Part IV: Politics of Liberalism, continued

While Boston College’s theology department was taking issue with the literal teaching on salvation in From the Housetops not a word was said about the egregious heresy taught by the faculty on its own campus. One Jesuit priest at BC, for example, informed his class that if anyone says there is no salvation outside the Church, he is a heretic and cannot save his soul. Students who had left the secular schools and had enrolled in BC were justifiably scandalized. They were expecting the truth but they found themselves submerged in the vague, totally compromising message of Liberalism. When faculty members at BC, who were also associates of Saint Benedict Center, protested to the Jesuit authorities the blatant heresy taught there, they were summarily fired for “bigotry and intolerance”. For publicly defending the ousted teachers, Father Feeney was silenced and the Center closed.

Father Feeney’s attempts to defend himself and the Center were not successful. In his letters to the American Assistant to the General of the Society of Jesus, and later to the General, John Baptist Janssens, S.J., his appeals to the clearing of the doctrinal difficulty were brushed aside as inconsequential. Again and again he affirmed his willingness to be tried. In a letter to the Superior General he states, “I am perfectly willing to appear before an impartial court in order to defend myself against the false accusations of my adversaries, if my judges do not persistently try to ignore the doctrinal controversy, for it is the basis of my so-called “disobedience” and the cause of everything that has taken place since last September…”

That due process –theright of a professed priest to plead his cause before an impartial judge in the Society of Jesus – should be denied Father Feeney was unconscionable. That he should be expelled from his congregation for protesting this injustice is incomprehensible.

In October 1952, Father Feeney was summoned to Rome by the Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office for a hearing. Again, he expressed his willingness to comply, in this case, when an accusation against him could be produced. Unless named a defendant in some breach of canon law, Father Feeney was not bound to appear in any judicial process. In February of 1953 – without ever knowing that he had been a party in litigation – he received word from the secular press that he had been excommunicated– for “disobedience.”  His appeal to Rome protesting this sentence and proving its invalidity received no response.

In her book “The Loyolas and the Cabots”, Catherine Clarke assures her readers that retelling this story is no mere “bitter statement of wrongs”. It is a portrayal of a decline in the Faith caused by Liberalism – a denial of the authoritative teaching of the Church inspired by Protestantism and later Modernism. Liberalism reduces the foundation of Divine Revelation and the infallible teaching of the Church to an evolving, personal religious experience. In this case, the divinely revealed, infallibly taught and unchanging doctrine on salvation was too controversial for modern pluralism and was thus deemed no longer valid for the times.

Rome’s response to the salvation question, a letter to Archbishop Cushing from the Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office, failed to address Father Feeney’s contention that dogmas are to be understood by the very words used in defining them and not in re-interpretation that destroys the original meaning. If this doctrine can be so “re-conceptualized” as to lose its literal meaning, what is there to prevent other doctrines from suffering the same fate?  Limiting this account to the historical facts, we will offer more on the theological controversy in another article.

The unrelenting condemnation of Father Feeney in the media invariably portrayed him as a disobedient renegade. Catholic and secular press coverage of the story spread the utterly false claim that Father Feeney was excommunicated “for teaching outside the Catholic Church there is no salvation.”  In the face of such slander, and having exhausted every recourse to their superiors, those duty-bound to be the guardians of the Faith – Leonard Feeney, and those who espoused his cause, had only one last option – to remain faithful.