Showing posts with label Feeneyites Status in Church. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Feeneyites Status in Church. Show all posts

Monday, March 30, 2009

LEGAL STATUS OF “FEENEYISM” & Immaculate Conception

by Charles  A. Coulombe
“Ten years after the passing of Fr. Feeney, the 14 sisters of St. Ann’s House were “regularized” (the word had replaced “reconciled”). That was in February, 1988. Soon after, a member of Bro. Francis’ community in Richmond, N.H., Mr. Douglas Bersaw, wrote to Bernard Cardinal Law, Archbishop of Boston, about the regularization. Rev. John B. McCormack, Secretary for Ministerial Personnel for the Archdiocese of Boston, answered Mr. Bersaw’s letter on behalf of Cardinal Law. When Mother Teresa of St. Ann’s House learned of Fr. McCormack’s answer, she communicated with Fr. Lawrence A. Deery, Vicar for Canonical Affairs and Judicial Vicar of the Diocese of Worcester. Fr. Deery thereupon wrote a letter to Fr. McCormack. We have earlier quoted a portion of the letter. Here it is in its entirety (it is dated May 4, 1988).

“I write to clarify some aspects of the regularization which took place at St. Ann’s House in Still River this past February.

“Mother Teresa, Superior of the community, has expressed concern about your letter of 7 March 1988 to Mr. Douglas Bersaw who had asked Cardinal Law for a clarification of the Church’s teaching on the doctrine extra ecclesiam nulla salus. It is Mother Teresa’s feeling that your letter implied a ‘walking away’ from Father Feeney’s teachings on their part.

“Several clarifications might prove helpful:

“1) The Sisters were asked to ‘understand’ the letter of the then Holy Office dated 8 August 1949. They were not asked to ‘accept’ its contents.

“2) The Sisters were asked to make a Profession of Faith. Nothing else was required.

“It would seem that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith holds the doctrine to have been defined and consequently definitive. It is its theological interpretation and speculation which they see as problematical.

“In our discussions with the Congregation it seemed rather clear that proponents of a strict interpretation of the doctrine should be given the same latitude for teaching and discussion as those who would hold more liberal views.

“Summarily, Mother Teresa and her community do a great deal more than keep the memory of Father Feeney. They now actively proclaim his teachings as they did before the regularization.

“I do hope this information helps to clarify the status of these Sisters and their apostolate.”

Gary Potter, After the Boston Heresy Case,
Catholic Treasures Books, Monrovia, CA 1995
pp. 181-182

St. Benedict Abbey, in Still River, which was the first group to be “regularized,” on the implicit understanding that they would not preach the doctrine, nevertheless carries the three definitions on their website (, explaining that “These days, while the document "Dominus Jesus" is a prominent issue, we at the Abbey look to the solemn definitions which the Catholic world has so frequently tried to explain, especially for the past fifty years.”

Br. Thomas Augustine’s group, who are very staunch in upholding the “strict interpretation” of the dogma (, were nevertheless “regularized” by the diocese in 2003, under the same understanding as St. Ann’s House. Significantly, both Br. Thomas Augustine’s St. Benedict Center and St. Ann’s House serve as the recognised indult Mass centers for the diocese of Worcester.

It would seem obvious that the CDF do not give the 1949 letter the same importance that innumerable other commentators do (including Fr. Karl Rahner, who included it in his edition of Denzinger; since it had not existed in Latin up to that point, and did not make it into the Actae Apostolicae Sedis while its author was alive, Fr. Rahner was forced to translate it from English into Latin). Perhaps their superior knowledge of its actual canonical status might explain why the CDF has not demanded that the “regularized” Feeneyites “accept” it, and why nothing more was asked of Fr. Feeney in his “reconciliation” than that he recite the Athanasian Creed --- which famously states the doctrine Father allowed his career to be ruined over.

The Sisters of St. Ann’s House have recently published a new book, primarily of Father’s lectures, entitled Not Made For This World. The last section is made up of anecdotes about him, the final one of which is as follows:

“The Brothers used to take Father for drives as he got older. One day, shortly before his death [i.e., 1978, six years after the “reconciliation”], they took him to the Trappist Abbey at Spencer, where the monks invited them into the cloister for lunch. Father was quiet as lunch progressed. Then he stood up, rapped his glass for attention, said, ‘There is no salvation outside the Catholic Church,’ and sat down.” Obviously, he held to his guns.

I must admit, that between Vatican II, and Dominus Jesus, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, a great deal of confusion exists on the point; but these are all less solemn teachings than the three ex cathedra definitions that Feeneyites quote ad infinitum:

" There is but one universal Church of the faithful, outside of which no one at all is saved." ."
(Pope Innocent III, Fourth Lateran Council, 1215 A.D.

" We declare,say, define, and pronounce that it is absolutely necessary for the salvation of every human creature to be subject to the Roman Pontiff."
(Pope Boniface VIII, the Papal Bull " Unam Sanctum", 1302 A.D.)

" 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 schismatic's, 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. and that so important is the unity of this ecclesiastical body that only those remaining within this unity can profit by the sacraments of the Church unto salvation, and they alone can receive an eternal recompense for their fasts, their almsgiving, their other works of Christian piety and the duties of a Christian solder. No one, let his almsgiving be as great as it may, no one, not even if he pour out his blood for the Name of Christ, can be saved, unless he remain within the bosom and the unity of the Catholic Church."

( Pope Eugene IV, the Papal Bull " Cantate Domino", 1441 A.D.)

Now these seem about as explicit and as solemn as one can get, and were it not for the three documents I have just mentioned, plus the Holy Office letter and a few generally mistranslated statements of Bl. Pius IX (in any case contradicted more or less explicitly by his Syllabus of Errors), then there really could be no question. But these more recent and less solemn documents do indeed contradict the older and more solemn ones. What is a Catholic to make of this?

A good parallel, I think, can be found in the history of the dispute over the Immaculate Conception. This has been well summarized by Fr. Alban Butler, in his Lives of the Saints, long before the definition of 1854 settled the issue:

The question concerning the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary had been agitated with great warmth in the university of Paris, when both the university and the bishop, in 1387, condemned certain propositions of John de Montesano, a Dominican, in which this privilege was denied. The Council of Basle, in 1439 (Sess. 36), declared the belief of her Immaculate Conception to be conformable to the doctrine and devotion of the church, to the Catholic faith, right reason, and the holy scriptures, and to be held by all Catholics. But this council was at that time a schismatical assembly, nor could its decree be of force. It was, nevertheless, received by a provincial council held at Avignon in 1457, and by the university of Paris. When some gave scandal by warmly contesting the Immaculate Conception, this famous university passed a decree in 1497, in which it was enacted, that no one should be admitted in it to the degree of doctor of divinity who did not bind himself by oath to defend this point. (See Spondan, Contin. Baron. Ad an. 1497; Bulaeus, Hist. Universit. Paris, t. 5, p. 815; Fleury, cont. t. 24, p. 336; Frassen, t. 8, p. 227). The council of Trent declared, in the decree concerning original sin, that it was not its intention to include in it the Immaculate Virgin, the Mother of God, and ordered the decree of Sixtus IV, relating to this point, to be observed. That pope, in 1476, granted certain indulgences to those who assisted at the office and mass on the feast of her Conception; and, in 1483, by another constitution, forbade anyone to censure this festival, or to condemn the opinion which asserted the Virgin Mary’s Immaculate Conception. St. Pius V, by his bull in 1570, forbade either the opinion which affirmed, or that which denied it, to be censured. Paul V, in 1616, reiterated the same prohibition, and, in 1617, forbade anyone to affirm in sermons, theses, or other like public acts, that the Blessed Virgin Mary was conceived in original sin. Gregory XV, in 1622, forbade anyone to affirm this, even in private disputations, except those to whom the holy see gives a special license to do it, which he granted to the Dominicans, provided they do it privately, and only among themselves [emphasis added]; but he ordered that, in the office or mass of this festival, no other title than simply that of the Conception should be used. Alexander VII, in 1671, declared that the devotion of honoring the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary is pious; yet prohibits censuring those who do not believe her Conception immaculate. Philip III of Spain, demanded of Paul V, and Philip IV, of Gregory XV, a definition of this question, but could obtain nothing more than the foregoing bulls. (See Luke Wadding, the learned Irish Franciscan, who lived some time in Spain, and died at Rome in 1655, De Legatione Philippi III et Philippi IV ad Paulum V et Greg. XV, pro definienda Controversia de Conceptione Virginis). In the latest edition of the Roman Index, a certain little office of the Immaculate Conception is condemned; but this censure is not to be extended to other such little offices. In the prayers themselves it is called the Conception of the Immaculate Virgin, which phrase is ambiguous, and may be understood to imply only that she was spotless from all actual sin, and was cleansed from original sin before she was born, in which all Catholics agree. Benedict XIII granted to the subjects of Austria, and the empire a weekly office of the Immaculate Conception on every Saturday; but the epithet Immaculate Conception occurs not in any of the prayers, but only in the title of the office. This prudent reserve of the church in her public prayers is a caution to her children, whilst they maintain this pious sentiment, not to exceed the bounds which she has prescribed them [emphasis mine]; though certain devotions are used in many parts, in which the Conception is called immaculate in the prayers themselves. It is the mystery of the Immaculation, or Sanctification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which is the object of the devotion of the church on this festival, rather than her bare Conception…
(Butler, op. cit. vol. IV p. 493)

Of course, as we know now, Fr. Butler’s final explanation of the feast was erroneous; but he had plenty of reason to be wrong. St. Thomas Aquinas had denied the Immaculate Conception in the Summa, and had not the Fathers of Trent had the Summa placed upon the altar during their deliberations? (Of course, since 1854, all imprimatured editions of the Summa without correctives on this point have carried defective approbations). The note of caution Fr. Butler sounds in the penultimate sentence may well have been directed toward such of his contemporaries as Charles III of Spain, who ordered all his civil servants to swear an oath to defend the Immaculate Conception to the death (His Most Catholic Majesty’s contradictory nature may be evoked by reflecting both upon his financing of Bl. Junipero Serra in California, and his expulsion of the Jesuits from the Spanish domains). Against St. Thomas, there were simply the University of Paris, the schismatic Council of Basle, and the Lullists and Scotists. While not wanting to endorse Basle, I think that the much put-upon University and the Fraciscan philosophers, so often slandered on this very point from the 13th to 19th centuries, deserve an enormous apology.

The doctrine of the Assumption went through a similar agony; one remembers the anguish of St. Anthony of Padua, when reading an edition of the Martyrology that denied this dogma. Fortunately for him, the Virgin appeared and assured him of the truth of this doctrine. At any rate, my point in all of this is that the case is not nearly so closed as your piece implies it to be --- a fact that the CDF is well aware of.

We are, of course, in a Pontificate as much concerned with theological change (as were the immediately preceding ones) as with clarity (this a welcome alteration). As a result, Benedict XVI has apparently set about resolving contradictions. Thus, in his Christmas message to the Curia he boldly addressed the differences between the documents of Vatican II and the Syllabus of Errors. His resolution of the issue is to declare that no solemn or infallible truths are covered by either set of decrees, but are both contingent upon real-world conditions. If he is correct, than that means that the former may be as vigorously questioned as the latter has been so completely forgotten. His Holiness has opened up an enquiry into Limbo, which many confidently predict will lead to this teaching being set aside (such as Fr. Richard McBrien happily point out that this will doom Original Sin). Of course, if this be true, there will be a problem: such a “setting aside” must be of a more solemn magisterial level that of the condemnation of the Synod of Pistoia, which attacked that assembly’s denial of Limbo.

In a word, I do not believe, humanly speaking, that an authoritative definition on Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus contradicting the three cited conciliar definitions is likely to happen anytime soon. Rather, I believe that, as with Immaculate Conception, they will be affirmed whenever the Holy Ghost decides. As you point out, the “Feeney/SBC position” “was essentially that assumed to be true by millions of Catholics for many centuries.” Indeed it was. And what Catholics they were: the Fathers, the Doctors, and all the great Missionaries like St. Francis Xavier, to say nothing of those three annoying definitions.

Against all that, I am supposed to side with the more “advanced” theologians of the 19th and early 20th centuries, almost all those of the past five decades, and a handful of less solemn documents, whose place in the Magisterium is at least questionable. Those who held the “Feeney/SBC” position built up the Church; those who opposed it have produced what we have. If I am to take Our Lord at face value, then by their fruits, at least, I will know them. It is the abiding presence of the Holy Ghost with His Church, despite all that we churchmen do to frustrate the truth, that has thus far prevented the Magisterium from solemnly defining against the doctrine EENS, even as it prevented it from endorsing the Thomistic denial of the Immaculate Conception.

And so, all “proponents of a strict interpretation of the doctrine,” must, in keeping with the CDF’s advice to the Diocese of Worcester “be given the same latitude for teaching and discussion as those who would hold more liberal views.” Rome has spoken, to be sure; but the case is not yet closed.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Status of Feeneyites better than SSPX

In a letter written to Mr. Louis Villarrubia of the Saint Benedict Center in Richmond, New Hampshire Mr. Pete Vere (Canon Lawyer)--( Who is Pete Vere? - Catholic Answers)

“Dear Brother Andre Marie,

I hope this letter finds you and the other brothers well. Allow me to apologize for taking my time in responding to your last letter. I wanted to be thorough in my response - especially since you have asked if my response might be made public, of which I have no objection. Please note that while I do not speak on behalf of the Church in an official capacity - given that I do not hold office with a tribunal or ecclesiastical entity that has been asked to investigate this question - what follows is my professional opinion as a canon lawyer.

To recap our last exchange, you wrote: ‘I’m wondering if you are able to put in writing something testifying to the lawfulness of holding Father Feeney’s position as a Catholic in good

standing with the Church. Back in January, you agreed to do this. Again, I’m not asking you to vouch for our canonical situation here in the Manchester Diocese; I’m simply asking for the expert opinion of a canon lawyer on the larger question.’ To begin, as you point out, the question concerning your canonical status with the Diocese of Manchester is separate from the question concerning Fr. Feeney’s status as one who died in full communion with Rome, as well as the status of his spiritual descendants who hold to his same position. Before we proceed to the larger question, I would just like to assure you of our family prayers that in God’s time the question of your canonical status resolve itself favourably. Should you require my assistance at that time, please do not hesitate to contact me.

(Vere not supporter of Feeneyism)
Having said that, let us move to the larger question. It is clear from the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) promulgated by Pope John Paul II that the Church currently promotes a less exclusive understanding of the dogma ‘Outside the Church no salvation’ (EENS) as well as the effects of desire for baptism (BOD) and pre-baptismal martyrdom for the faith (BOB). Lest I be accused of bias in my canonical opinion, I want to note up-front that I personally accept the teaching on these issues outlined in the CCC.

However, that is a debate for another time. The question currently before us is the following: What of those, like the spiritual descendants of Fr. Feeney, who hold to a more restrictive understanding on these issues? Are they Catholics in good standing with the Church? The answer is yes for a number of reasons:

(Was Feeney Catholic when he died? )

1) There is no question Fr. Feeney died in full communion with the Catholic Church. Pope Paul VI lifted Father’s excommunication while Father was still alive, and there is no evidence that Father recanted his understanding of EENS, BOB, or BOD. The actual lifting of Father’s excommunication was executed by Fr. Richard Shmaruk, a priest of the Boston Archdiocese, on behalf of Bishop Bernard Flanagan of Worcester. While visiting Boston about ten years ago, I spoke with Fr. Shmaruk and he personally corroborated the events that led to him reconciling Fr. Feeney with the Church. On pages 259 to 262 of his book They Fought the Good Fight, Brother Thomas Mary Sennott diligently chronicles the reconciliation of Fr. Feeney, as well as the subsequent reconciliation of several of Father’s spiritual descendants. Brother Sennott quotes from two respectable Catholic news sources (The Advocate and the Catholic Free Press). I have independently confirmed the quotations and context of the primary sources. Brother Sennottt also notes that Father’s memorial mass was celebrated by Bishop Bernard Flanagan in the Cathedral of St. Paul, Worcester. This would have given rise to scandal had Father not been fully reconciled with the Church. Br. Sennott’s book received an imprimi potest from Bishop Timothy Harrington of the Diocese of Worcester, meaning the book is free from doctrinal or moral error. Thus unless one is willing to declare oneself BLEEP! or sedeprivationist, the evidence is overwhelming that Fr. Feeney died in full communion with the Church without recanting his position.

-- Most of Fr. Feeney’s spiritual descendants have been reconciled with the Church without having to renounce or recant their interpretation of BOB, BOD, or EENS.

(1)This was the case with those who reconciled in 1974

(2)and would go on to found St. Benedict Abbey in Still River, as well as the sisters of St. Anne’s House in Still River who reconciled in 1988,

(3) and most recently with St. Benedict Centre in Still River who reconciled under Br. Thomas Augustine, MICM. Regarding the last group, I should note they had achieved a sacramental reconciliation long before their juridical reconciliation. This was the subject of the first paper I ever wrote as a young licentiate student in canon law. While researching this paper in 1997, I visited the various communities descended from Fr. Feeney and the Harvard student movement, noting with interest how despite no formal reconciliation at the time, Br. Thomas’s community had an in-residence chaplain appointed by the Bishop of Worcester. I also noted with interest that the Bishop visited the community regularly, and that he also confirmed the community’s children. In reading canon 844, sacraments should only be shared with non-Catholics under the most strict and extenuating of circumstances. It is clear, that in keeping with canon 213, the Diocese of Worcester was ensuring for the pastoral and sacramental care of Brother Thomas’s community as if they were Catholics. It was similarly clear from talking to Br. Thomas Augustine, as it was from talking to Mother Theresa next door at St. Anne’s House, that each of these communities still held the same interpretation of BOB, BOD and EENS as Fr. Feeney. With regards to the 1988 reconciliation of Mother Theresa, MICM and the sisters of St. Anne’s House in Still River, Fr. Lawrence A. Deery, JCL, at the time the Diocese of Worcester’s Judicial Vicar and Vicar for Canonical Affairs and acting in his official capacity, wrote the following: “1) The Sisters were asked to ‘understand’ the letter of the then Holy Office dated 8 August 1949. They were not asked to ‘accept’ its contents. 2) The Sisters were asked to make to make a Profession of Faith. Nothing else was required [...] In our discussions with the Congregation [for the Doctrine of the Faith] it seemed rather clear that proponents of a strict interpretation of the doctrine should be given the same latitude for teaching and discussion as those who would hold more liberal views. Summarily, Mother Theresa and her community in no manner abandoned Father Feeney’s teachings.” Need I remind you that the man who was Prefect for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith at the time of this consultation is now Pope Benedict XVI, the Church’s Supreme Pontiff? 3) In 1988, Mr. John Loughnan, a layman from Australia who happens to be a friend of mine, wrote the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei (PCED) requesting clarification on several controversies surrounding the SSPX. Mr. Loughnan also inquired as to the status within the Church of Fr. Feeney’s followers. Concerning this last question, Msgr. Camille Perl, secretary of the PCED, replied to Mr. Loughnan as follows in N. 343/98 dated 27 October 1998: “The question of the doctrine held by the late Father Leonard Feeney is a complex one. He died in full communion with the Church and many of his former disciples are also now in full communion while some are not. We do not judge it opportune to enter into this question.” While not wishing to engage in this controversy, Msgr. Perl clearly confirms that Fr. Feeney died in full communion with the Church, and that several of his spiritual descendants who hold his same doctrinal interpretations are in full communion with the Church. Such a statement is clearly within the mission of the PCED as this commission was established by Pope John Paul II to oversee the reconciliation and well-being of traditionalists within the Church.

On that note, the evidence is clear: while the position held by Fr. Feeney and his spiritual descendants may be controversial, holding these positions does not, in itself, place one outside of the Catholic Church. In short, it is clear from the Church’s current pastoral and canonical practice that the Church considers this an internal controversy, and that she acknowledges the good standing of most of those who uphold a restrictive interpretation of EENS, BOB and BOD."

Pax Christi, Pete Vere, JCL