Is Laisneyism Catholic?

Father Feeney

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.

The 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)

He concludes:

"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 Communion." (3)

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 continues:

"'...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 remain unconvinced.

"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 the Church."(6)

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 " (8)

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 baptized with the baptism wherewith I am baptized? [...]and with the baptism wherewith I am baptized you shall be baptized' (Mk. 10:38,39)." (9)

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!" (13)

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 Publishers) p.19.
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.