Father Leonard Edward Feeney (February 18, 1897 – January 30, 1978) was a U.S. Jesuit priest who articulated and defended a strict interpretation of the Roman Catholic doctrine, extra Ecclesiam nulla salus ("outside the Church there is no salvation"). He took the position that baptism of blood and baptism of desire are unavailing and that therefore no non-Catholics will be saved. Fighting against what he perceived to be the liberalization of Catholic doctrine, he came under ecclesiastical censure and has been described as Boston's homegrown version of Father Charles Coughlin on account of his alleged antisemitism.
Feeney was born in Lynn, Massachusetts, on February 18, 1897.
On August 8, 1949, Cardinal Marchetti-Selvaggiani of the Holy Office sent a protocol letter to Archbishop Richard Cushing of Boston on the meaning of the dogma extra Ecclesiam nulla salus (outside the church there is no salvation), which Feeney refused to accept. This protocol was never published in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis. After Feeney repeatedly refused to reply to this summons to Rome, he was excommunicated on February 13, 1953 by the Holy See for persistent disobedience to legitimate Church authority due to his refusal to comply with the summons. The decree of excommunication was later published in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis. His followers said that his excommunication was invalid because Feeney was not given a reason for his summons.
Following his excommunication, Feeney set up a community called the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. He was reconciled to the Roman Catholic Church in 1972, but was not required to retract or recant his interpretation of "Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus". The phrase is inscribed on his tombstone.
Speaking two decades after the controversy Cardinal Avery Dulles judged Feeney's doctrine on a series of lectures not having to do with "extra Ecclesiam..." to be quite sound. Dulles' reflections on Feeney's life did not endorse nor deny Feeney's views on extra Ecclesiam nulla salus, and spoke only to his theology, not his political views on issues such as Zionism.
Feeney died in Ayer, Massachusetts, on January 30, 1978.
Feeney was editor of "The Point," which ran a mixture of theological and political articles, many of them branded anti-semitic by Feeney's critics. The newsletter frequently contained sentiments such as:
... the Church has never abandoned her absolute principle that it is possible for an individual Jew to scrap his hateful heritage, sincerely break with the synagogue, and cleanse his cursed blood with the Precious Blood of Jesus. (October 1957)
... we spoke about the plague of Marrano (secret-Jew) Catholics in Spain, and the extreme means (the Inquisition) which was necessary to keep their influence from spreading. (October 1957)
Those two powers, the chief two in the world today, are Communism and Zionism. That both movements are avowedly anti-Christian, and that both are in origin and direction Jewish, is a matter of record. (September 1958)
As surely and securely as the Jews have been behind Freemasonry, or Secularism, or Communism, they are behind the "anti-hate" drive. The Jews are advocating tolerance only for its destructive value — destructive, that is, of the Catholic Church. On their part, they still keep alive their racial rancors and antipathies."(January 1959)
A single year, 1957, saw the following article titles:
January: "Jewish Invasion of Our Country--Our Culture Under Siege"
February: "When Everyone Was Catholic--The Courage of the Faith in the Thirteenth Century"
March: "Dublin's Briscoe Comes to Boston"
April: "The Fight for the Holy City--Efforts of the Jews to Control Jerusalem"
May: "Our Lady of Fatima Warned Us"
June: "The Rejected People of Holy Scripture: Why the Jews Fear the Bible"
July: "The Judaising of Christians by Jews--Tactics of the Church's Leading Enemies"
August: "A Sure Defense Against the Jews--What Our Catholic Bishops Can Do for Us"
September: "An Unholy People in the Holy Land--The Actions of the Jews"
October: "The Jewish Lie About Brotherhood--the Catholic Answer--Israeli Brotherhood"
November: "Six Pointers on the Jews"
Reactions and references
As a college student at Harvard, Robert Kennedy attended a meeting of students at which he stood up and challenged Feeney, later storming out following the priest's assertion that there was no salvation outside the Catholic faith. A similarly negative reaction to Feeney's teaching was recorded by British novelist and Catholic convert Evelyn Waugh, who wrote of visiting the priest while in the United States:
I went one morning by appointment & found him surrounded by a court of bemused youths of both sexes & he stark, raving mad. All his converts have chucked their Harvard careers & go to him only for all instruction. He fell into a rambling denunciation of all secular learning which gradually became more & more violent. He shouted that Newman had done irreparable damage to the Church then started on Ronnie Knox's Mass in Slow Motion saying 'To think that any innocent girl of 12 could have this blasphemous & obscene book put into her hands' as though it were Lady Chatterley's Lover. I asked if he had read it. 'I don't have to eat a rotten egg to know it stinks.' Then I got rather angry and rebuked him in strong words. His court sat absolutely aghast at hearing their holy man addressed like this. And in unbroken silence I walked out of the house. I talked to some Jesuits later & they said that he is disobeying the plain orders of his provincial by staying there. It seemed to me he needed an exorcist more than an alienist. A case of demoniac possession & jolly frightening.
...on the list of [Knox's] recurrent callers, was Mr. Evelyn (pronounced Evil-in) Waugh, whose father, a London publisher, supplied his sons with early printing privileges in pornography, before one of them (Evelyn) turned to hagiography, and whitened his sepulchre with the life of a saint.
Feeney appears in Paul Theroux's My Secret History: A Novel where he delivers a fiery sermon on Boston Common while surrounded by members of his movement. The adolescent protagonist describes how he "had been scared, but... also been thrilled by his anger and conviction."
- Feeneyism, a pejorative name for Feeney's theology
- Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the community he founded
- Neumann, John. "A Latter-Day Athanasius: Father Leonard Feeney". Crusade of Saint Benedict Center, Richmond. Retrieved June 22, 2008.
- "Feeney Forgiven". Time Magazine. October 14, 1974. Retrieved June 22, 2008.
- The death of American antisemitism, Spencer Blakeslee, p. 93, Greenwood Publishing Group, 2000, ISBN 0-275-96508-2
- Letter of the Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office
- Michael J. Mazza, Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus: Father Feeney makes a comeback
- "Our History". Sisters of Saint Benedict Center, Still River. Retrieved June 22, 2008.[dead link]
- Ted Sorensen, The Kennedy Legacy (Weidenfield and Nicolson, 1970), pp. 27-28
- The Letters of Evelyn Waugh (1980), 292-3.
- The Father Feeney Archive - the online archive of the writings of Father Leonard Feeney
- The Point by Father Feeney - an online archive of all issues of Feeney's magazine
- Documents on the Excommunication
- Fr. Feeney and Catholic Doctrine
- Fr. Feeney, a Fact Sheet
- Staunch Catholic: The Life & Times of Fr. Leonard Feeney (Free Audio book) by William H. Kennedy