Friday, October 24, 2008

Did Father Feeney and his followers really reconcile with the Church?

Remember Sheila Rauch Kennedy? She took her appeal of the Boston Archdiocese's "annulment" of her 12-year marriage to Joseph Kennedy to the Vatican and it was overturned. Why? Read here.

It was Pope John Paul II who said that: "The judge must.. abide by canonical laws, correctly interpreted. Hence, he must never lose sight of the intrinsic connection of juridical norms with Church doctrine. Indeed, people sometimes presume to separate Church law from the Church's magisterial teaching as though they belonged to two separate spheres; they suppose the former alone to have juridically binding force, whereas they value the latter merely as a directive or an exhortation. Such an approach basically reveals a positivist mindset which is in contradiction with the best of the classical and Christian juridical tradition concerning the law. In fact, the authentic interpretation of God's Word, exercised by the Magisterium of the Church (cf. Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation "Dei Verbum," No. 10), has juridical value to the extent that it concerns the context of law, without requiring any further formal procedure in order to become juridically and morally binding.

For a healthy juridical interpretation, it is indispensable to understand the whole body of the Church's teachings, and to place every affirmation systematically in the flow of tradition. It will thus be possible to avoid selective and distorted interpretations and useless criticisms at every step."

Was Canon Law followed during the "reconciliation" of Father Feeney and his followers? I submit that it was not. But first we must take a closer look at Feeneyism. What is Feeneyism? Feeneyism is a term used to describe the theological thought of the late Father Leonard Feeney, a Jesuit priest who favored a narrow interpretation of the dogma extra Ecclesiam nulla salus ("Outside the Church there is no salvation") as opposed to the Church’s understanding of the dogma.

In the words of Fr. William Most, an internationally acclaimed Scripture scholar and theologian, "What the disobedient Feeney said amounted to this: he insisted that all who did not formally enter the Church would go to hell. Hence he had to say, and he did say, that unbaptized babies go to hell. Further, all adults who did not formally enter the Church - get their names on a parish register - would also go to hell, even if they never had a chance to hear there was a Church. E.g., those in the western hemisphere during the long centuries before Columbus. Therefore Feeney consigned literally millions upon millions to hell, even though he gave them no chance. Not just the documents of the Church as interpreted by the Church should have kept him from this: merely common sense, and the realization that God is not only not a monster, but is infinitely good - that alone should have stopped him. We have, then, most ample reason for calling his error tragic. Even the sexually immoral do not deny that God is good. Feeney does worse than they."(Http://www.ewtn.com/library/SCRIPTUR/FEENEY.txt).

It has often been asserted by followers of Father Leonard Feeney that they possess a "right" to hold (and even defend) his erroneous interpretation of extra Ecclesiam nulla salus and that this "right" has been affirmed by Church authorities. Moreover, they insist that their obstinate refusal to adhere to the Church’s understanding of the dogma does not prohibit them from being Catholics in good standing with the Church.

What of this? Is it possible to dissent from the Church’s teaching relative to extra Ecclesiam nulla salus while remaining "a Catholic in good standing with the Church"? Canon lawyer and Catholic journalist Pete Vere argues that it is. The purpose of this article is to examine his argument from the standpoint of Church teaching and Canon Law to ascertain whether or not his opinion on the matter has any merit.

In a letter written to Mr. Louis Villarrubia of the Saint Benedict Center in Richmond, New Hampshire (which has absolutely no canonical status in the Catholic Church), Mr. Vere writes:

"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.

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: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.

2) 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. This was the case with those who reconciled in 1974 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, 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

Let’s examine Mr.Vere’s letter very carefully. While it is good that Mr. Vere acknowledges (and accepts) the Church’s authentic teaching regarding the dogma extra Ecclesiam nulla salus, a teaching which he admits is "clear from the Catechism of the Catholic Church" (See Nos. 846 - 848; 1257-1261), he is simply wrong in his assertion that "..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 she acknowledges the good standing of most of those who uphold a restrictive interpretation of EENS, BOB, and BOD."

Nothing could be further from the truth. On August 8, 1949, the Holy Office sent a letter to Archbishop Richard James Cushing of Boston condemning Father Feeney’s error. In this letter, the Holy Office explained that, "...among those things which the Church has always preached and will never cease to preach is contained also that infallible statement by which we are taught that there is no salvation outside the Church. However, this dogma must be understood in that sense in which the Church herself understands it. For, it was not to private judgments that Our Savior gave for explanation those things that are contained in the deposit of faith, but to the teaching authority of the Church."

This teaching is reaffirmed in the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum) of the Second Vatican Council, No. 10: "..the task of authentically interpreting the Word of God, whether written or handed on, has been entrusted exclusively to the living teaching office of the Church, whose authority is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ." See also: Pius XII, Encyclical Letter Humani Generis (Aug 12, 1950): AAS 42 (1950), 568-69; Denz. 2314 (3886).

The Holy Office concluded its letter to Archbishop Cushing with these words: "..let them who in grave peril are ranged against the Church seriously bear in mind that after ‘Rome has spoken’ they cannot be excused even by reasons of good faith. Certainly, their bond and duty of obedience toward the Church is much graver than that of those who as yet are related to the Church ‘only by an unconscious desire.’ Let them realize that they are children of the Church, lovingly nourished by her with the milk of doctrine and the sacraments, and hence, having heard the clear voice of their Mother, they cannot be excused from culpable ignorance, and therefore to them apply without any restriction that principle: submission to the Catholic Church and to the Sovereign Pontiff is required as necessary for salvation."

What does this mean for the Feeneyites? It means that the Lord Jesus will require more from them (children of the Church who have been "lovingly nourished by her with the milk of doctrine and the sacraments," See also Luke 12:48) and that, having heard "the clear voice of their Mother" (the living teaching office of the Church), they have no excuse in rejecting the Church’s understanding of extra Ecclesiam nulla salus. In fact, since "to them[as children of the Church] apply without any restriction" the principle that "submission to the Catholic Church and to the Sovereign Pontiff is required as necessary for salvation," the Feeneyites place their salvation in jeopardy by ranging themselves against the Church.

What of Mr. Vere’s assertion that, "There is no question Fr. Feeney died in full communion with the Catholic Church"? Isn’t there? Mr. Vere admits himself that, "there is no evidence that Father recanted his understanding of EENS, BOB, or BOD" and that, "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."

This point is addressed by Fr. William Most, in the article cited above. He writes, "When Feeney was old, some Church authorities out of sorrow for him, let him be reconciled to the Church. As part of the unfortunate looseness we see so often today, they did not demand that he recant. So he did not. As a result, some former followers of his came back to the Church. Others even today insist that the lack of demanding a recantation meant Feeney had been right all along. Of course not. We have proved that abundantly with official texts..and the texts of the Fathers of the Church."

So Mr. Vere acknowledges that, Fr. Feeney and his "spiritual descendants" (to borrow his own phrase) "have been reconciled with the Church without having to renounce or recant" their interpretation of the dogma. But here we encounter an immediate problem. One which a canon lawyer should have recognized straightaway. And it is this: absolution from a censure (such as excommunication) must be lawful.

In the new Code of Canon Law, promulgated by Pope John Paul II in 1983, we read in canon 1358 that: "A remission of a censure cannot be granted unless an offender has withdrawn from contumacy in accord with the norm of can. 1347." This norm, laid out in canon 1347 states that: "The guilty party is to be said to have withdrawn from contumacy when he or she has truly repented the offense and furthermore has made suitable reparation for damages and scandal or at least has seriously promised to do so."

In his commentary on the 1917 Code of Canon Law (which said essentially the same thing as the new Code) entitled "A Commentary on the New Code of Canon Law," Charles Augustine Bachofen explained that, "...the purpose of censures is the amendment of the delinquent. Consequently, if he recedes from contumacy or persistent disobedience, he is entitled to absolution and it cannot be licitly withheld from him. Repentance alone, however, is not sufficient for purging oneself of contumacy, but satisfaction and reparation of scandal are required, according to can. 2242. Hence the one who absolves from censure must judge whether the acts performed by the penitent are sufficient" (pp. 141,142) and, "That a censure once contracted can be removed only by a lawful absolution follows from the definition given in can. 2236." (p. 141).

Under both the old and new Code of Canon Law, a censure can be removed only by lawful absolution, which is described as a withdrawal from "contumacy" or "persistent disobedience" and acts by the penitent such as "satisfaction and reparation of scandal." But Mr. Vere has correctly noted that Fr. Feeney and his "spiritual descendants" were allowed to "reconcile" with the Church without first having to renounce or recant their interpretation of the dogma EENS. In other words, without withdrawing from contumacy or persistent disobedience and without having made satisfaction and reparation of scandal. This has resulted in even more scandal within the Church and has caused so much confusion among so many Catholics today.

As Fr. Most had observed, there are those who [as a result] "even today insist that the lack of demanding a recantation meant Feeney had been right all along." Can a Feeneyite be a Catholic in good standing with the Church? The Holy Office assured us that such is not possible. Was the "reconciliation" of Fr. Feeney and his "spiritual descendants" licit? Not under Canon Law. Without withdrawal from contumacy and satisfaction for scandal?

God preserve us from such nonsense!

6 comments:

Marie Tremblay said...

You cannot have authentic reconciliation without repentance. When I confess my sins in the Sacrament of Penance, I have to express contrition and have a firm purpose of amendment. How can you have reconciliation without repentance? You cannot. It's just not possible.

Stubbornly rejecting the Church's interpretation of a Dogma while embracing a dissenting opinion is not reconciliation with the Church. It is what it is: Disobedience and dissent.

Michael Cole said...

Sri Lankan theologian Fr. Tissa Balasuriya, OMI was excommunicated by the Vatican for obstinately promoting errors which he expressed in his book Mary and Human Liberation.

BEFORE the excommunication was lifted as a censure and before there could be reconciliation with the Church, Fr. Balasuriya made a profession of faith and presented Church authorities with a statement in which he expressed regret over the harm caused by his book and by the subsequent events. He also expressed his Catholic faith and recognized the authority of the Magisterium exercised at both the local and universal levels in regard to his writings. He also performed other actions to remedy the scandal which are outlined here:
http://www.ewtn.com/library/
ISSUES/ORTISSA.HTM

Fr. Leonard Feeney, on the other hand, did not recant. He did not satisfy the criteria which are laid out in Canon Law and which must be satisfied before reconciliation can take place canonically.

I agree fully with yu Mr. Melanson. Excellent points.

David said...

Someone said it before, but I will say it again: the Feeneyites need to move on. They are only continuing to cause scandal and confusion within the Church.

Benjamin said...

I discovered your article at AC.

That was the point Fr. Most made in his article. He writes, "When Feeney was old, some church authorities out of sorrow for him, let him be reconciled to the Church. As part of the unfortunate looseness we se so often today, they did not demand that he recant. So he did not. As a result, some former followers of his came back to the Church. Others even today insist that the lack of demanding a recantation meant Feeney had been right all along. Of course not. We have proved that abundantly with official texts above and the texts
of the Fathers of the Church."

This is precisely the problem. Feeneyites in New Hampshire, Massachusetts and in other parts of the country still insist that Fr. Feeney was right and the Church was wrong.

This is not "withdrawal from contumacy." This is arrogance and rebellion from the Church's teaching and authority.

Griff Ruby said...

Your points are correct and valid. The point of any censure is that the person censured must remove the behavior or belief that occasions the censure and also make whatever amends are deemed necessary. That is quite clear and explicit in both old and new Codes of Canon Law.
There is something that needs to be understood about Pete Vere, however. He has his own unique "interpretation" of Canon Law which is altogether unlike that of any truly established and reputable canonist. To him, whatever is done is automatically "legitmate." The bare fact of a fait accompli renders (for him) any further considerations altogether moot. For him, it's done; that is enough. In particular, it does not matter what the book itself (Code of Canon Law) actually states; it could in fact state quite emphatically the very reverse of what some interpreter has made of it, and where so it is purely the "interpretation" of the interpreter which holds all precedence. It doesn't matter what the book itself states; in fact it is altogether superfluous. For him, the "interpreter" has removed the censure, ergo the censure no longer applies, and those Feeneyites who are "reconciled" are therefore by virtue of that fact alone really and truly reconciled. Through the exact same unique mode of interpretation he also claimed that the SSPX was "excommunicated," even though they were not - at least not, if one goes by what the Code itself actually states.

Paul Anthony Melanson said...

Of course, it must be remembered (as the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei explained to an Australian man in a letter dated October 27, 1998), that, "While the priests of the Society of St. Pius X are validly ordained, they are also suspended a divinis, that is they are forbidden by the Church from celebrating the Mass and the sacraments because of their illicit (or illegal) ordination to the diaconate and the priesthood without proper incardination (cf. canon 265). In the strict sense there are no "lay members" of the Society of St. Pius X, only those who frequent their Masses and receive the sacraments from them.

While it is true that participation in the Mass at the chapels of the Society of St. Pius X does not of itself constitute "formal adherence to the schism", such adherence can come about over a period of time as one slowly imbibes a schismatic mentality which separates itself from the teaching of the Supreme Pontiff and the entire Catholic Church classically exemplified in A Rome and Econe Handbook which states in response to question 14 that the SSPX defends the traditional catechisms and therefore the Old Mass, and so attacks the Novus Ordo, the Second Vatican Council and the New Catechism, all of which more or less undermine our unchangeable Catholic faith.

It is precisely because of this schismatic mentality that this Pontifical Commission has consistently discouraged the faithful from attending Masses celebrated under the aegis of the Society of St. Pius X."

Thank you for your comment.

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