Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus (Outside the Church there is no salvation)

Author: Michael J. Mazza


Michael J. Mazza

Michael J. Mazza is director of catechetics for the Diocese of Sioux Falls, South Dakota and a frequent contributor to Fidelity.

It was a bitterly cold winter that year. The Depression had made heating oil as scarce as it had made employment prospects, giving the residents of New England precious little to look forward to as the first few days of 1936 arrived. But in the first month of that year, a small book store opened that would eventually create not only enough heat to warm a continent, but would also serve as the seed bed for one of the most unlikely heresies of the twentieth century. A small group of lay people opened the doors of the "St. Thomas More Lending Library and Book Shop" for the first time in January, 1936. Located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, it soon attracted a fair number of people from all walks of life who were drawn together by their shared interest in Catholicism. As the book store's influence grew, so did its need for space. In March of 1940, a committed core of the bookshop's patrons—among them the young convert and future priest by the name of Avery Dulles—rented a storefront, and the "St. Benedict Center" was born. Interestingly enough, Dulles, the future Jesuit, had proposed naming the center after St. Robert Bellarmine, but his suggestion was vetoed by the others out of a fear that it would be offensive to non-Catholics (George B. Pepper, <The Boston Heresy Case in View of the Secularization of Religion>, Lewiston, NY: The Edwin Mellen Press, 1988, p. 3).

Father Leonard J. Feeney evidently liked what he saw when he first visited the Center in 1941, and by 1945, with the approval of his Jesuit superior, had become its first full-time priest chaplain. Dismayed by what they perceived as the general decay in their society and the Church in the years after World War II, Fr. Feeney and the devotees of the St. Benedict Center labored vigorously in a variety of ways in an effort to reform both their nation and their Church. Their particular kind of solution to the problems at hand, however, did not leave everyone equally impressed.

Conflicts arose as early as 1947, when small groups of students at area institutions of higher learning—including Harvard, Radcliffe, Boston College, and Holy Cross College—began to withdraw from school, claiming that secularism and/or Catholic liberalism were widespread in these academies. Many of these students, some of whom without permission of their parents, then enrolled at the Center, which had officially registered as a Catholic school and was thus eligible to receive benefits under the G. I. Bill. While their accusations may not have been without merit, it seems that the Center's version of Catholicism was a far cry from the true remedy for their ailments.

Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus

Just one year previous, during the course of one of his regular Thursday evening lectures, Fr. Feeney gave a talk on the notion that "outside the Church there is no salvation." A young Protestant woman in attendance was so shocked by what she heard she contacted another Jesuit, who then notified the Jesuit Provincial, Fr. John J. McEleney, S.J., who registered "serious concern" about Fr. Feeney and his narrow interpretation of <extra ecclesiam nulla salus>.

About this same time, the Center had embarked on a new publishing venture. From the Housetops began innocently enough, and the first four issues that appeared in 1946-47 were well received. Archbishop Richard Cushing of Boston even contributed to some of the early numbers. The journal’s tone, however, became more strident, and over the course of the next year, the first weeds began to appear. Three separate articles appeared on the subject of <extra ecclesiam>, culminating in a piece in the December 1948 issue entitled "Liberal Theology and Salvation," written by Raymond Karam. In discussing the necessity of visible membership in the Catholic Church for salvation, it read:

Our age is witnessing a terrible defection of Christ's word in the minds of innumerable Catholics. Infected with liberalism, surrendering their minds to teachers of error and heresy, they minimize the importance of dogma and of Catholic unity, and they distort the meaning of Charity, changing that sublime supernatural virtue into a sentimental shadow which, at best, can be termed mere charitableness.... The eternal salvation of man is achieved by adhering to the word of Christ, by abiding in the vine. Those alone bear good fruit who have been faithful to the word of Christ.... It is part, therefore, of the doctrine of Jesus Christ that no man can be saved outside the Catholic Church (Pepper, p. 18).

Enough concern was generated by this article that a priest from the Theology Department of Boston College drafted a brief five-page response. The Center, sensing it had struck a nerve, eagerly welcomed the challenge. Raymond Karam wrote a 57-page response, which was published in the Spring 1949 issue of From the Housetops. Fr. Feeney's support for Karam and his position is without question, given the Jesuit's influential position at the Center and with From the Housetops, as well as his later assertion that "what Mr. Karam holds is what I hold" (Pepper, p. 30).

Seeking to bring the matter to a head, three members of the Center who also were on the faculty of Boston College wrote their president on January 26, 1949 notifying him that the Theology Department of their institution was in heresy. One month later, these three were joined by a teacher from Boston College High School in writing to the Jesuit General Superior in Rome with the same accusations. The reaction was swift. The four were fired from their respective positions on April 13, 1949. Now the Center had its martyrs, and the war was on.

Perusing The Patristics

One of the battle grounds of the controversy concerned the different writings of the Fathers of the Early Church on the matter of <extra ecclesiam nulla salus>. Patristic scholars generally agree that there exist two classes of statements on this issue in the writings of the early Fathers of the Church: first, a relatively small sampling of restrictive statements, which appear to exclude from salvation all those not fully members of the Church, and, secondly, more frequent testimonies that define church membership in broader terms.

The most famous of all the more restrictive texts is undoubtedly that of St. Cyprian of Carthage. In his mid-third century letter to Jubaianus, bishop in Maurentania, the saint writes:

If the Baptism of public witness and of blood cannot profit a heretic unto salvation, because there is no salvation outside the Church, (<extra ecclesiam nulla salus>) how much the more worthless is it for him, in secret places in the caves of robbers, dipped in the contagion of adulterous water, not merely not to have put off his former sins, but even to have added new and greater ones! (William A. Jurgens, <The Faith of the Early Fathers>, vol. 1, Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1970, p. 238; emphasis added).

Another oft-quoted restrictive text comes from Origen, taken from his Homilies on Joshua, c. A.D. 249-251:

If someone of that people wishes to be saved, let him come into this house, so that he may be able to obtain his salvation.... Let no one, then, be persuaded otherwise, nor let anyone deceive himself: outside this house, that is, outside the Church, no one is saved. For if anyone go outside, he shall be guilty of his own death (Jurgens, p. 214).

St. Fulgentius of Ruspe, in his The Rule of Faith (c. A.D. 523-526), delivers perhaps the most strongly-worded condemnation of those outside the barque of Peter:

Hold most firmly and never doubt in the least that not only all pagans but also all Jews and all heretics and schismatics who end this present life outside the Catholic Church are about to go into the eternal fire that was prepared for the Devil and his angels (William A. Jurgens, <The Faith of the Early Fathers>, vol. 3, Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1979, p. 298).

While there are several other examples of these more "restrictive" kinds of texts on Church membership from the Fathers, these three have been chosen because they are perhaps the strongest and most well-known.

Commenting on St. Cyril's phrase in a recent interview with a Time magazine reporter, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, placed the famous words in their important historical context:

We must remember that this expression was formulated by St. Cyprian in the third century in a quite concrete situation. There were those who thought they were better Christians who were unhappy with the Church of bishops and separated themselves from her. In answer to that, Cyprian says: separation from the Church community separates one from salvation. But he did not mean to lay down a theory on the eternal fate of all baptized and non-baptized persons (quoted in "Ratzinger Speaks," <The Catholic World Report>, January 1994, p. 23).

Other scholars, in defense of Origen, note that his comments were made in the context of a reflection upon the second chapter of the book of Joshua, and in particular the story of Rahab the harlot, whose house was saved from destruction by the conquering Hebrews, whom she had assisted. Origen draws special significance from the fact that Rahab hung a scarlet cord from her window as a sign, which for Origen foreshadowed the saving blood of Christ, who died for all men.

Which Fathers Know Best?

In responding to the passage attributed to St. Fulgentius, Fr. William A. Most, theology professor at the Notre Dame Apostolic Catechetical Institute in Alexandria, Virginia, draws attention to two separate items. First of all, he claims, there are at least three conditions that need to be filled before one can claim something in the Patristic writings is authoritative. First, the Fathers must be nearly unanimous on the subject in question at least one time in history. Second, they must admit to be relating something they themselves have received from the beginning; that is, from Christ and the Apostles. Finally, the Church must check the proposed finding against the entire deposit of faith, of which she is the custodian and judge (cf. 1 Tim. 3:15, 6:20; 2 Tim. 1:14).

In addition to this caution against naively interpreting a particular passage from the body of writings of the Fathers of the Church, Fr. Most points also to a number of other passages among the writings of the Early Fathers which give a much broader conception of membership in the Church.

In a work entitled The Shepherd from Hermas (c. A.D. 140-155), the author recounts a vision:

While I slept, brethren, a revelation was made to me by a very handsome young man, who said to me, "Who do you think the old woman is, from whom you received the little book?" I said. "The Sybil." "You are wrong." he said: "She is not." "Who is she, then?' I said. "The Church," he replied. So I said to him, "Why, then, is she old?" "Because," he replied, "she was created the first of all things. That is why she is old. It was for her sake that the world was established" (Jurgens, vol. 1, p. 33).

It should be obvious from this statement that the Church is being portrayed as a mystery, with much more to it than meets the eye. A door has been opened for a sense of real, though perhaps unacknowledged, membership in this saving body. This notion of the pre-existence of the Church is also apparent in the so-called Second Letter of Clement of Rome to the Corinthians, which has been dated to the mid-second century. The anonymous author states that the Books [Old Testament writings] and the Apostles [New Testament writings] declare that the Church belongs not to the present, but has existed from the beginning. She was spiritual, just as was our Jesus; but He was manifested in the last days so that He might save us. And the Church, being spiritual, was manifested in the flesh of Christ (Jurgens, vol. 1, p. 43).

Writing towards the end of the second century, St. Irenaeus, in his famous work <Against Heresies>, claims:

Christ came not only for those who believed from the time of Tiberius Caesar, nor did the Father provide only for those who are now, but for absolutely all men from the beginning, who, according to their ability, feared and loved God and lived justly. . . and desired to see Christ and to hear His voice (Fr. William G. Most, <The Holy Spirit and the Church>, Notre Dame Institute Press, 1991, p. 76).

Just a few years earlier, around the year A.D. 150, the great Christian apologist, philosopher, and layman St. Justin Martyr offered this assessment of how one "belongs" to the Church of Christ, and specifically mentions the pagan philosopher Socrates:

Christ is the Logos [Divine Word] of whom the whole race of men partake. Those who lived according to Logos are Christians, even if they were considered atheists, such as, among the Greeks, Socrates, and Heraclitus (Most, p. 75).

This statement seems to be a very clear example of what St. Paul must have meant when writing to the Romans a century earlier:

For when the Gentiles who do not have the law by nature observe the prescriptions of the law, they are a law for themselves even though they do not have the law. They show that the demands of the law are written in their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even defend them on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge people's hidden works through Christ Jesus (Romans 2:14-16).

Thus, according to the thought of St. Paul, if a person obeys the law of God written on his heart, he is obeying Christ the Logos and is essentially accepting the Spirit of Christ, even if he is not fully aware of this. Following Romans 8:9 ("you are in the spirit, if only the Spirit of God dwells in you. Who ever does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him."), it seems reasonable to conclude that a "just pagan" like Socrates belongs to Christ and in some way shares in the membership of His Body, the Church, even without a formal awareness or an outward, visible manifestation of this fact.

One more example of this broad understanding of membership in the partially invisible and mysterious Body of Christ comes from the moving funeral oration of St. Gregory of Nazianzus, which he offered on the occasion of his father's death in A.D. 374:

He was ours even before he was of our fold. His manner of life made him one of us. Just as there are many of our own who are not with us, whose lives alienate them from the common body, so too there are many of those outside who belong really to us, men whose devout conduct anticipates their faith. They lack only the name of that which in fact they possess. My father was one of these, an alien shoot but inclined to us in his manner of life (William A. Jurgens, <The Faith of the Early Fathers>, vol. 2, Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1979, p. 29).

Epithets On Boston Common

These theological subtleties were apparently lost on Fr. Feeney and his crowd. The renegade Jesuit had, in the meantime, immersed himself in his own cauldron of boiling oil by repeatedly refusing to obey an order by his now extremely concerned Jesuit superiors to leave the Center and go to another assignment at Holy Cross College. In April 1949, Fr. Feeney was visited by a former teacher of his who urged him "for the good of the Society, the good of the Province, and thereby the good of your soul," to comply, but Feeney refused, claiming "it is the Blessed Lady who is keeping me at St. Benedict Center" (Pepper, pp. 29-30).

Archbishop Cushing's subsequent suspension of Fr. Feeney's priestly faculties on April 18, 1949 only formalized what had already occurred, as the rebellious priest had moved out of the Jesuit Residence and into the Center itself some time previous. Fr. Feeney continued to celebrate the sacraments despite the fact he had no faculties to do so.

On August 8, 1949, the Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office issued the Protocol <Suprema haec sacra>, specifically condemning the doctrines of "the Cambridge group" as presented in From the Housetops, vol. 3. Feeney charged the Protocol was invalid, since it had not yet been published in the official <Acta Apostolicae Sedis>. The irony of this criticism is that according to John Cardinal Wright in a March 1976 article in <L'Osservatore Romano>, His Holiness Pope Pius XII personally wished to supervise and, indeed, make the official English translation which would be sent to the Archbishop of Boston for promulgation in the battle zone." Wright admits being struck by Pius' concern for the matter: "I shall never forget how painstaking, precise and scholarly was the Chief Shepherd of Christendom as he labored on a document to restore peace to a relatively small corner of the Christian World" (John Cardinal Wright, "Pope Pius XII: A Personal Reminiscence," <L'Osservatore Romano>, English Edition, March 11, 1976, p. 3, quoted in Pepper, p. 34).

Ten days later, Archbishop Cushing suspended Feeney and placed the Center under interdict. Feeney was dismissed from the Jesuits just two months later. Insisting on his innocence, Feeney continued to write the Vatican, and on Sunday afternoons, flanked by bodyguards, would engage in fierce debates with anyone within earshot on the Boston Common, "shouting vulgar anti-Semitisms at the crowds before him" (Avery Dulles, "Leonard Feeney: In Memoriam," in <America>, February 25, 1978, p. 137). Eventually, after repeatedly refusing several summons to Rome, he was excommunicated for persistent disobedience to legitimate Church authority by the authority of the Holy See on February 13, 1953, the decree of which was subsequently published in the <Acta> His followers maintain to this day that his excommunication was invalid, and, while a clever canonist might very well be able to make a claim that the case was at least poorly handled, there is little doubt that as far as Pope Pius XII was concerned, Leonard Feeney was, in fact, <extra ecclesiam>.


Fr. Feeney and his followers in "the Boston heresy," as it came to be known, insisted that theirs was the only orthodox interpretation of the extra ecclesiam doctrine. To aid their cause, they enlisted the help of several magisterial texts from primarily medieval popes and councils. These, like the Patristic texts, merit some examination, not only because of their bearing on the case at hand, but because they offer an example of how even those people ostensibly concerned with orthodoxy can be led astray by the private interpretation of ecclesial texts.

There exist among the documents of the Magisterium a handful of rather restrictive texts concerning church membership, similar in tone to some of the statements of the Early Fathers already mentioned. One example is a declaration by the Fourth Lateran Council, held in 1215, which taught "there is one universal Church of the faithful, outside of which no one at all is saved." Furthermore, Pope Boniface VIII, in his bull of 1302 entitled <Unam Sanctam>, asserted in the strongest possible terms that "it is absolutely necessary for the salvation of every human creature to be subject to the Roman Pontiff."

By far the most favorite conciliar quote of the Feeneyites, however, comes from the Council of Florence. Pope Eugene IV issued the Bull <Cantate Domino> in 1441, which states the following:

(N)o one remaining outside the Catholic Church, not just pagans, but also Jews or heretics or schismatics, can become partakers of eternal life; but they will go to the "everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels" (Matt. 25:41), unless before the end of life they are joined to the Church.... And no one can be saved, no matter how much alms he has given, even if he sheds his blood for the name of Christ, unless he remains in the bosom and the unity of the Catholic Church (Denziger 715).

In its letter to Archbishop Cushing on the Boston heresy case (the protocol to which Pope Pius XII had so carefully attended), the Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office noted that "the Church has always preached and will never cease to preach. . . that infallible statement by which we are taught that there is no salvation outside the Church." The protocol goes on to say, however, that

(T)his dogma must be understood in that sense in which the Church herself understands it. For, it was not to private judgments that Our Saviour gave for explanation those things that are contained in the deposit of faith, but to the teaching authority of the Church (<Suprema haec sacra>, in <The American Ecclesiastical Review>, 1952, vol. 127, pp. 308-15).

In other words, the magisterial texts used by Fr. Feeney and his followers can only be interpreted in context and in the light of other, equally authoritative Magisterial teachings not only in order to avoid confusion or charges that the Church has changed her teaching, but because it is only in harmony with the Magisterium of today that magisterial texts of yesterday may be rightly understood.

The protocol mentions, for example, Pope Pius IX's 1863 encyclical <Quanto conficiamur moerore>. In this document, while cautioning against the error of religious indifferentism, the pontiff simultaneously affirmed the inexhaustible mercy of God, who really does desire that all men be saved and come to full knowledge of the truth (cf. 1 Tim. 2:4):

We all know that those who are afflicted with invincible ignorance with regard to our holy religion, if they carefully keep the precepts of the natural law that have been written by God in the hearts of all men, if they are prepared to obey God, and if they lead a virtuous and dutiful life, can attain eternal life by the power of divine light and grace. For God. . . will not permit, in accordance with his infinite goodness and mercy, anyone who is not guilty of a voluntary fault to suffer eternal punishment. However, also well-known is the Catholic dogma that no one can be saved outside the Catholic Church, and that those who obstinately oppose the authority and definitions of that Church, and who stubbornly remain separated from the unity of the Church and from the successor of Peter, the Roman Pontiff, (to whom the Savior has entrusted the care of his vineyard), cannot obtain salvation.

This same teaching was echoed by Pius IX's successor, Pope Pius XII, in his 1943 encyclical <Mystici Corporis>, to which the 1949 protocol also makes reference. The protocol summarizes the pope's teaching by saying that while membership in the Church is indeed an absolute requirement for salvation, such membership does not necessarily have to be visible to the human eye, and can be characterized by even "desire and longing," whether explicit (in the case of catechumens) or implicit (in the case of the invincibly ignorant). At the same time, however, the pope affirms that those souls in the latter case "cannot be sure of their salvation" since "they still remain deprived of those many heavenly gifts and helps which can only be enjoyed in the Catholic Church." The protocol concludes:

With these wise words [Pius XIII 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 in every religion.

Just two decades later, the Second Vatican Council further clarified the position of the Magisterium:

Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience—those too may achieve eternal salvation (<Lumen Gentium>, #16).

It is interesting to note that the footnote for this very paragraph from the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church refers to <Suprema haec sacra>, the protocol condemning the Boston heresy, which certainly lays to rest the popular claim among contemporary Feeneyites that the Protocol was simply a letter from one church bureaucrat to another with no particular force behind it.

More recently, Pope John Paul II's 1990 encyclical <Redemptoris Missio> repeats this same doctrine:

But it is clear that today, as in the past, many people do not have an opportunity to come to know or accept the Gospel revelation or to enter the Church.... For such people, salvation in Christ is accessible by virtue of a grace which, while having a mysterious relationship to the Church, does not make them formally a part of the Church but enlightens them in a way which is accommodated to their spiritual and material situation. This grace comes from Christ; it is the result of his sacrifice and is communicated by the Holy Spirit. It enables each person to attain salvation through his or her free cooperation (RM, #10, emphasis added).

The most current and authoritative magisterial text of all, however, comes from the new Catechism of the Catholic Church, which the successor of Peter describes as a "sure norm for the teaching of the faith." It addresses the notion of the correct interpretation of the patristic formula <extra ecclesiam nulla salus> by quoting the teaching of the Second Vatican Council:

Basing itself on Scripture and Tradition, the Council teaches that the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation.... Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it. This affirmation is not aimed at those who, through no fault of their own, do not know Christ and his Church (CCC, #846-7).

Although in ways known to Himself, God can lead those who, through no fault of their own, are ignorant of the gospel, to that faith without which it is impossible to please him, the Church still has the obligation and also the sacred right to evangelize all men (CCC, #848).

Moreover, in its section on baptism, the Catechism explicitly teaches the validity of baptisms of blood and desire:

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 (CCC, # 1258).

Private Interpretation

Besides misinterpreting the Church's teaching on <extra ecclesiam nulla salus>, the Feeneyites also misunderstood the larger issue of the way in which the Holy Spirit actually protects the Magisterium from teaching error in matters of faith and morals. God has guaranteed that His Spirit of Truth will never forsake the Church, but that does not mean He regularly suspends the freedom of those responsible for passing on the tradition. On some occasions the Holy Spirit "walks a tight line," as it were, allowing some kind of definition to be written down (which is protected by the Holy Spirit from all stain of error) while perhaps allowing the particular pope—author of that declaration to have in his mind something a little more extreme and quite possibly wrong. It is very possible, for example, that Pope Boniface VIII had in mind a more stringent understanding of Church membership when writing <Unam Sanctam>, but, as that document has been interpreted by the living Magisterium of the Church of Christ, it is clear that actual language mandating a more restrictive understanding of extra ecclesiam simply never made it into the document.

The ironic nature of the errors of Fr. Feeney, arch-conservative and baiter of non-Catholics, is that his use of the theory of private interpretation is essentially very similar to that of the heresiarch Martin Luther's. But instead of insisting on private interpretation of Scripture, Fr. Feeney seemed to be insisting on private interpretation of Magisterial documents. Needless to say, it is a bit problematic to hold that a private individual can be a better judge of what a 14th century Magisterium really taught than that same Magisterium with six more centuries of experience.

A Telling Tombstone

After Archbishop Cushing suspended Fr. Feeney and placed the Center under interdict, nearly all of the St. Benedict Center community's one hundred members formed a "religious order" called the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and then moved out to Still River, Massachusetts, where the community eventually broke down into warring factions, a few of which have been since reconciled to the Church. Fr. Feeney himself, beset with the mental and physical ailments of old age, was reportedly "reconciled" to the Church on November 22, 1972 in the St. Thomas More Bookstore in Cambridge, with the help of a group of members of the Center and some very indulgent diocesan officials. These officials neither pressed Fr. Feeney for a recantation of his theological errors nor even an apology for the harm he may have caused the faithful. After the meeting, curiously enough, Fr. Feeney reportedly published a letter claiming that he had retracted nothing and still believed in the formula "no salvation outside the Church" as he always had. In any case, Fr. Leonard J. Feeney died at the age of 80 on January 30, 1978 and is buried in the Center's graveyard in Still River. The inscription on his tombstone reads <extra ecclesiam nulla salus>.

Feeney And Lefebvre

According to the correspondence surrounding the clandestine reconciliation service (not all the members of the community were told for fear that an attempt might be made to sabotage the proceedings by getting Fr. Feeney to change his mind), it is unclear whether or not Leonard Feeney was aware of what he was doing in the St. Thomas More Bookstore in November of 1972. But even if he was sufficiently cognizant of the proceedings, another question remains, the answer to which is known only to God: Did he possess true contrition for his sins of disobedience? Without this, of course, his "reconciliation" is null and void. The most significant question of all, however, especially in the light of circumstances since that time, might be the effect Feeney's "rehabilitation" has had on adherents of his stated positions, many of whom felt positively vindicated after Feeney was welcomed back without any retraction or apology.

Indeed, in the last couple of years, Feeneyism has enjoyed a resurgence of sorts. This is true especially among at least some of the followers of excommunicated Archbishop Lefebvre, whose case mirrors that of Fr. Feeney in some uncanny ways. Both began as vigilant and even heroic defenders of orthodoxy, but became disillusioned when they did not begin to see that their intense efforts at reform were having the desired effect. As their popular fame grew, they gathered around themselves a fiercely loyal group of followers. Relatively few of these loyalists left when their leaders finally were excommunicated, which is probably due in large measure to the systematic indoctrination being practiced within their respective communities in the years leading up to the final break.

Both Feeney and Lefebvre ended up betraying the pope they professed to love so well by willfully disobeying a clear order from their ecclesiastical superiors and by claiming that they had heavenly permission to engage in their renegade activities. Furthermore, for all their stated concern for law in general, both evidently had little regard for ecclesial law in particular, in that they both continued to regularly administer the sacraments despite the fact their faculties had been withdrawn by their superiors—Feeney in April of 1949, and Lefebvre in July of 1976.

Likewise, both of these 20th-century schismatics stubbornly focussed on a technicality in Canon Law in an attempt to prove themselves right, all the while claiming a martyr's role. Feeney claimed the papal Protocol explicitly condemning his group was invalid since it hadn't been published in the <Acta Apostolicae Sedis>, while Lefebvre claimed more than once to be the victim of canonical irregularities.

Another similarity between the Boston priest and the French cardinal concerns their penchant for the private interpretation of magisterial documents. Just as Feeney claimed to possess the one, true interpretation of Benedict VIII's <Unam Sanctam> over and against Pius IX's <Quanto conficiamur moerore>, so Marcel Lefebvre held that his Society of St. Pius X possessed over and above the authority of the Second Vatican Council the correct concept of the Mass and religious freedom.

Both Feeney and Lefebvre gathered around themselves counselors who were, in retrospect, at least as crafty and cunning as their mentors had been in their worst moments. One wonders whether it was fidelity to the cause or simple self-interest that lay behind both Feeney's and Lefebvre's advisors' stubborn insistence that their respective leaders—Catherine Goddard Clarke with Feeney and Richard Williamson with Lefebvre, for example—take a hard line against the church, even when it meant excommunication for him.

Finally, and most significantly, both Leonard Feeney and Marcel Lefebvre are dead. And, like the hundreds of other so-called "reformers" that have appeared over the centuries, the movements they spawned have broken up, splintering off into increasingly smaller sects. Such is the fate reserved for those who believe themselves to be more Catholic than the pope. Without a central authority, the spirit of self-will that generated the division in the first place perpetuates itself, eventuating in more and more schisms.

Gerry Matatics, Feeneyite Apologist

One prominent example of a Lefebvrist sympathizer coming over to Feeneyism is that of Gerry Matatics, the one-time Presbyterian minister who, like his friend and co-religionist Scott Hahn, sent chills of excitement up the spines of orthodox Catholics as he toured the country sharing his conversion story. Now, however, Matatics, having become a Feeneyite some time after leaving the employ of the San Diego-based lay apologetics group Catholic Answers, seems to have followed in the footsteps of other fiery evangelizers who become fed up with what they see are the corruptions and failings of the institutional church.

In mid-October of this year, Matatics spoke at the 8th Annual Convention of the Tridentine Rite Conference in Hyannis, Massachusetts, and was honored there with the "G.K. Chesterton award" for his work as president of his own apostolate Biblical Foundations." The conference was decidedly pro-Feeneyite, as was Matatics himself, according to Pat Romano, editor of the traditionalist paper the New England Catholic News, who also received an award at the conference.

The next weekend, Matatics appeared at a Marian conference in Fargo, North Dakota. While his talks were generally well-received (though shamelessly self-promoting), Matatics ran into more than a bit of trouble with some of the conference attendees over his Feeneyite interpretation of the axiom <extra ecclesiam nulla salus>. Matatics, it seems, had been peddling a 4-page newsletter called <The Quartermaster>, the fall issue of which contained what appeared to be a very rigorous interpretation of the doctrine in question. When asked about this by some of his readers, Matatics became defensive and the discussion that ensued quickly became an argument. During the course of this altercation, Matatics kept referring to the oft-quoted phrases of the Church Fathers and medieval councils, that, as we have seen, have so often been misused by Feeneyites. He also claimed, according to observers, that the new Catechism of the Catholic Church misrepresented true Church teaching on the subject, since it was vague and unclear about the real meaning of salvation outside the Church.

On at least one other occasion, Matatics has been seen pushing a new pro-Feeney book entitled <Desire and Deception: Is the Church Necessary?> published by Charlemagne Press. After Matatics had visited St. Pius X Catholic Church in Lafayette, Louisiana earlier this spring, one concerned priest bought back copies of the book Matatics had sold to his parishioners. But more on that later.

All About Paul Trinchard

Another noteworthy personality and featured speaker at the pro-Feeney traditionalist conference in Hyannis was <The Remnant> columnist and ex-Jesuit Fr. Paul Trinchard, author of the newly-released <All About Salvation>, published by Catholic Treasures in Monrovia, California.

Trinchard's book is a rambling and repetitive diatribe against, well, pretty much everyone you can imagine. His excessive use of bold print and upper case letters indicates either problems with his keyboard or a belief that ordinary English punctuation cannot convey the venom he feels for the Catholic Church today. The book is dedicated, in part, to Fr. Feeney, and carries the endorsement of the Our Lady of Fatima pilgrim statue escort Louis Kaczmarek, who claims the book "is the voice of a courageous priest going right to the heart of the troubles plaguing the Church."

And what is the matter with the Church, according to Fr. Trinchard? Currently, he says, the Church "In Practice" is a "Christ-betraying institution" and is "Fallen and Rotten from top to bottom." This is due to the fact that modern popes and virtually all the bishops do not preach the Church's "Salutary Dogma," which is (you guessed it!) <extra ecclesiam nulla salus>.

"God Has A Big Problem"

Trinchard goes on to inform his readers that "God Has A Big Problem." Efforts at reforming this "rotten" Church will be made more difficult in these days because John Paul II is a "sinful" man who must turn "180 degrees" from his present course. The Vatican itself is a "Man-Run" institution that he claims is not only basically evil, but actually part of a Satanic network on earth that includes the Masons, the NEA, and the ACLU. Trinchard derisively refers to the Second Vatican Council as "weird," and a "non-Council," urging his readers to adopt the "spirit of Fatima" rather than that of Vatican II. He also angrily describes the new Catechism of the Catholic Church as a "New Age 'Man-adoring’" catechism rife with "mega-heresy."

At one point in <All About Salvation>, Trinchard claims that if any readers are having doubts about the truth of what he is writing, those doubts are "demonically inspired." He ends by asserting only those people who believe the doctrine as he has outlined it will avoid hell—which he erroneously, yet dogmatically, describes as "including Limbo."

During the course of his book, of course, Trinchard does rightly condemn a number of modern-day abuses in areas like catechetics, the liturgy, ecclesiastical discipline, and many other areas. But he goes much too far in saying the Church has lost "her most precious possessions: the Mass, Sacraments, and Dogma of faith." In this way, he repeats the error of his hero, Fr. Feeney. There was certainly much merit to Feeney's criticism of the secularized education then only beginning to afflict this nation's Catholic universities. But efforts at reform of the Church independent of or in contradiction to the See of Peter are inherently doomed and extremely counter-productive.

Feeneyism And Generation X

Although Matatics and Trinchard are both Lefebvrist sympathizers, the resurgence of the Boston heresy is not limited to a few of the followers of Marcel Lefebvre. In fact, many traditionalists are vociferous in their denunciations of the Boston heresy and some even avoided the Hyannis conference at which Matatics and Trinchard were featured because of its pro-Feeney tilt. In any case, a surprising number of young people from Generation X seem to be taking an interest in the Boston heresy. Vin Lewis, director of All Roads Ministries, and another rabid supporter of Feeneyism, claims that among the growing body of people showing interest in Feeney's ideas are a number of young people.

While too young to remember Leonard Feeney, (or Marcel Lefebvre, for that matter) they are just old enough to have been subjected to the catechetical anomie of the last 20 years. It seems as if they are ripe for Feeney's particularly rigid notion of church membership and salvation, perhaps in part due to the veracity of the maxim "nature abhors a vacuum." In other words, when the authentic understanding of extra ecclesiam is not taught, or worse, when the error of religious indifferentism is passed off as "modern" church teaching, the young are especially vulnerable to an extreme "solution" like Feeneyism.

The case of Charles Coulombe represents a good example of this younger, pro-Feeney crowd. Coulombe, a movie critic and columnist for the <National Catholic Register>, is a Generation-Xer who also runs the "Charlemagne Press" out of Arcadia, California. According to both Br. Bartholomew of the St. Benedict Abbey in Still River, Massachusetts and Br. Andre of the St. Benedict Center in Richmond, New Hampshire, Coulombe's involvement with Feeneyism is extensive. According to Br. Andre, Coulombe is one of three religious brothers of "St. Benedict Center West," (also known as the "St. Joseph House of Studies") the first outpost of Feeneyism on the West Coast. The superior of the community, Br. Leonard Mary, (aka J. Fred Farrell, Jr.), is the publisher and author of the foreword to Desire and Deception, the same pro-Feeney book Gerry Matatics was circulating on his lecture tour. The links here are not coincidental. Both Br. Bartholomew and Br. Andre independently asserted that Coulombe himself is the author of Desire and Deception, and that "Thomas A. Hutchinson" is merely a pen name.

Aquinas The Heretic

For anyone familiar with Coulombe, this does not come as a shock. The flamboyant style and frequent and forced attempts at irony are characteristic of Coulombe's aspirations at mimicking Chesterton. Furthermore, since Charlemagne Press has only published books written by Coulombe, his authorship is rather obvious. The reasons behind his choosing a pen name, even if it only thinly veils his authorship, are unclear; he is possibly reticent to publicly admit his allegiance to Feeneyism or is reluctant to have his status as a professional writer jeopardized, since besides his position as a writer for the <National Catholic Register>, Coulombe also regularly contributes to the Society of St. Pius X's <The Angelus> magazine. He might, after all, find himself in trouble with the traditionalists after they read in Desire and Deception an excoriation of Msgr. Lefebvre for his ignorance, duplicity, and naivete in accepting the "heresy" of baptism of desire.

Anyhow, the main thesis of <Desire and Deception> is that the Church has misunderstood the doctrine <extra ecclesiam nulla salus> for centuries, and that the time of deliverance is now at hand. Having been duped into jettisoning the neoPlatonism of the early Church (which had preserved the "correct" understanding of <extra ecclesiam>), and after having been led into heresy by its replacement, Thomistic scholasticism, the Church was finally saved from error by the heroic actions of Fr. Leonard Feeney. Interestingly enough, this disparaging of St. Thomas was never part of Feeney's original analysis, and some Feeneyites have even voiced their objections to much of Coulombe's analysis.

Like other pro-Feeney writers, Coulombe wanders through various statements of the Fathers and Councils, picking and choosing those which best fit his needs. He dismisses the notions of baptism of desire and baptism of blood as scholastic accretions, and calmly asserts that St. Bonaventure called St. Thomas Aquinas "the Father of all Heresies" because of the latter's use of Aristotle.

White Indians

But Desire and Deception gets even more outrageous. In order to avoid the claim that their heresy turns God into a monster who arbitrarily sentences ignorant pagans to hell, the Feeneyites will go to truly incredible lengths to show how God indeed does require all who enter heaven's gates to be card-carrying members of the Catholic Church.

The legendary Aztec figure Quetzalcoatl (aka Kukulcan), according to the author of <Desire and Deception>, was really a Catholic priest of the 10th or 11th century who introduced central American Indians of good-will to Catholicism, leaving behind the sacraments of baptism, penance, and eucharist. This curious claim is contradicted in the same volume but in a different article of <The Catholic Encyclopedia> (1913) from which Coulombe extracted his Quetzalcoatl/Kukulcan story: in it the Mayans are said to have been founded by Kukulcan at the end of the second century A.D., thus making Coulombe's claim that Kukulcan was a Catholic priest a bit of a stretch, to put it as kindly as possible. News of the Mayan attachment to things Catholic also would have come as a surprise to at least some of the members of a group of early Spanish explorers who, in 1511, were shipwrecked on the island of Cozumel; they were promptly offered as human sacrifices to the Mayan idols.

Coulombe also mentions the legendary "White Indians," the presumed descendants of the fabled Welsh explorer Madoc ap Owain Gwynedd, who supposedly landed in North America in 1170 with a company of colonists. Coulombe claims that these Welshmen became Mandan Indians, who were still toting "tattered Missals, crucifixes, and rosaries" presumably up until the 18th century, when Lewis and Clark happened upon them. The two explorers were "very surprised by the Caucasian appearance of many of the Mandan Indians" (p. 50). Evidently, some of the natives on this continent were so well-disposed to God's revelation that He made them not only Catholics, but Caucasians as well.

Fr. Paul Trinchard, in <All About Salvation,> goes to similar lengths to try and explain away one of the more obvious flaws in his argument—that claiming only physically baptized, card-carrying Catholics may enter heaven turns the all-merciful God of Christian Revelation into an ogre. Trinchard assures his readers that those God has predestined for heaven somehow will be baptized, even after they die. Trinchard maintains that God could baptize people in a "paranatural" way by raising them from "Epsilon death" to be baptized before "Omega death" sets in. This notion, of course, explicitly contradicts defined church teaching on the immediate judgment of the soul upon the moment of death, as it is expressed in numerous church councils (cf. CCC, # 1022). Trinchard admits, however, that he doesn't personally know the name of any individual who died and was raised in order to be baptized, (such cases are rare), but we know such cases exist, and the Church assures us that God will somehow honor His Revealed Will in that person's regard. Indeed, that person will be baptized (<All About Salvation>, Fr. Paul Trinchard, Monrovia, CA: Catholic Treasures, 1994, p. 56).

Making such fantastic claims on the Providence of the Almighty seems especially hypocritical for Feeneyites when considering their justification for Feeney's disobedience to legitimate Church authority. Writing in <Desire and Deception>, Charles Coulombe notes that Fr. Feeney was ready to obey the order to leave St. Benedict Center back in 1949, but his students persuaded him to disobey:

The students argued that if he complied [with the order], that would be the end of the matter, and that the traditional teaching on salvation would sink without a trace. But if he stayed, and forced a hearing or trial on the matter, the doctrine of No Salvation would be reaffirmed (p. 101).

If God can regularly be expected to raise people from the dead for baptism and turn pagans into Catholics by means of transcontinental clerics and heavenly apparitions, it would be reasonable to assume He would do something to stop the "sinking" of what was evidently the single-most important doctrine of the Church in the modern age without demanding that a lone Jesuit priest in Boston commit an act of direct and willful disobedience to a superior.

By necessity, every defense of Feeneyism includes a justification of Feeney himself. Thus, any committed Feeneyite worth his salt has, at one time or another, mounted a defense of the character of Fr. Feeney. Appropriately, then, both Trinchard and Coulombe in their respective books deny that Feeney was treated in accord with the norms of existing Canon Law, and go so far as to doubt the validity of both his 1949 silencing and his 1953 excommunication. As was mentioned above, there very well may have been certain procedural difficulties in the case. But because Feeney was excommunicated for his continued disobedience nearly four years after he was silenced, suspended, expelled from his order, had his Center placed under interdict, and had his teaching formally condemned by an official Protocol of the Holy Office published with the approval of Pope Pius XII himself, the excommunication itself really becomes a moot point. Indeed, some have argued that Feeney's excommunication was excessive and that a few of the main players who had been involved in the case in the beginning—most notably, Feeney's former student John Cardinal Wright—were perhaps more than a bit overanxious to see the ailing cleric reconciled to the Church before he died, even at almost any price.

The reasons why defending Fr. Feeney's canonical rights so vociferously remains an important task for Feeneyites should be clear. The defense of the man provides an occasion and a screen for defending his heretical interpretation of the doctrine <extra ecclesiam nulla salus>, which they stubbornly claim, in the face of overwhelming evidence from the Magisterium, is still the only acceptable position for true Catholics.

Desire And Deception

Besides making brazen claims like the ones mentioned above, Desire and Deception engages in a little outright deception of its own. On page 56, for example, Coulombe quotes the Catechism of the Council of Trent in attempting to prove his point that the Church has never admitted of exceptions to the necessity of baptism. What he fails to mention is that just a few paragraphs from the one he quotes, the reader will find this:

The Church is never in a hurry to baptize adults; she takes her time. This delay does not carry with it the same danger that we saw in the case of infants, for if any unforeseen accident should deprive adults of baptism, their intention to receive it and their repentance for past sins will compensate for it (<The Catechism of the Council of Trent>, #36).

Though the above is about as clear an explanation of baptism of desire as one can find in official Church teaching, Coulombe might be forgiven if this were the only place in magisterial documents where it could be found. However, as he is writing years after authoritative statements of the highest degree have been promulgated— <Mystici Corporis> of Pius XII, the documents of the Second Vatican Council, <Redemptoris Missio> of Pope John Paul II, and the <Catechism of the Catholic Church>—Coulombe has no excuse.

Fr. Feeney himself could at least claim, however accurately, that he was being condemned for holding the wrong <interpretation> of a <de fide> definition that at the time did not appear as clear as it does today. Coulombe, Trinchard, and Matatics and the other Feeneyites are stubbornly adhering to error after it has been formally and repeatedly condemned by the highest authority in the Church. Vin Lewis, the aforementioned Feeney apologist of All Roads Ministries, justified in a recent debate his own rejection of church teaching as contained in <Redemptoris Missio> and the <Catechism of the Catholic Church>: "I reject the statements of the pope because, regardless of what Canon Law says, I am number one supreme in my conscience."

The attempt on the part of the Feeneyites to downgrade the authority of documents by popes and councils that contradict their positions bear a striking resemblance to similar attempts by modernists like Fr. Charles Curran and Fr. Richard McBrien made in recent years in matters of sexual morality. The theological dissent and schismatic behavior of the Feeneyites, however, would seem a particularly dangerous course of action indeed for those who preach in the strongest terms possible <extra ecclesiam nulla salus>. Their words might come back to haunt them.

Taken from the December 1994 issue of "Fidelity". To subscribe contact Fidelity Press, 206 Marquette Avenue, South Bend, IN 46617.