This article was originally published in the October 8, 1974 issue of the Boston Phoenix
“Moo is a cow
When she makes a bow
To a meadowful of hay;
Shoo is a hen
When she’s back again
And you want her to go away.
Peek-a-boo is maybe I don’t see you,
But I’m sure you can’t see me.
Splash is a stone
When a big one’s thrown
In a river or lake or sea.”
—from “Moo Is A Cow,”
a children’s song written by Father Leonard Feeney in 1945.
“You heard this filthy kike say that Jesus was not God. I ask God to punish this dirty Jew in a most conspicuous manner. I ask God to punish that cigar-chomping Catholic who stands next to that blaspheming Jew and does not lift a finger to protect Jesus and Mary.”
—the very same Father Leonard Feeney, responding to a heckler on Boston Common, July 10, 1956.
Leonard Feeney, a defrocked Jesuit priest and pretty much of a legend in this city as a result of the “sermons” he preached on the Common every Sunday without fail for eight years, from 1949 to 1957, attracting sometimes as many as a thousand people to heckle and to laugh as much as to listen—Father Leonard Feeney is in the news again.
He is being courted by the Catholic Church, the same church that silenced him 25 years ago and then excommunicated him for heresy four years later, his official sin being his dogged insistence that no one can achieve salvation outside the Church. Nearly two years ago the Vatican, through the quiet efforts of Cardinal Humberto Medeiros, removed its censures from Feeney and 29 of his devoted followers, allowing them to partake once again of the sacraments of Roman Catholicism. And also allowing Feeney, once again, to perform his priestly functions with Papal approval.
All of which means little, probably, since Father Feeney has been performing such tasks for his hard core devotees—dubbed “Feeneyites” by the press in the ‘50s—all these years anyway. But to Feeney, now 76 years old and in the twilight of a bizarre lifetime of controversy, the last 17 years of which he has spent in virtual exile from all the rest of us damned non-believers, the removal of censure must be a real comfort. It means he will die within the official fold and it also holds the promise of eventual recognition by the Holy See of his monastic little band, calling themselves “Slaves of The Immaculate Heart of Mary.”
Hopefully, other Catholics will then be allowed to visit Feeney at his idyllic retreat in Harvard, Mass.
“It was an act of charity, you might say,” offered Brother Gabriel, a tall, pale, and sad-eyed Feeney follower, last week. “Since Vatican II [the Catholic Church’s effort to modernize itself in the early ‘60s], the extreme liberals in the church have been allowed to drift farther and farther to the left without censure—like the very liberal Dutch and German theologians. There is now, finally, a movement to give the same consideration to the right.”