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Feeneyism is the doctrinal position which is associated with Leonard Feeney (1897–1978), a Jesuit priest and a founder of the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, which advocated a strict interpretation of the doctrine extra Ecclesiam nulla salus ("outside the Church there is no salvation").

Leonard Feeney[edit]

Feeney was a Roman Catholic priest and a member of the Jesuit order. The order dismissed Feeney in 1949 for disobedience, and on February 4, 1953, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (known then as the Holy Office) declared him excommunicated "on account of grave disobedience to Church Authority, being unmoved by repeated warnings."[1] He was reconciled to the Church in 1972.[2] Feeney co-founded the group known as the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

Salvation and baptism[edit]

Catholics traditionally believe that sacramental baptism ("baptism of water") is the only way to be properly baptized. In addition, "the Church has always held the firm conviction that those who suffer death for the sake of the faith without having received Baptism are baptized by their death for and with Christ. This Baptism of blood, like the desire for Baptism, brings about the fruits of Baptism without being a sacrament."[3]

The belief in water baptism and the doctrinal position that those who are outside the Catholic Church are not saved can be found in the writings of the early fathers and the rulings of ecumenical councils. For instance, Pope Eugene IV, in the Council of Florence declared:

And since death entered the universe through the first man, ‘unless we are born again of water and the Spirit, we cannot,’ as the Truth says, ‘enter into the kingdom of heaven’ [John 3:5]. The matter of this sacrament is real and natural water.[4]

St. John Chrysostom:

And well should the pagan lament, who not knowing God, dying goes straight to punishment.  Well should the Jew mourn, who not believing in Christ, has assigned his soul to perdition.[5]

Pope Gregory XVI:

Finally some of these misguided people attempt to persuade themselves and others that men are not saved only in the Catholic religion, but that even heretics may attain eternal life.[6]

Feeney felt that, in the previous two centuries, some tended to broaden the notion of "baptism of desire" to include all who try to live good lives, even those who desired no relationship with the Catholic Church. Feeney argued that those who are truly sincere will be led by God to the Catholic Church. He also accepted no form of baptism as opening the way to salvation other than by water and only within the Catholic Church, but he did say that this was an opinion. He denied the salvational efficacy of the mere wish alone, even the explicit wish to be baptized, and held that God must have provided those martyrs who apparently died for the faith without being baptized with a minister and water to baptize them before their death.[7]

Feeney and his followers maintain that there is a contradiction between the Second Vatican Council's document Lumen gentium and earlier authoritative statements, which they interpret as saying that non-Catholics are indiscriminately damned. His followers interpret the Catholic Church's declarations that outside of the Church there is no salvation as excluding from salvation people such as the American Indians who lived between the times of Christ and Columbus, because they could not have been baptized (unless some Christian missionaries did manage to reach and baptize them in the Catholic faith).[8]


After Feeney's death, his spiritual descendants soon split into several groups because of various power struggles. The two most prominent both use the name Saint Benedict Center. All use the pre-Vatican II form of the Roman Rite liturgy.

Three of these groups are located on or near the land to where Feeney moved in Still River, Massachusetts:

  • The Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, a group of men and women in private vows, staff the Saint Benedict Center. Their apostolates include education (operating Immaculate Heart of Mary School), publishing and a summer camp for boys and girls. They were raised to a Public Association of the Faithful in 2017 by Bishop Robert McManus.
  • The Sisters of the Saint Benedict Center operate Saint Anne's House, an order of diocesan right in the Diocese of Worcester.[9]
  • St. Benedict Abbey is a house of Benedictine monks.

The other branch, located in Richmond, New Hampshire, has no official recognition by the Catholic Church.[10][11] The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) classifies the center in Richmond, as well as the group's publishing arm Immaculate Heart Media, as an anti-Semitic hate group.[12][13] The SPLC wrote that the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary "continue to endorse Feeney and to defend him from charges of anti-Semitism, despite his well-documented hatred of the Jews" and noted that in 2004, Bishop McCormack had rebuked the group as "blatantly anti-Semitic", and that in 2005, a brother of the Slaves had given a speech calling out the "Jewish nation" as "the perpetual enemy of Christ."[12] The center denies being anti-Semitic.[14][13] In January 2019, the vicar for canonical affairs for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Manchester stated that the group had been directed to stop representing themselves as Catholic.[11][15] The diocese published a clarification of the status of the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the St. Benedict Center, declaring that they were neither approved by the diocese nor considered to be Catholic.[16] The diocese and Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome found unacceptable that the St. Benedict Center teaches that non-Catholics cannot be saved.[17] That same document further states that priests are forbidden to say Mass at any church or chapel owned by the St. Benedict Center or the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

In 1978, three sisters from Feeney's original group sought to become Benedictine nuns. Nuns from Stanbrook Abbey helped establish their priory, which was formally erected in 1984 as Saint Scholastica Priory.[18] The nuns were later joined by a group of Benedictine monks who were established as Saint Mary Monastery, a dependent house of Pluscarden Abbey.

Condemnation of Feeneyite view[edit]

In a 1949 letter to Cardinal Cushing, Archbishop of Boston, the Holy Office (now the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) condemned Feeney's teaching that the only those formally baptized in the Catholic Church can be saved. The Holy Office affirmed that those baptized by their desire can be saved. This letter was sent by Cardinal Francesco Marchetti Selvaggiani to Cardinal Cushing and had a private sign in the end, meaning that the 1949 correspondence was supposed to be read only by the two cardinals and not distributed.[19][20]

"The same in its own degree must be asserted of the Church, in as far as She is the general help to salvation. Therefore, that one may obtain eternal salvation, it is not always required that he be incorporated into the Church actually as a member, but it is necessary that at least he be united to Her by desire and longing. However, this desire need not always be explicit, as it is in catechumens; but when a person is involved in invincible ignorance God accepts also an implicit desire, so called because it is included in that good disposition of soul whereby a person wishes his will to be conformed to the will of God. These things are clearly taught in that dogmatic letter which was issued by the Sovereign Pontiff, Pope Pius XII, on June 29, 1943, On the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ (AAS, Vol. 35, an. 1943, p. 193 ff.). For in this letter the Sovereign Pontiff clearly distinguishes between those who are actually incorporated into the Church as members, and those who are united to the Church only by desire." Furthermore: "With these wise words he reproves both those who exclude from eternal salvation all united to the Church only by implicit desire, and those who falsely assert that men can be saved equally well in every religion."

— Letter of the Holy Office

This letter is a footnote to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 847 DS 3866-3872, in its section "Outside the Church there is no salvation".[21]


  1. ^ "Documents". Archived from the original on 2008-05-14. Retrieved 2008-08-22.
  2. ^ Patrick Madrid and Pete Vere (2004). More Catholic Than The Pope. Our Sunday Visitor. p. 72. ISBN 9781931709262.[dead link]
  3. ^ Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1258.
  4. ^ Denzinger 696; Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils, Vol. 1, p. 542.
  5. ^ Saint John Chrysostom, “The Consolation of Death,” Sunday Sermons of the Great Fathers, vol. IV, p. 363.
  6. ^ "Summo Iugiter Studio". Papal Encyclicals. 1832-05-27. Retrieved 2019-10-08.
  7. ^ Father Feeney and Catholic Doctrine — A Reply to Verbum
  8. ^ The Salvation of the Pre-Columbian Amerindians
  9. ^ "Religious Communities", Diocese of Worcester
  10. ^ Buchanan, Susy (Summer 2007). "Trouble in Paradise: N.H. Town Split by Radical Traditionalists". Intelligence Report. Southern Poverty Law Center. Archived from the original on 2009-09-18. Retrieved June 22, 2008.
  11. ^ a b Fisher, Damian. "NH-based 'only Catholics go to heaven' group sanctioned by Church; aspiring nun allegedly held against her will", New Hampshire Union Leader, January 8, 2019
  12. ^ a b "12 Anti-Semitic Radical Traditionalist Catholic Groups". Intelligence Report. Southern Poverty Law Center. January 16, 2007.
  13. ^ a b Grossmith, Pat (February 25, 2017). "Richmond religious sect rejects 'hate group' label". New Hampshire Union Leader. Archived from the original on February 26, 2017.
  14. ^ "Way off Center: The Southern Poverty Law Center on St. Benedict Center". Crusade of Saint Benedict Center, Richmond. August 8, 2007. Retrieved June 22, 2008.
  15. ^ Moore, Michael. "Manchester diocese forbids Catholics from activities at St. Benedict Center", Keene Sentinel, January 9, 2019
  16. ^ Diocese of Manchester: The Catholic Church in New Hampshire. "Frequently Asked Questions." URL: https://www.catholicnh.org/about/stay-informed/frequently-asked-questions/#stbenedict.
  17. ^ "N.H. Catholic Group Ordered Not to Hold Services". Valley News.
  18. ^ "St. Scholastica Priory". stscholasticapriory.org. Retrieved 2018-05-09.
  19. ^ "Letter of the Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office". August 8, 1949. Archived from the original on March 11, 2000.
  20. ^ "Archbishop Richard J. Cushing". 2019-04-03. Archived from the original on 2019-04-03. Retrieved 2019-10-11.
  21. ^ St Ignatius (December 1993). The Companion to The Catechism of the Catholic Church: A Compendium of Texts Referred to in The Catechism of the Catholic Church. Ignatius Press. pp. 361–. ISBN 978-0-89870-451-8.