Is Laisneyism Catholic?
By Bro. Thomas Mary Sennott
Fr. François Laisney, a member of the Society of St. Pius X, the
disciples of Archbishop Lefebvre, has written a book entitled Is
Feeneyism Catholic? 1 I don't know what the exact canonical
status of the Society of St. Pius X is at the moment, but I presume
they still think that Vatican II is heretical, and that the Novus
Ordo Mass is invalid. That someone would think that an ecumenical
Council whose decrees have been approved by the Holy Father, no
matter how badly phrased, is heretical, and that the Novus Ordo
Mass which was established by Pope Paul VI with such a high
authority, despite its ugliness, could be invalid, should tell us
a priori that such a person could not do good theology. He
has cut himself off from the necessary grace, so he is on the outside
looking in. Ordinarily I would never respond to a book such as this,
but I am doing so at the urging of two of my friends.
thesis of the book is that baptism of blood and baptism of desire
are the teaching of the ordinary and universal magisterium of the
Church. Father Laisney writes:
"This teaching being part of the Ordinary and Universal Magisterium
of the Church, it is part of the deposit of Faith, which each Catholic
ought to hold fast faithfully! One is NOT entitled to reject a unanimous
teaching of the Magisterium under the mere pretext that it has not
been defined." (2)
"Can Father Feeney and His Followers Be Called 'Heretics'"
"The decree of excommunication of Fr. Feeney, approved and confirmed
by Pope Pius XII, 1953, does not mention the charge of heretic,
but rather that of a "grievous disobedience to the Authority of
the Church." One cannot condemn them more than the Church did, so
one should not say they are formal 'heretics.'
"However if, after one has explained to them properly the Catholic
doctrine on baptism of desire [i.e. according to Father Laisney]
(not the liberal doctrine), they publicly, stubbornly, 'pertinaciously'
refuse to correct themselves and 'to hold fast to the doctrine of
the Fathers' (Pope Innocent III), I cannot see how they could be
excused of a grievous sin of pride! Thus they could be denied Holy
Father Laisney's thesis on baptism of desire and baptism of blood
can not possibly be true. We certainly would have heard of it before
now, and from some more reliable source than the Society of St.
Pius X, like the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, or
through our own bishop. On the contrary,when Father Feeney was"reconciled"
to the Church in 1972 with the approval of Pope Paul VI, through
the good offices of Cardinal Medeiros of Boston, and Bishop Flanagan
of Worcester, he was not required to retract any of his speculations
on baptism of desire or baptism of blood. Also my book They Fought
the Good Fight (1987) (which, incidently Father Laisney does
not include in his bibliography) which included Father Feeney's
speculations on baptism of desire and baptism of blood, received
the Imprimi potest from Bishop Timothy J. Harrington of Worcester,
and the retired bishop of Worcester, Bernard J. Flanagan, acted
as Censor deputatus. (4) Of course Father Laisney's book
has no Imprimatur.
I should also mention that when the Sisters of St. Anne were trying
to get their status "regularized," they were asked through Bishop
Harrington by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to
"understand" the "Letter of the Holy Office to the Archbishop of
Boston." My They Fought the Good Fight was still in manuscript
at the time, but it had been read approvingly by both the bishop
and the sisters. I suggested they use the following "understanding"
of the "Letter" in my book:
"A reference to the "Letter of the Holy Office to the Archbishop
of Boston" appears in an official footnote to Lumen Gentium
(2,16)...The relevant passage of Lumen Gentium reads:
"'Those also can attain to everlasting life who through no fault
of their own do not know the gospel of Christ or His Church, yet
sincerely seek God, and moved by grace strive by their deeds to
do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience.'
"This passage of Lumen Gentium is similar to the "Letter"
but with one significant difference. The phrase 'implicit desire'
(votum implicitum) which was so objectionable to Father Feeney
has been dropped...The relevant passage from Lumen Gentium
"'...Nor does divine Providence deny the help necessary for salvation
to those who without blame on their part, have not yet arrived at
an explicit knowledge of God, but who strive to live a good life,
thanks to His grace. Whatever goodness or truth is found among them
is looked upon by the Church as a preparation for the Gospel
(my emphasis TMS). She rewards such qualities as given by Him who
enlightens all men so that they may finally have life.'
"So a person of goodwill who is involved in invincible ignorance
and has an implicit desire to be joined to the Church, may indeed
be saved, but not where he is. Whatever truth or goodness
is found in such a person is looked upon by the Church as a "preparation
for the Gospel," and Lumen Gentium continues, it is to such
persons that the Church 'to promote the glory of God and procure
the salvation of all such men (emphasis mine), and mindful of
the command of the Lord, 'Preach the Gospel to every creature' (Mk.16:16),
...painstakingly fosters her missionary work.'"(5)
This "understanding" was accepted by both Bishop Harrington and
the Sisters, and on his next ad liminal visit to Rome the
Bishop presented it to the Congregation. It was accepted, and the
status of the Sisters was "regularized."
Father Laisney spends most of his time attacking the books of what
he calls the "followers" of Father Feeney. I know or knew (some
are dead) all of these followers, and have read all their books.
Most of them did not know Father Feeney in his prime, but in his
later years when he was afflicted with Parkinson's disease. Some
of these authors we hardly knew; they just attached themselves to
our crusade, and we had no control over them. Everybody is looking
for some kind of a crusade. Their books were not submitted to Father
Feeney for his approval, so it is unfair to say the least, to hold
him responsible for statements in them. However, two of these writers
did send me copies of their manuscripts, and asked me for comments.
I made a detailed critique (as did Bro. Dominic Maria) of these
two books, but all my suggestions were ignored. One of these authors
told me later, very humbly, God bless him, "the only things that
were any good in my book were what I copied from you."
One of the few things I am proud of in my life, is that I was associated
with Father Feeney from the earliest days, coming to the Center
in 1947 after having read Brother Francis' marvelous article in
the Housetops, "Sentimental Theology." Father Feeney wanted
us to be a real monastery, and to do all our own work. One of the
first things he decided to do was to make all our own clothes, and
five brothers were assigned to this work, myself included. Brother
Jude, who had been in the navy, got a hold of some navy manuals
on tailoring. The navy assumes that every sailor is a moron, so
they were very easy to follow, and we soon became very proficient,
making all the clothes for the brothers, the sisters, and the children.
We worked at the back of the Center at 23 Arrow St., and incidently
provided a body guard for Father Feeney (I suspect this was more
important to Sister Catherine than making clothes), who was continually
harassed by unwelcome visitors. We had it down to a real routine,
as the voice of the visitor, usually some Harvard student, got louder
and more abusive, without any pre-arranged signal, the five brothers
would get up and drop their folding metal chairs on the cement floor
with a tremendous crash, and move deliberately to the front of the
room. The student was usually gone before we reached there. If you
saw Brother Jude, who was from the Bronx and who used to be a sand
hog, moving menacingly toward you, you would be gone too. The reason
I tell this story, is that several times a day, Father Feeney would
come down to the "tailor shop" and give us little impromptu talks
on Scripture or theology. Father Feeney did not like to take notes
or make an outline, but to just keep talking till his ideas became
clear in his own mind. I didn't really appreciate it at the time,
but I realize now that it was invaluable in knowing just how Father
Feeney's mind worked.
Father Feeney was a great theologian, but he was also a professional
rhetorician; he taught Sacred Eloquence at the Jesuit Seminary at
Weston. Father would try out a tentative idea on us, and sometimes
the more tentative it was in his own mind, the more vehement he
became in its presentation. He used to humorously call these rhetorical
outbursts "de Feeney definita." He used to say "my danger
is that I can make anything sound plausible."Of course he never
did this with some well established truth. All Father Feeney's speculations
on Baptism of Desire and Baptism of Blood are of this de Feeney
definita variety. In other words they are pure speculations
and nothing else. I had written in They Fought the Good Fight:
"The newspaper reporters would often ask Father Feeney 'what would
you do if the Pope came out and defined that there is salvation
outside the Church.' Father Feeney would reply, 'but the Pope couldn't
do that.' 'Why not they would ask, 'he's the Pope isn't he?' Father
Feeney would say, 'God can't contradict Himself; the Holy Ghost
would prevent him.' The reporters would fall silent, but I suspect
"Father Feeney's opinion on the absolute necessity of Baptism for
salvation, which developed only after his condemnation, was never
the subject of reporter's questions. But if a reporter had asked,
'what would you do if the Pope said that a catechumen who had faith
and charity, but died before the reception of Baptism, could be
saved?' Father Feeney I am sure, would have answered, 'I would submit
immediately.' Father Feeney always considered his position on Baptism
of Desire an opinion, an opinion which he shared with some great
saints, such as St. Augustine, but only an opinion. That is why
he sent copies of Bread of Life in which the following lecture
"The Waters of Salvation" is contained, to the Holy Father and to
every Cardinal; he was submitting his opinion to the judgment of
In a second edition of They Fought the Good Fight which has
never been published, I added:
"Father Feeney was strongly attracted to this opinion of St. Augustine,
but there is nothing from the Solemn Magisterium to settle the matter.
To make this particular point then, the essential part of Father
Feeney's "doctrinal crusade," is to reduce the crusade to a mere
theological opinion. As Fr. Dennis Smith writes: 'My rule of thumb
is whenever presenting a doctrinal position, stick with authoritative
sources; "my saint tops your saint" or "my commentator tops your
commentator" is a game no one can win. In the end it is only what
the Church says which really counts.' The Church has not yet told
us who was correct on this particular point, St. Thomas or St. Augustine,
but she has told us that there is no salvation without her, and
that is what really matters."
The Catechism of the Catholic Church says in its section
on Baptism: "The Church does not know of any other means other than
Baptism that assures entry into eternal beatitude. " (7) This is
a perfect summary of Father Feeney's position on the absolute necessity
of Baptism of Water for salvation; it is almost as if he wrote it
himself. The implication is that what follows, and what follows
is St. Thomas on Baptism of Desire and Baptism of Blood, is not
known by the Church with the certitude she knows the sacrament of
Baptism. These teachings are of lesser or no authority, or as I
have been calling them, theological speculations. Father Laisney
considers the Catechism heretical, because it is the Catechism
of Vatican Council II, despite the very high authority given it
by Pope John Paul II. This is what I mean when I say that Father
Laisney is outside looking in. The dogmas of the Church are based
on the unanimous, or near-unanimous consent of the Fathers. The
reason that the Catechism has to make this statement is because,
Father Laisney not withstanding, there is no consensus of the Fathers
on Baptism of Desire. Even the arch-liberal Fr. Karl Rahner, S.J.
is honest enough to admit this:
"...we have to admit...that the testimony of the Fathers, with regard
to the possibility of salvation for someone outside the Church,
is very weak. Certainly even the ancient Church knew that the grace
of God can be found also outside the Church and even before Faith.
But the view that such divine grace can lead man to his final salvation
without leading him first into the visible Church, is something,
at any rate, which met with very little approval in the ancient
Church. For, with reference to the optimistic views on the salvation
of catechumens as found in many of the Fathers, it must be noted
that such a candidate for baptism was regarded in some sense or
other as already 'Christianus', and also that certain Fathers, such
as Gregory Nazianzen 57 and Gregory of Nyssa 58 deny altogether
the justifying power of love or of the desire for baptism. Hence
it will be impossible to speak of a consensus dogmaticus
in the early Church regarding the possibility of salvation for the
non-baptized, and especially for someone who is not even a catechumen.
In fact, even St. Augustine, in his last (anti-pelagian) period,
no longer maintained the possibility of a baptism by desire. 59
If you would know that someone who considers Vatican Council II,
and The Catechism of the Catholic Church heretical and the
Novus Ordo Mass invalid, couldn't do good theology, a
fortiori you would know he couldn't do good Scripture. Father
Laisney makes the unbelievable claim that Our Lord Himself teaches
Baptism of Blood and Baptism of Desire in the Gospels. Let me give
just two illustrations:
"Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself taught baptism of blood:...'Can you...be
baptized with the baptism wherewith I am baptized? [...]and with
the baptism wherewith I am baptized you shall be baptized' (Mk.
Our Lord is speaking here to St. James and St. John who had asked
that they might sit at His right and left hand in His kingdom. Our
Lord is not speaking here about baptism of blood as a substitute
for baptism of water, but about martyrdom. It is tradition that
all the apostles were baptized with water, probably by Our Lord
Himself. Both St. James and St. John did suffer martyrdom. James
was beheaded by Herod, and John was thrown into a caldron of boiling
oil, from which he was miraculously preserved, but he is still given
the title of martyr.
"Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself taught baptism of desire, saying
to the penitent thief: 'Amen I say to thee: this day thou shalt
be with me in paradise!' (Lk.23:43)."(10)
This is not an example of Baptism of Desire, because the good thief
died before the sacrament of baptism became obligatory, after the
foundation of the Church at Pentecost. Father Laisney gives several
more such examples, and I could go through them one by one, and
show that in no case is Our Lord speaking of Baptism of Blood or
Baptism of Desire, so our strongest argument concerning the absolute
necessity of Baptism of Water, Our Lord's own words, still stand.
"And he said to them: go ye into the whole world, and preach the
gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized, shall
be saved: but he that believeth not shall be condemned." (Mk. 16:15,16)
"Jesus answered: Amen, amen I say to thee, unless a man be born
again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the kingdom
of God" (Jn. 3:5).
But Father Laisney, despite his posturing, does not really believe
there is "no salvation outside the Church." Here is his final summary
of his position: "The doctrine of baptism of blood and baptism of
desire is inseparably linked by the Church to the dogma outside
the Church there is no salvation. It belongs to the very proper
understanding of that dogma, so that if one denies it, he no longer
holds the dogma in the same sense and the same words as the
Church holds it." (11) This is just a tricky was of saying there
is salvation outside the Church. He himself makes this abundantly
clear on the last page of his book:
"Another example: 'Among Protestants, schismatics and pagans, there
are souls which are really on the road to eternal life.' 170 The
whole booklet is quite good, but this sentence is not properly worded:
the rest of the pamphlet manifests that the author means that some
people living among Protestants, schismatics and pagans, yet, by
the grace of God, not adhering to their Protestantism, schisms and
paganism, but rather to those truths which God revealed to them,
are on the road to heaven. The whole pamphlet makes it clear that
the author does not mean that some real Protestants, real schismatics
or real pagans are on the road to heaven!" (12)
Father Laisney is writing about Father J. Bainvel, S.J. who was
one of the main authorities of Fr. Philip J. Donnelly, S.J. a professor
of theology at Weston College, who wrote the Jesuit position paper
entitled Some Observations on the Question of Salvation Outside
the Church. Raymond Karam rebutted (one Jesuit said "buried")
this paper in a masterly article entitled "Reply to a Liberal" in
From the Housetops. Raymond Karam says of Father Bainvel:
"Father Bainvel, S.J. is guilty of the same inconsistency. He says
that it is against the teaching of the Church to say that a person
can be saved by good faith alone, or by belonging to the soul of
the Church, or by belonging to the invisible Church. It is absolutely
necessary for salvation, Father Bainvel says, that a man believe
in the truths of the Church and belong to her body, and visibly.
Moreover, he goes on, some theologians say that the Church is necessary
for salvation by a necessity of precept so that a person totally
ignorant of its existence could be saved without belonging to it.
This, he says, is against the teaching of the Church, we must hold
that the Church is necessary for salvation by a necessity of means,
so that without it salvation is absolutely impossible. BUT, he adds,
good faith and invincible ignorance can easily excuse a man so that
he could attain salvation without joining the Catholic Church, without
knowing about the Church, and without believing in its truths!"
In other words Father Laisney would have found Father Donnelly's
position paper "quite good," and if he had been in Father Feeney's
place, there never would have been a "Boston Heresy Case." He would
never have called us into the back room in 1948, long before Vatican
II and the Novus Ordo, and told us solemnly, "My children,
we have put our finger on what is troubling the Church today, and
the whole world. The doctrine of 'no salvation outside the Church'
is being denied."
I found reading Father Laisney's continual carping at Bread of
Life terribly exasperating.He has no appreciation of the fact
that this little book contains some of the most beautiful writings
on the Blessed Eucharist of this century. But the morning Office,
Matins and Lauds, is always full of consolation and encouragement.
While I was reading Father Laisney's book, Father Anthony was reading
from the Epistle of St. Paul to the Philippians:
"Do not be intimidated by your opponents in any situation. Their
opposition foreshadows downfall for them, but salvation for you.
All this is as God intends, for it is your special privilege to
take Christ's part - not only to believe in him but also to suffer
for him." (14)
Bro. Thomas Mary, M.I.C.M
Feast of Bl. Dom Columba Marmion
1. Laisney, François, Is Feeneyism Catholic?, Angelus Press,
Kansas City, MO, 2001.
2. Laisney, Is Feeneyism Catholic?, p.87.
3. Laisney, p.112.2
4. I should mention that the good angel behind Bishop Flanagan and
Bishop Harrington, was the late Msgr. Lawrence Deery, the Judicial
Vicar of the diocese. He told us that at the very beginning of the
Father Feeney Case, that his uncle who was also a priest, said "Father
Feeney was right."
5. Thomas Mary Sennott, They Fought the Good Fight, Catholic
Treasures, Monrovia, CA, 1987, pp.362,363.
6. Sennott, Op. Cit., p.377.
7. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1257.
8. Rahner, Karl, Theological Investigations, Volume II, Man
in the Church, Translated by Karl H. Kruger, pp.40,41, 57 Or. 40,
23 (PG 36, 3890), 58 'Sermo contra dilationem Baptismi' (PG 46,
424), 59 Cf. Fr. Hoffmann, Der Kirchenbegriff des hl. Augustinus
(Munich 1933), pp.221 sqq., 381 sqq., 464 sqq.,
New York, The Seabury Press, 1975.
9. Laisney, p.40.
10. Laisney, p.40.
11. Laisney, pp.85,86.
12. Laisney, p.115, 170 Fr. J. Bainvel, S.J. Is There Salvation
Outside of the Catholic Church? (Rockford, IL; TAN books and
13. Karam, Raymond, "Reply to a Liberal," From the Housetops,
Vol. III, No. 3, Spring, 1949, St. Benedict Center, Cambridge, Ma,
p.10. Father Donnelly's
Further Observations on the Question of Salvation Outside the
Church and Raymond Karam's Reply to a Liberal are printed
in their entirety in my They Fought the Good Fight.
14. Twenty-Sixth Week in Ordinary Time, Tuesday, Office of Readings.