Part III: Politics of Liberalism

Years passed and under Father Feeney’s guidance the influence of Saint Benedict Center at Harvard and other colleges continued to grow. After World War II, the work of the Center became all the more intense, all the more necessary. The Godless thinking that had given rise to Fascism and Communism was alive and well not only in Russia and other European nations, but in America as well as. It was flourishing right down the street from the Center at Harvard and the other universities in the area where the doctrines of atheism inspired by Marx, Darwin, Freud, and company reigned supreme. The morbid and destructive effects of touting this non-sense shocked the Center associates – many reports came to them of some students losing their faith and of others committing suicide. To do their part in combating these great evils, Father Feeney and all at the Center were determined to give the clear, uncompromising message of truth revealed in Sacred Scripture, preserved by the Church’s tradition and proclaimed infallibly by the teaching authority of the Church. It was with this intention that they began publishing, in September 1946, the periodical, From the Housetops, with the approval and blessing of Archbishop Cushing.

Inevitably conflict began to develop on several fronts. The first was Harvard where a number of students who were associated with the Center began to defend the Faith and to challenge any teaching contrary to it. Some, especially those from influential families who had converted to Catholicism through the Center, went so far as to withdraw from Harvard and other academic institutions, to protest the anti-Catholic bias taught there. The resignations predictably caused no little upset, both to the universities and to the students’ families.

The Center soon began to encounter opposition from where it was least expected. Auxiliary Bishop John Wright informed Father Feeney that there were complaints against Saint Benedict Center – issues involving, first, the students who left their colleges, and second, certain articles in From the Housetops that supported the teaching “outside the Catholic Church there is no salvation.”

Was their teaching on salvation erroneous? No, they were told, but they had said something controversial. The fact that Father Feeney’s strong message was the very reason so many converts had come into the Church was of no consequence in the events that followed. Harvard elites, among them liberal Catholics embarrassed by the Center’s forthright teaching, apparently had little difficulty convincing Archbishop Cushing and the Jesuit provincial that something had to be done about the disturbance caused by Father Feeney and Saint Benedict Center. Measures for restoring peaceful co-existence were deemed necessary – Father Feeney had to go. Expediency would triumph over truth and justice.

It should be noted here that having fulfilled the requirements for accreditation, the Saint Benedict Center School was by this time offering college credits in several liberal arts disciplines, especially the classics. The number of students disenchanted with the secular schools and now enrolled at the Center was steadily increasing.

Just days before the start of classes for Fall of 1948, without warning or a hearing, Father Feeney received a letter in which he was informed by his superior that he was relieved of his duties at Saint Benedict Center. This was shocking news to Father and to all his associates at the Center. He had been already officially assigned to the Center for the coming year and now suddenly, and it seemed arbitrarily, was being reassigned. In a subsequent meeting with his superior, he was told the decision could not be appealed because it had come down from “higher authorities” – no doubt from the Archdiocese. When he asked what it was they objected to, he was told, “Your doctrine.”  “My doctrine about what?” was the pertinent question his superior and others up the chain of command refused to answer. Catherine Clarke was denied a meeting with the superior and had recourse to a letter in which she reminded him that Father was conscience–bound to fulfill his commitments to the Center for the academic year. She received no reply to the letter. 

If Father Feeney had gone astray, were he in error concerning doctrine, certainly he should have been corrected and given a hearing. Were Leonard Feeney and the publishers of From the Housetops out of line for upholding traditional Catholic teaching on salvation?  Were they expecting too much by placing their confidence in their superiors for the answer to such an important question?  Apparently their only crime was having said something controversial.

Lost in the decision to remove Father Feeney was the essence of Catholic authority and obedience. All authority has its source and model in God – a loving Father. Clearly, in refusing to even discuss the reasons for such serious reprisals, a bishop or other superior abuses his authority. The main issue was the infallibly defined teaching on salvation – Father Feeney was being sent from Boston for “his doctrine”. With much prayerful consideration, and doctrine in the balance, Father Feeney and all his associates at the Center agreed that doctrinal truth must take precedence over discipline. Confident that he would eventually get a hearing on the salvation issue, Father Feeney chose to delay compliance to a command calculated to give the impression that he, or anyone else, could be punished for professing the truth.

Both his adherence to an infallibly defined doctrine and the authority of canon law undoubtedly protected Father Feeney and those associated with his work. As things developed and it became clear that discipline to the exclusion of orthodoxy was the policy of their superiors, they prepared to suffer the consequences. And suffer they did.