The troubles didn’t start until years after he took over St. Benedict’s Center in Harvard Square, a Catholic teaching center serving Harvard and Radcliffe students, in 1943. The “Boston Heresy Case” really began after he went to the defense of four Boston College teachers—James Walsh, Fakhri Maluf, Charles Ewaskio, and David Supple—when they were fired for teaching the doctrine of no salvation outside the Church. Though Rome’s position was basically that outsiders can be saved if, through ignorance, they’ve never understood that Catholicism is the way of God but their hearts are still in the right place, it’s still hard to see how such a seemingly minor and internal doctrinal dispute became such a cause célèbre.
It may have been Feeney’s dynamic, and increasingly abrasive personality as much as anything else. “Every time someone—anyone—disagreed with him,” observed the veteran newsman, “he became part of the enemy and Feeney would denounce him in the strongest of terms.”
Then-Archbishop Cushing “silenced” Feeney in 1949 and Father in turn charged that the leadership of the Archdiocese was “notably ignorant in the field of theology.”
Cushing ordered Catholics to stay away from St. Benedict’s. In 1950, the theological school lost the sanction of the State Board of Education, meaning that the 14 veterans in his student body of 50 could no longer attend under the G.I. Bill. Feeney said of Education Comr. John Desmond, “Hitler was tame compared to him. Almighty God will punish him.”
Then came the letter of censure from Rome ordering him, in frightening Latin terms, to return to the fold “at the peril of your soul.” Feeney ignored the warnings and embarked upon his Boston Common crusade where his increasingly vitriolic speeches brought blasts from the Anti-Defamation League of the B’nai B’rith.
His excommunication, by this time, became inevitable. But even after it arrived in a Feb., 1953 front page announcement in the Archdiocesan newspaper, The Pilot, Feeney wouldn’t accept it as gospel. “I am not excommunicated,” he said. “I am once more excommunicated through the channels of the Boston newspapers.”
Again, to give the Father his due, he surely saw himself through all this as a martyr for the cause of preserving the very soul of the Church he knew and loved. And his adversaries did begin to go overboard—the Church was so embarrassed by the controversy that he was denounced from the pulpit as a deranged, defrocked Jesuit doing the “devil’s work” and Catholics were warned not to even speak to the Feeneyites if they came to the door with their “heretic” literature.
When, however, you peruse some of the—if I may be direct—paranoid garbage that Feeney’s followers were disseminating, it’s hard to remain sympathetic. A few samples:
The May, 1955 issue of The Point, a pamphlet put out by Feeney’s followers, blasted 7-year-old Brandeis University for being controlled by Jews. “There are, of course, other Universities which the Jews control,” it read, “but they got these only by arduous years of shoving and scrambling their way to the top.” At Brandeis, however, “the Jews can throw their weight around without restriction,” because the Waltham institution “is their domain—from its garish, glass-fronted classrooms down to the last kosher frankfurt in its dietary kitchen.”