother Francis is that when I travel around this country I listen to priests preaching, I read the pastoral letters of bishops, and I also watch the activities called ecumenical activities and read the descriptions of the spirit of the people participating in those ecumenical meetings I find it implicit in them that provided you are a good Presbyterian, provided you are a good Episcopalian, provided you are a good Moslem, a good Jew, a good whatever, provided you live up to your religious obligations then God in His mercy cannot deny you heaven. Now I know it is a very, very hard sounding doctrine for me to say to you supposing you are a non-Catholic unless you become a Catholic you cannot be saved. On the other hand we are all convinced that there are good believers in other religions who without any real fault on their own never come to a knowledge of the Church. Never come to it. For one reason or another it can happen; it does happen. What do you say to fate? Are any of them saved and if so how on earth does God apply this law because it’s a law this dogmatic law He has given us as Judge, how would He manage to save them?
Brother Francis: Father Feeney believed very strongly that what the Church taught on this doctrine is an invitation to everybody in any religion to come and be a Catholic. He also based himself not only the moral precept that must be respected but on an ontological fact that the only way to be united to the Incarnate Son of God is by means of the Eucharist and it’s just as solid a reality as a rock. I mean you either are or you are not so united. Now Father Feeney believed that baptism is inchoately all of the sacraments, as far as a seed goes, a beginning, but that the Eucharist is consummately the consummation of all the sacraments and that those who depart this life in the state of grace (that applies even to the holy men who lived hundreds or thousands of years before Our Lord came and established the sacraments) that they will have communion in their glorified body after the Resurrection. Not as sacrament, for the sacraments are only for this mortal life, but as Holy Communion.
Father Martin: Now you mentioned, Brother Francis, the necessity of baptism by water. You and I know that within this context of thought and activity and belief in the Church today especially in America people speak about baptism of blood and baptism of desire. Actually what has the magisterium the infallible teaching of the Church ever said to date 1992 that would allow a Catholic to believe that somebody could be saved by baptism of desire or baptism by blood?
Brother Francis: Well, Father Feeney said that once we say in the Creed “Unum Baptisma,” now that settles that question. There is only one baptism and it is the baptism that Christ announced when He said “Unless a man be born of water and the Holy Spirit he shall not enter the Kingdom of God.” So there’s no question about that. Saint Paul said “One Lord One Faith One Baptism”; he didn’t say three Lords three Faiths three Baptisms. So, yes, Father Feeney was very determined about that. Now baptism of desire is as you know a theological phrase that doesn’t appear either in Holy Scripture or in any official pronouncement of the Church but that doesn’t mean that it is necessarily wrong or it couldn’t be treated theologically in a sound way. Now you could treat it theologically based on the only place where there is a foundation for it in the teaching of the Church and that’s in the Council of Trent. The desire for baptism as part of an adult being contrite for his sins accepting the Faith in the Divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Mass in the one religion under the Pope; once he gets that the Church will sometimes say to him we can’t baptize you right away; we have a duty to protect the sanctity of the sacrament after all what do you know about your faith and how you intend to live it, so we’ll baptize you in six months. Now Father said if the Church were to say rush him to the spigot and baptize him right away they would have no confidence in the particular providence of God. They say to him we hope you are sincere you look very sincere but only God knows if you are or are not sincere. If you are sincere and you continue to cooperate with grace you will never be lost. How, we don’t know. God didn’t reveal to us in cases of this nature where it doesn’t touch in any way human activity how it’s going to be done. All you have to do is to defend the words of God.
Father Martin: So in other words the infallible voice of the Church has not spoken definitely on this point of baptism of desire?
Brother Francis: Absolutely not.
Father Martin: Can the same thing be said about the question of baptism by blood?
Brother Francis: Father believed that we don’t know. He definitely believed that a man who dies for the true Faith, not shed his blood for the name of Christ like Cranmer, but who dies for the true Faith, could not be lost, but how again is a question we are not entitled to answer because God has not revealed it.
Father Martin: In other words the Church has not spoken definitely and de fide about this problem?
Brother Francis: That’s right.
Father Martin: And therefore we’ve got to stay within the parameters about what we do know from the teaching Church and we do know from that that normally as far as we know and definitely and infallibly you must be baptized in water and in the name of the Holy Spirit into the Holy Roman Catholic Church in order to be saved.
Brother Francis: Something happened in my own personal life that I might tell in this case and I think it was providential, since I was going to be sent to defend Father’s doctrine of one baptism. My father was supposedly from a Catholic family with a very old long tradition. My mother was a Presbyterian Protestant but my father became a mason for national security reasons he had to cooperate with orthodox and Moslems and Jews and anybody that was patriotic and so on and so he found he could only do it in the lodge and he became a mason. But that did not end there on the patriotic or naturalistic level, he immediately proclaimed that he was not going to baptize any of his children. He did not believe that the parents have the right to impose on the children their own religion which is a major heresy. Obviously he was a Pelagian. We have just issued a book edited by one of our Brothers about the Pelagian heresy today, and my father definitely was a Pelagian, which is to say if you are, you know, a decent man and so on you will go to heaven. No mention of faith or sacraments or anything. So I grew up as a child in a very anti-Catholic anti-clerical home, notoriously so, and everyone used to point me out as unbaptized.
One day after my father died when I was about eleven years old an old woman called me to her house. She said she had something very important to tell me before she dies. She informs me that she baptized me three minutes after I was born. I said, how was that; she said I was the midwife and your grandmother (my father’s mother who was a very pious Catholic) told her don’t you dare leave that room without having the baby baptized. She said you obliged me because you didn’t cry immediately as babies do. You looked a little bluish and that was enough excuse so I got water and I baptized you. Now that lady died only a couple of months later. Supposing some truck had hit me — if she had not told me that fact, no one would have known that I was baptized. So Father Feeney said there is absolutely no way to prove that a man is not baptized. There are documentary ways to prove that he was baptized. There could be documents witnesses and so on, but how could you prove that a man was not baptized? King Faisal could be dying in a hospital in Switzerland and some Catholic nurse you know that liked him and prayed for his salvation could baptize him conditionally, even if he were in a coma. Maybe in his last moments his soul desired to be a Catholic, but his position prevented him from declaring it when he was conscious.
Father Martin: We have a case nearer home. George Washington as you know was visited by a Father Neill SJ in his death room where certainly every indication we have was that he received him into the Catholic Church. It’s not a fact that our masonic friends would like to broadcast about George Washington. Now Brother Francis would you consider the following question? We know we cannot say it is impossible for a good non-Catholic to go to heaven by the grace of God. The Church has not spoken about that if they had baptism of desire or baptism of blood but, if they do go to heaven, that is somebody who is not formally baptized with water, does he get to heaven by baptism of desire or baptism by blood? Is it true to say that grace comes to him or her through the Catholic Church?
Brother Francis: You are raising the issue that stands between us and some of the priests of the Society of Saint Pius X and I have had the privilege of discussing that question with the Archbishop [Lefebvre] on very friendly basis. He never considered Father Feeney’s interpretation [of baptism of desire] as heresy; but some of his followers today do.
Now I will tell you all the things in which Father Feeney and Archbishop Lefebvre immediately agree. When a priest and the congregation offer the Mass graces fall on the whole world; all people: Moslems, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, everyone receives grace from that Mass. All these are actual graces and they remain just actual graces until they make an act of faith. It is only when a person makes an act of faith that he can be in the state of grace. Now I don’t believe anybody disputes the fact that one who dies outside the state of grace will be damned but when a person has been in the state of grace and this doesn’t apply only today, but we are talking now about the millions of people who lived before the Incarnation took place, then they will be saved. Father Feeney thought that there were never any time from the time of Adam until today that salvation was not possible not immediately because all these people who died before Christ came had to wait in the Limbo of the Just and most theologians today say that this Limbo of the Just doesn’t exist anymore. There is no Limbo of the Just today because the whole world has heard the message of salvation. Father Feeney believed with Saint Alphonsus that anybody who prays sincerely for salvation will be saved. If you stop with that sentence, you will say that Father Feeney is the most liberal priest going. Everyone who prays sincerely for salvation will be saved, but it does not say how yet. Everybody who cooperates with the grace with the actual graces and the purpose of all actual grace is to bring people to salvation. Now when we say that there is no salvation outside of the Church we are really inviting every Methodist, every Presbyterian, every Hindu, every Moslem, every Jew to leave whatever pew they are in and come to receive Holy Communion in the Catholic Church. That is what Father Feeney believed. And the Church has a duty to continue what Christ commanded, the only commandment He gave the Church before He left this earth, the only charge still as applicable today as when Our Dear Lord uttered it: “Go and teach all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. He that believeth and is baptized will be saved; he that believeth not shall be condemned” (Matt. 16:16).