|The Case of Fr. Leonard Feeney
[Excerpt from The Reign of Mary (winter 1992)]
. . . In this very liberal climate which reigned in the United States, the students of the
St. Benedict Center were particularly upset by the erroneous interpretation given to
certain dogmas, especially among those involved in the Ecumenical movement. In their
opinion, the false interpretation which was being given to the dogma that "Outside
the Church there is no salvation," was at the basis of all this liberal teaching. And
in reaction to this, they gave the same dogma a most rigorous interpretation. They were
playing into the hands of the liberals.
This rapidly stirred up a reaction, and in April of 1949, Dr. Maluf and three
other professors, all members of the St. Benedict Center, were expelled from the Jesuit
house in Boston for having taught an erroneous doctrine. They claimed that all those who
were not explicitly members of the visible Church were damned, and accused all those who
denied this of being heretics.
In order to explain the reasons to the press, the Very Reverend William L.
Keheler, S.J., President of Boston College, declared: "They persisted in teaching,
both in and outside the classroom, doctrines which contradicted the traditional teaching
of the Catholic Church, ideas that fostered fanaticism and intolerance."
The affair became a scandal when on April 17, 1949, Father Leonard Feeney
publicly undertook the defense of these professors and their doctrine.
The following day, Richard J. Cushing, the Archbishop of Boston, without any
warning to the interested parties, declared to the press that Father Leonard Feeney was
suspended a divinis, in the archdiocese and the St. Benedict's Center was placed under
Considering this double sanction to be against canon law, Father Feeney
appealed to Rome. From then on, there was open war bewteen the priest and local
On the 8th of August, 1949, Cardinal Marchetti-Selvaggiani, Secretary of the
Holy Office, wrote to the Archbishop of Boston and sent him a Declaration of this Holy
Office to be conveyed to Father Feeney, which made clear the sense in which one should
understand the doctrine that "There is no salvation outside of the Catholic
Church." Father Feeney refused to adhere to this declaration and wrote with regard to
the matter that "it can be considered as having established a two-sided policy in
order to propagate error."
On October 28, Father Feeney was expelled from the Jesuit Order.
Things remained unchanged until September 14, 1952. At this point, the Archbishop of
Boston demanded that Father Feeney retract his false interpretation and make an
"explicit profession of submission" to the Roman Declaration within one month or
suffer the penalty of being reduced to the state of a layman.
Father Feeney, accompanied by four witnesses, presented himself before his
Archbishop. He told him that his only option was to declare the letter of
Marchetti-Selvaggiani "absolutely scandalous because it was frankly heretical."
Then he asked His Excellency if he was in agreement with the views expressed by the Roman
Declaration. He obtained the following response: "I am not a theologian. All that I
know is what I am told." Then, in the presence of these witnesses, Father Feeney
accused the Archbishop of failing to perform his duty, and left.
On September 24, 1952, a letter was sent from the St. Benedict Center to Pius
XII, accusing the Archbishop of Boston of heresy.
In October of 1952, Cardinal Pizzardo summoned Father Feeney to present
himself in Rome for a hearing by the Holy Office. Father Feeney accepted on condition that
they told him beforehand what the charges against him were. Not receiving any response, he
did not comply.
On February 16, 1953, the Acta Apostolicae Sedis announced the
excommunication of Father Leonard Feeney. The following is an official translation of the
"Since Father Leonard Feeney remained in Boston
(St. Benedict Center) and since he has been suspended from performing his priestly duties
for a long time because of his grave disobedience to the Authority of the Church, in no
way moved by repeated warnings and threats of incurring excommunication ipso facto, and
has still failed to submit, the most Eminent and Reverend Fathers, charged with the
responsibility of safeguarding faith and morals, during a plenary session held on February
4, 1953, have declared him excommunicated with all the effects that this has in law.
"On Thursday, February 12, 1953, Our Most Holy Father Pius XII, Pope by Divine
Providence, has approved and confirmed the decree of these Most Eminent Fathers, and
ordered that this be made a matter of public record.
"Given in Rome in the general quarters of the Holy Office, February 13, 1953. Marius
Since then, and in spite of the sanction of the Holy
See, Father Feeney has made the St. Benedict Center the headquarters of a Society of about
one hundred individuals who call themselves the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary,
and who have undertaken to propagate this condemned doctrine about the salvation of
non-Catholics, while accusing the Archbishop of Boston and all who agree with his
interpretation of being heretics.
Declaration Letter to Archbishop Cushing from the
THE SUPREME SACRED CONGREGATION OF THE HOLY OFFICE
From the Headquarters of the Holy Office
August 8, 1949
Protocol Number 122/49
This Supreme Sacred Congregation has followed very attentively the rise and the course of
the grave controversy stirred up by certain associates of "St. Benedict Center"
and "Boston College" in regard to the interpretation of that axiom :
"Outside the Church there is no salvation."
After having examined all the documents that are necessary or useful in this matter, among
them information from your Chancery, as well as appeals and reports in which the
associates of "St. Benedict Center" explain their opinions and complaints, and
also many other documents pertinent to the controversy, officially collected, the same
Sacred Congregation is convinced that the unfortunate controversy arose from the fact that
the axiom: "outside the Church there is no salvation," was not correctly
understood and weighed, and that the same controversy was rendered more bitter by serious
disturbance of discipline arising from the fact that some of the associates of the
institutes mentioned above refused reverence and obedience to legitimate authorities.
Accordingly, the Most Eminent and Most Reverend Cardinals of this Supreme Congregation, in
a plenary session, held on Wednesday, July 27, 1949, decreed, and the August Pontiff in an
audience on the following Thursday, July 28, 1949, deigned to give his approval, that the
following explanations pertinent to the doctrine, and also that invitations and
exhortations relevant to discipline be given:
We are bound by divine and Catholic faith to believe all those things which are contained
in the word of God, whether it be Scripture or Tradition, and are proposed by the Church
to be believed as divinely revealed, not only through solemn judgement but also through
the ordinary and universal teaching office (Denziger, n. 1792).
Now, among those things which the Church has always preached and will never cease to
preach is contained also that infallible statement by which we are taught that there is no
salvation outside the Church.
However, this 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
Now, in the first place, the Church teaches that in this matter there is question of a
most strict command of Jesus Christ. For He explicitly enjoined on his apostles to teach
all nations to observe all things whatsoever He Himself had commanded (Matt.,
28:19-20).Now, among the commandments of Christ, that one holds not the least place, by
which we are commanded to be incorporated by Baptism into the Mystical Body of Christ,
which is the Church, and to remain united to Christ and to His Vicar, through whom He
Himself in a visible manner governs the Church on earth.
Therefore, no one will be saved who, knowing the Church to have been divinely established
by Christ, nevertheless refuses to submit to the Church or withholds obedience from the
Roman Pontiff, the Vicar of Christ on earth.
Not only did the Savior command that all nations should enter the Church, but He also
decreed the Church to be a means of salvation, without which no one can enter the kingdom
of eternal glory.
In His infinite mercy God has willed that the effects, necessary for one to be saved, of
those helps to salvation which are directed toward man's final end, not by intrinsic
necessity, but only by divine institution, can also be obtained in certain circumstances
when those helps are used only in desire and longing. This we see clearly stated in the
Sacred Council of Trent, both in reference to the Sacrament of Regeneration and in
reference to the Sacraments of Penance (Denziger, nn. 797, 807).
The same in its own degree must be asserted of the Church, in as far as she is the general
help to salvation. Therefore, that one may obtain eternal salvation, it is not always
required that he be incorporated into the Church actually as a member, but it is necessary
that at least he be united to her by desire and longing.
However, this desire need not always be explicit, as it is in catechumens; but when a
person is involved in invincible ignorance, God accepts also an implicit desire, so called
because it is included in that good disposition of soul whereby a person wishes his will
to be conformed to the will of God.
These things are clearly taught in that dogmatic letter which was issued by the Sovereign
Pontiff, Pope Pius XII, on June 29, 1943, "On the Mystical Body of Jesus
Christ." (AAS, Vol. 35, an. 1943, p. 193 ff.) For in this letter the Sovereign
Pontiff clearly distinguishes between those who are actually incorporated into the Church
as members, and those who are united to the Church only by desire.
Discussing the members of which the Mystical Body is composed here on earth, the same
August Pontiff says: "Actually only those are to be included as members of the Church
who have been baptized and profess the true faith, and who have not been so unfortunate as
to separate themselves from the unity of the Body, or been excluded by legitimate
authority for grave faults committed."
Toward the end of this same Encyclical Letter, when most affectionately inviting to unity
those who do not belong to the body of the Catholic Church, he mentions those who
"are related to the Mystical Body of the Redeemer by a certain unconscious yearning
and desire," and these he by no means excludes from eternal salvation, but on the
other hand states that they are in a condition " in which they 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" (AAS, loc. cit., 342)
With these wise words he 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 well in every religion (cf. Pope Pius IX, Allocution "Singulari quadam,"
in Denziger, nn. 1641, ff. - also Pope Pius IX in the Encyclical Letter "Quanto
conficiamur mrore" in Denzinger, n. 1677).
But it must not be thought that any kind of desire of entering the Church suffices that
one may be saved. It is necessary that the desire by which one is related to the Church be
animated by perfect charity. Nor can an implicit desire produce its effect, unless a
person has supernatural faith: "For he who comes to God must believe that God exists
and is a rewarder of those who seek Him" (Hebrews, 11:6). The Council of Trent
declares (Session VI, chap. 8): "Faith is the beginning of man's salvation, the
foundation and root of all justification, without which it is impossible to please God and
attain to fellowship of His children" (Denz., n. 801)
From what has been said it is evident that those things which are proposed in the
periodical "From the Housetops," fascicle 3, as the genuine teaching of the
Catholic Church are far from being such and are very harmful both to those within the
Church and those without.
From these declarations which pertain to doctrine certain conclusions follow which regard
discipline and conduct, and which cannot be unknown to those who vigorously defend the
necessity by which all are bound of belonging to the true Church and of submitting to the
authority of the Roman Pontiff and of the Bishops "whom the Holy Ghost has placed . .
. to rule the Church" (Act, 20:28)
Hence, one cannot understand how the St. Benedict Center can consistently claim to be a
Catholic school and wish to be accounted such, and yet not conform to the prescriptions of
Canon 1381 and 1382 of the Code of Canon Law, and continue to exist as a source of discord
and rebellion against ecclesiastical authority and as a source of the disturbance of many
Furthermore, it is beyond understanding how a member of a religious institute, namely
Father Feeney, presents himself as a "Defender of the faith," and at the same
time does not hesitate to attack the catechetical instruction proposed by lawful
authorites, and has not even feared to incur grave sanctions threqatened by the sacred
canons because of his serious violations of his duties as a religious, a priest and an
ordinary member of the Church.
Finally, it is in no wise to be tolerated that certain Catholics shall claim for
themselves the right to publish a periodical, for the purpose of spreading theological
doctrines, without the permission of competent Church Authority, called the
"imprimatur," which is prescribed by the sacred canons.
Therefore, let them who in grave peril are ranged against the Church seriously bear in
mind that after "Rome has spoken" they cannot be excused even by reasons of good
faith. Certainly, their bond and duty of obedience toward the Church is much graver than
that of those who as yet are related to the Church "only by an unconscious
desire." Let them realize that they are children of the Church, lovingly nourished by
her with the milk of doctrine and the sacraments, and hence, having heard the clear voice
of their Mother, they cannot be excused from culpable ignorance, and therefore to them
applies without any restriction that principle: submission to the Catholic Church and to
the Sovereign Pontiff is required as necessary for salvation.
In sending this letter, I declare my profound esteem, and remain
Your Excellency's most devoted
F. Cardinal Marchetti-Selvaggiani
The Catholic Encyclopedia (1910)
Vol. 14, TOLERATION, J. Pohle
But does the proposition that outside the Church there is no salvation involve the
doctrine so often attributed to Catholicism, that the Catholic Church, in virtue of the
principle, "condemns and must condemn all non-Catholics"? This is by no means
the case. The foolish unchristian maxim that those who are outside the Church must for
that very reason be eternally lost is no legitimate conclusion from Catholic dogma. The
infliction of eternal damnation pertains not to the Church, but to God, Who alone can
scrutinize the conscience. The task of the Church is confined exclusively to the
formulating of the principle, which expresses a condition of salvation imposed by God
Himself, and does not extend to the examination of the persons, who may or may not satisfy
this condition. Care for one's own salvation is the personal concern of the individual.
And in this matter the Church shows the greatest possible consideration for the good faith
and the innocence of the erring person. Not that she refers, as is often stated, the
eternal salvation of the heterodox solely and exclusively to "invincible
ignorance", and thus makes sanctifying ignorance a convenient gate to heaven for the
stupid. She places the efficient cause of the eternal salvation of all men objectively in
the merits of the Redeemer, and subjectively in justification through baptism or through
good faith enlivened by the perfect love of God, both of which may be found outside the
Catholic Church. Whoever indeed has recognized the true Church of Christ, but contrary to
his better knowledge refuses to enter it, and whoever becomes perplexed as to the truth of
his belief, but fails to investigate his doubts seriously, no longer lives in good faith,
but exposes himself to the danger of eternal damnation, since he rashly contravenes an
important command of God. Otherwise the gentle breathing of grace is not confined within
the walls of the Catholic Church, but reaches the hearts of many who stand afar, working
in them the marvel of justification and thus ensuring the eternal salvation of numberless
men who either, like upright Jews and pagans, do not know the true Church, or, like so
many Protestants educated in gross prejudice, cannot appreciate her true nature. To all
such, the Church does not close the gate of Heaven, although she insists that there are
essential means of grace which are not within the reach of non-Catholics. In his
allocution "Singulari quadam" of 9 December, 1854, which emphasized the dogma of
the Church as necessary for salvation, Pius IX uttered the consoling principle: "Sed
tamen pro certo...." (But it is likewise certain that those who are ignorant of the
true religion, if their ignorance is invincible, are not, in this matter, guilty of any
fault in the sight of God). (Denzinger n. 1647)
. . . As early as 1713 Clement XI condemned in his dogmatic Bull "Unigenitus"
the proposition of the Jensenist Quesnel: . . . no grace is given outside the Church. . .
just as Alexander VIII has already condemned in 1690 the Jansenistic proposition of
Arnauld: . . . (Pagans, Jews, heretics, and other people of the sort, receive no influx
[of grace] whatsoever from Jesus Christ). . . Catholics who are conversant with the
teachings of their Church know how to draw the proper conclusions. . .
Baltimore Catechism No.3
A Catechism of Christian Doctrine prepared and enjoined by order of the Third Plenary
Council of Baltimore
Archbishop John McCloskey of New York 1885
Archbishop Gibbons Baltimore 1885
Archbishop Michael Augustine N.Y. 1901
Archbishop Patrick Hayes N.Y. 1921
Rev. Remigius LaFort, Censor Librorum 1901
Arthur Scanlan, Censor Librorum 1921
Q. 510. Is it ever possible for one to be saved who does
not know the Catholic Church to be the true Church?
A. It is possible for one to be saved who does not know the Catholic
Church to be the true Church, provided that person (I) has been validly baptized; (2)
firmly believes the religion he professes and practices to be the true religion, and (3)
dies without the guilt of mortal sin on his soul.
Q. 511. Why do we say it is only possible for a person to be saved who
does not know the Catholic Church to be the true Church?
A. We say it is only possible for a person to be saved who does not know
the Catholic Church to be the true Church, because the necessary conditions are not often
found, especially that of dying in a state of grace without making use of the Sacrament of
Q. 512. How are such persons said to belong to the Church?
A. Such persons are said to belong to the "soul of the church";
that is, they are really members of the Church without knowing it. Those who share in its
Sacraments and worship are said to belong to the body or visible part of the Church.
The New Catholic Dictionary (1929)
SOUL OF THE CHURCH
From the 16th century, the Catholic theologians expressed more definitely the theological
doctrine of the distinction between the Soul and Body of the Church. . . This distinction.
. . is formally expressed by Bellarmine in his study on the members of the Church.
According to him, men belong to the Body of the Church by virtue of external profession of
the faith, and participation in the sacraments; and to the Soul of the Church through the
internal gifts of the Holy Ghost, faith, hope, and charity. He draws three general
conclusions relative to the members of the Church. There are those: (a) Who belong always
to both the Body and Soul of the Church; (b) Who belong to the Soul without belonging to
the Body; (c) Who belong to the Body but not to the Soul. This teaching has generally been
followed by Catholic theologians.
P. Pius IX Solemn Allocution
December 9, 1854
It is to be held of faith that none can be saved outside the Apostolic Roman Church . . .
but nevertheless it is equally certain that those who are ignorant of the true religion,
if that ignorance is invincible, will not be held guilty in the matter in the eyes of the
P. Pius IX Encyclical
August 10, 1863
We all know that those who are invincibly ignorant of our religion and who nevertheless
lead an honest and upright life, can, under the influence of divine light and divine
grace, attain to eternal life; for God who knows and sees the mind, the heart, the
thoughts, and the dispositions of every man, cannot in His infinite bounty and clemency
permit any one to suffer eternal punishment who is not guilty through his own fault."
"What is clearer than that the will is taken for the act, when the act is excluded by
Treatise on Baptism
"When we speak of within and without in relation to the Church, it is the position of
the heart that we must consider, not that of the body."
"All who are within in heart are saved in the unity of the ark."
Vol. 7, HERESY, J. Wilhelm
Once heresy is in possession it tightens its grip by the thousand subtle and often
unconscious influences which mould a man's life. A child is born in heretical
surroundings: before it is able to think for itself its mind has been filled and fashioned
by home, school, and church teachings, the authority of which it never doubted. When, at a
riper age, doubts arise, the truth of Catholicism is seldom apprehended as it is. Innate
prejudices, educational bias, historical distortions stand in the way and frequently make
approach impossible. The state of conscience technically termed bona fides, good faith, is
thus produced. It implies inculpable belief in error, a mistake morally unavoidable and
therefore always excusable, sometimes even laudable. . .
Vol. 6, GOOD FAITH, Joseph F, Delaney
One who is in this condition, so far as the violation of positive law, or even, in certain
junctures, of the natural law, is concerned, is said to labour under an invincible error,
and hence to be guiltless. This consideration is often invoked in behalf of those who are
outside of the visible affiliation of the Catholic Church. . .
Vol. 8, JUSTIFICATION, J. Pohle
"But, not to close the gates of heaven against pagans and those non-Catholics, who
without their fault do not know or do not recognize the Sacraments of Baptism and Penance,
Catholic theologians unanimously hold that the desire to receive these sacraments is
implicitly contained in the serious resolve to do all that God has commanded, even if His
holy will should not become known in every detail."
Vol. 2, BAPTISM, William H.W. Fanning
X. SUBSTITUTES FOR THE SACRAMENT
. . .It is the teaching of the Catholic Church that when the baptism of water becomes a
physical or moral impossibility, eternal life may be obtained by the baptism of desire or
the baptism of blood. (1) The baptism of desire (baptismus flaminis) is a perfect
contrition of heart, and every act of perfect charity or pure love of God which contains,
at least implicitly, a desire (votum) of baptism. . .This doctrine is set forth clearly by
the Council of Trent. . . and the contrary propositions are condemned by Popes Pius V and
Gregory XII, in proscribing the 31st and 33rd propositions of Baius. . . It is true that
some of the Fathers of the Church arraign severely those who content themselves with the
desire of receiving the sacrament of regeneration, but they are speaking of catechumens
who of their own accord delay the reception of baptism from unpraiseworthy motives.
Finally, it is to be noted that only adults are capable of receiving the baptism of
A Catholic Dictionary, Attwater
(Imprimatur/Nihil obstat 1946)
Outside the Church. "Outside the Church, no salvation." This dogma refers to
those who are outside the Church by their own fault. There is a command to enter the
Church, which is the prescribed way to Heaven. He who refuses to join the Church which
Christ founded, recognizing that Christ comanded adhesion to his Church, is in the way of
perdition. But those who are in invincible ignorance will not be condemned merely on
account of their ignorance. . .Those non-Catholics who are saved are in life outside the
visible body of the Church, but are joined invisibly to the Church by charity and by that
implicit desire of joining the Church which is inseparable from the explicit desire to do
DESIRE, BAPTISM OF, is one of the two possible substitutes for Baptism of water. When it
is not possible thus to be baptized, an act of perfect contrition or pure love of God will
supply the omission. Such acts are a perfect and ultimate diposition calling for the
infusion of sanctifying grace, and at least implicitly include a desire and intention to
receive Baptism of water should occasion offer. Infants are not capable of Baptism of
desire. An heathen, believing, even though in a confused way, in a God whose will should
be done and desiring to do that will whatever it may be, probably has Baptism of desire.
It may reasonably be assumed that vast numbers of persons unbaptized by water have thus
been rendered capable of enjoying the Beatific Vision.
St. Thomas Aquinas
Part II. Question 66. Article 11
". . . a man receives the effect of Baptism by the power of the Holy Ghost, not only
without Baptism of Water, but also without Baptism of Blood: forasmuch as his heart is
moved by the Holy Ghost to believe in and love God and to repent of his sins: wherefore
this is also called Baptism of Repentence."
"The other two Baptisms are included in the Baptism of Water, which derives its
efficacy, both from Christ's Passion and from the Holy Ghost. Consequently for this reason
the unity of Baptism is not destroyed."
"The other two. however, are like the Baptism of Water, not, indeed, in the nature of
sign, but in the baptismal effect. Consequently they are not Sacraments."
". . .the shedding of blood for Christ's sake, and the inward operation of the Holy
Ghost, are called baptisms, in so far as they produce the effect of the Baptism of Water.
Now the Baptism of Water derives its efficacy from Christ's Passion and from the Holy
Ghost, as already stated. These two causes act in each of these three Baptisms: most
excellently, however, in the Baptism of Blood. For Christ's Passion acts in the Baptism of
Water by way of a figurative representation; in the Baptism of the Spirit of of
Repentence, by way of desire; but in the Baptism of Blood, by way of imitating the Divine
act. In like manner, too, the power of the Holy Ghost acts in the Baptism of Water through
a certain hidden power; in the Baptim of Repentence by moving the heart; but in the
Baptism of Blood....
Question 68. Article 2.
". . . the sacrament of Baptism may be wanting to anyone in reality but not in
desire: for instance, when a man wishes to be baptized, but by some ill-chance he is
forstalled by death before receiving Baptism. And such a man can obtain salvation without
being actually baptized, on account of his desire for Baptism, which desire is the outcome
of faith that worketh by charity, whereby God, Whose power is not tied to visible
sacraments, sanctifies man inwardly.
Doctrinal and Scriptural Catechism
Rev. P. Collot, Doctor of the Sorbonne (1904) Approved by Archbishop John Hughes, D.D.,
Q. How [can baptism be supplied] in adults?
A. Either by martyrdom or by an act of charity, with the desire of
receiving it as soon as they can.
Children have but one way, which is martyrdom; and adults have two, martyrdom or an act of
charity, together with the desire or receiving it as soon as possible.
This is the reason why it is said that there are three sorts of Baptism: the Baptism of
blood, the Baptism of the Holy Ghost or of desire, and the Baptism of water, although in
reality there is but one, which is that given with water, while pronouncing the words: In
the name oft he Father, etc.
Q. Does attrition of itself justify the sinner?
A. No; but it disposes him to receive the grace of justification by
absolution, in which the efficacy of the sacrament of Penance principally consists.
Q. What difference is there between perfect contrition and attrition?
A. !st. The one is caused by love, and the other by shame or fear. 2nd.
The one justifies the sinner, and the other only disposes him for justification [by
St. Ambrose, "De obitu Valentiniani"
"But I hear that you grieve because he did not receive the sacrament of baptism. Tell
me now what else have we if not desire and will? He in very truth had this wish that,
before he came to Italy, he should be initiated into the Church and immediately baptized
by me . . . . Had he not then the grace which he desired so earnestly? Did he not have the
grace he demanded? Certainly, for he who demands receives. But if it is a fact that
because the sacraments are not solemnly celebrated they have no value, then the martyrs if
they were only catechumens would not receive the crown of glory; for no one is crowned who
is not initiated. But if people are absolved in their own blood, then this man's piety and
will absolved him."
The Catechism of the Council of Trent
. . . should any unforseen accident deprive adults of baptism, their intention of
receiving it, and their repentance for past sins, will avail them to grace and
. . . such is the efficacy of true contrition. . . that through it we obtain from God the
immediate pardon of our sins.
THE CATECHISM EXPLAINED
Rev. Francis Spirago, Professor of Theology
(c) 1899, 1921, by Benziger Bros. (Printers to the Apostolic See)
Nihil Obstat: Scanlon. Imprimatur: Archbishop Hayes, D.D.NY
3. Whoever through his own fault remains outside the Church will not be saved.
If, however, a man, through no fault of his own, remains outside the Church, he may be
saved if he lead a God-fearing life; for such a one is to all intents and purposes a
member of the Catholic Church.
The majority of men who have been brought up in heresy think that they belong to the true
Church; their error is not due to hatred of God. A man who leads a good life and has the
love of God in his heart, really belongs to the Church, and such a one is saved, not by
his heresy, but by belonging to the Church. St. Peter said: "In every nation he that
feareth God and worketh justice is acceptable to Him" (Acts x. 35). . . .All who
lived up to their lights were Christians, though they might have been looked upon as
godless, as, e.g., Socrates among the Greeks, Abraham and Elias among the Jews. They do
not belong to the body of the Church, that is, they are not externally in union with the
Church, but they are of the soul of the Church, i.e., they have the sentiments which the
members of the Church should have.
Thus the Catholic Church has members both visible and invisible.
The visible members are those who have been received into the Church by Baptism. The
following are not members: The unbaptized (heathens, Jews, Mohammedans), formal heretics
(Protestants), and schismatics (the Greeks), those who are excommunicated. The invisible
members are those who without any fault of their own are outside the Church leading
If baptism by water is impossible, it may be replaced by the baptism of desire, or by the
baptism of blood, as in the case of those who suffer martyrdom for the faith of Christ.
The Emperor Valentinian II was on the way to Milan to be baptized when he was
assassinated; St. Ambrose said of him that his desire had been the means of his cleansing.
The patriarchs, prophets, and holy men of the Old Testament had the baptism of desire;
their love of God was ardent, and they wished to do all thaty He commands. God accepts the
will for the deed; in this He manifests His superabundant loving kindness. But all the
temporal penalties of sin are not remitted by the baptism of desire.
God has imprinted the natural law on the heart of every man; this forms the fundamental
rule of human actions.
A young child who has done something wrong - lied, perhaps, or committed a theft, feels
uncomfortable, frightened, or ashamed; though it may never have heard of the Ten
Commandments, it is conscious that it has done amiss. It is the same with heathen who
knows nothing about God's commandments. Hence we may conclude that there is a LAW OF
NATURE in every human heart, a law not written upon it, but inborn in it; an intuitive
knowledge of right and wrong. St. Paul declares that the Gentiles do by nature those
things that are of the law (what the Ten Commandments enjoin), and consequently they will
be judged by God according to the natural law (Rom. ii. 14-16).
Radio Replies, Vol II.
Fathers Rumble and Carty
Imprimatur 1940 Archbishop John G. Murray
722. Does Catholic doctrine allow that the soul of an unbaptized heathen
can enter heaven?
Not in the case of unbaptized infants who die before coming to the
use of reason and the stage of personal responsibility. The heathens who do come to the
age of personal responsibility can attain to the supernatural order of grace and inherit
that very heaven for which baptism is normally required on certain conditions. For
example, a pagan may never have heard of the Gospel, or having heard of it, may have quite
failed to grasp its significance. He remains a heathen, knowing no better, and dies
without receiving the actual Sacrament of Baptism. In such a case God will not blame him
for that for which he is really not responsible. At the same time, God wills all men to be
saved, and will certainly give that heathen sufficient grace for his salvation according
to the condition in which he is. If that heathen, under the influence of interior
promptings of conscience and the actual inspirations of grace given by God, repents
sincerely before death of such moral lapses as he has committed during life, he will
secure forgiveness, and save his soul in view of the Baptism he would have been willing to
receive had he known it to be necessary, and could he have done so. We Catholics say that
such a heathen has been saved by Baptism of Desire. The desire, of course, is implicit
St. Robert Bellarmine "De Ecclesia Militante"
". . . (again) there are those who belong to the soul [of the Church] and not the
body, as [are] catechumens or the excommunicated, if indeed they have charity [state of
grace], which can happen."
Council of Trent, Session VII, Concerning the Sacraments in
General, Canon 4
If anyone says that the Sacraments of the New Law are not necessary for salvation, but
superfluous, and that without them or their desire [aut eorum voto] men can obtain from
God the grace of justification through faith alone, although all [Sacraments] are not
necessary for every individual: Let him be Anathema.
Story of a Soul, St. Therese of Lisiuex,
I saw something further; that Our Lord's love shines out just as much through a little
soul who yields comepletely to His Grace as it does through the greatest. True love is
shown in self-abasement, and if everyone were like the saintly doctors who adorn the
Church, it would seem that God had not far enough to stoop when He came to them. But He
has, in fact, created the child who knows nothing and can only make feeble cries; and the
poor savage with only the natural law to guide him; and it is to hearts such as these that
Vol. 10 CHURCH, G.H. Joyce
The Necessary Means of Salvation. - In the preceding examination of the Scriptural
doctrine regarding the Church, it has been seen how clearly it is laid down that only by
entering the Church can we participate in the redemption wrought for us by Christ.
Incorporation with the Church can alone unite us to the family of the second Adam, and
alone can engraft us into the true Vine. Moreover, it is to the Church that Christ has
committed those means of grace through which the gifts He earned for men are communicated
to them. The Church alone dispenses the sacraments. It alone makes known the light of
revealed truth. Outside the Church these gifts cannot be obtained. From all this there is
but one conclusion: Union with the Church is not merely one out of various means by which
salvation may be obtained: it is the only means.
This doctrine of the absolute necessity of union with the Church was taught in explicit
terms by Christ. Baptism, the act of incorporation among her members, He affirmed to be
essential to salvation. "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved: he that
believeth not shall be condemned" (Mark, xvi, 16). Any disciple who shall throw off
obedience to the Church is to be reckoned as one of the heathen: he has no part in the
kingdom of God (Matt., xviii, 17). St. Paul is equally explicit. "A man that is a
heretic", he writes to Titus, "after the first and second admonition avoid:
knowing that he that is such a one is . . . condemned by his own judgement" (Tit.,
iii, 10 sq.) The doctrine is summed up in the phrase, Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus. This
saying has been the occasion of so many objections that some consideration of its meaning
seems desirable. It certainly does not mean that none can be saved except those who are in
visible communion with the Church. The Catholic Church has ever taught that nothing else
is needed to obtain justification than an act of perfect charity and of contrition.
Whoever, under the impulse of actual grace, elicits these acts, receives immediately the
gift of sanctifying grace, and is numbered among the children of God. Should he die in
these dispositions, he will assuredly attain heaven. It is true such acts could not
possibly be elicited by one who was aware that God has
commanded all to join the Church, and who nevertheless should wilfully remain outside her
fold. For love of God carries with it the practical desire to fulfil His commandments. But
of those who die without visible communion with the Church, not all are guilty of wilful
disobedience to God's commands. Many are kept from the Church by ignorance. Such may be
the case of numbers among those who have been brought up in heresy. To others the external
means of grace may be unattainable. Thus an excommunicated person may have no opportunity
of seeking reconciliation at the last, and yet may repair his faults by inward acts of
contrition and charity.
It should be observed that those who are thus saved are not entirely outside the pale of
the Church. The will to fulfil all God's commandments is, and must be, present in all of
them. Such a wish implicitly includes the desire for incorporation with the visible
Church: for this, though they know it not, has been commanded by God. They thus belong to
the Church by desire (voto). Moreover, there is a true sense in which they may be said to
be saved through the Church. In the order of Divine Providence, salvation is given to man
in the Church: membership in the Church Triumphant is given through membership in the
Church Militant. Sanctifying grace, the title to salvation, is peculiarly the grace of
those who are united to Christ in the Church: it is the birthright of the children of God.
The primary purpose of those actual graces which God bestows upon those outside the Church
is to draw them within the fold. Thus, even in the case in which God saves men apart from
the Church, He does so through the Church's graces. They are joined to the Church in
spiritual communion, though not in visible and external communion. In the expression of
theologians, they belong to the soul of the Church, though not to its body. Yet the
possibility of salvation apart from visible communion with the Church must not blind us to
the loss suffered by those who are thus situated. They are cut off from the sacraments God
has given as the support of the soul. In the ordinary channels of grace, which are ever
open to the faithful Catholic, they cannot participate. Countless means of santification
which the Church offers are denied to them.
Pope Pius XII Encyclical
August 12, 1950
. . . although this sacred Office of Teacher in matters of faith and morals must be the
proximate and universal criterion of truth for all theologians, since to it has been
entrusted by Christ Our Lord the whole deposit of faith - Sacred Scripture and divine
Tradition - to be preserved, guarded and interpreted, still the duty that is incumbent on
the faithful to flee also those errors which more or less approach heresy, and accordingly
"to keep also the constitutions and decrees by which such evil opinions are
proscribed and forbidden by the Holy See," is sometimes as little known as it it did
not exist. What is expounded in the Encyclical Letters of the Roman Pontiffs concerning
the nature and constitution of the Church, is deliberately and habitually neglected by
some with the idea of giving force to a certain vague notion which they profess to have
found in the ancient Fathers, especially the Greeks. The Popes, they assert, do not wish
to pass judgement on what is a matter of dispute among theologians, so recourse must be
had to the early sources; and the recent constitutions and decrees of the Teaching Church
must be explained from the writings of the ancients.
Although these things seem well said, still they are not free from error. It is true that
Popes generally leave theologians free in those matters which are disputed in various ways
by men of very high authority in this field; but history teaches that many matters that
formerly were open to discussion, no longer now admit of discussion.
Nor must it be thought that what is expounded in Encyclical Letters does not of itself
demand consent, since in writing such Letters the Popes do not exercise the supreme power
of their Teaching Authority. For these matters are taught with the ordinary teaching
authority, of which it is true to say: "He who hears you, heareth me"; and
generally what is expounded and inculcated in Encyclical Letters already for other reasons
appertains to Catholic doctrine. But if the Supreme Pontiffs in their official documents
purposely pass judgement on a matter, according to the mind and will of the same Pontiffs,
cannot be any longer considered a question open to discussion among theologians.
It is true that theologians must always return to the sources of divine revelation: for
its belongs to them to point out how the doctrine of the living Teaching Authority is to
be found either explicitly or implicitly in the Scriptures and in Tradition. Besides, each
source of divinely revealed doctrine contains so many rich treasures of truth, that
theology through the study of its sacred sources remains ever fresh: on the other hand,
speculation which neglects a deeper search into the deposit of faith, proves sterile, as
we know from experience. But for this reason even positive theology cannot be on a par
with merely historical science. For, together with the sources of positive theology God
has given to His Church a living Teaching Authority to elucidate and explain what is
contained in the deposit of faith only obscurely and implicitly. This deposit of faith our
Divine Redeemer has given for authentic interpretation not to each of the faithful, not
even to theologians, but only to the Teaching Authority of the Church. But if the Church
does exercise this function of teaching, as she often has through the centuries, either in
the ordinary or extraordinary way, it is clear how false is a procedure which would
attempt to explain what is clear by means of what is obscure. Indeed the very opposite
procedure must be used.
Pope Pius XI Encyclical
Mortalium animos, Jan. 6, 1928
The teaching authority of the Church in the divine wisdom was constituted on earth in
order that the revealed doctrines might remain for ever intact and might be brought with
ease and security to the knowledge of men. This authority is indeed daily exercised
through the Roman Pontiff and the Bishops who are in communion with him; but it has the
further office of defining some truth with solemn decree whenever it is opportune, and
whenever this is necessary either to oppose the errors or the attacks of heretics, or
again to impress the minds of the faithful with a clearer and more detailed explanation of
the articles of sacred doctrine. But in the use of this extraordinary teaching authority
no fresh invention is introduced, nothing new is ever added to the number of those truths
which are at least implicitly contained within the deposit of Revelation divinely
committed to the Church; but truths which to some perhaps may still seem obscure are
rendered clear, or a truth which some may have called into question is declared to be of
Vol. 10 MASS, J. Pohle
. . . the Church has surrounded with certain conditions, which priests are bound in
obedience to observe, the application of Mass for certain classes of the living and dead .
. . For a deceased heretic the private and hypothetical application of the Mass is allowed
only when the priest has good grounds for believing that the deceased held his error in
good faith (bona fide. Cf. S.C. Officii, 7 April, 1875). . . In like manner Mass may be
celebrated privately for the souls of deceased Jews and heathens, who have lead an upright
life . . .
Added Comments: The sources in which
this Catholic doctrine can be found are certainly not limited to the sources referenced
here. It may even be said that the defense of this doctrine has been overdone since only a
couple of these authoritative quotes should be sufficient proof for any Catholic,
especially the Council of Trent, the Encyclical "Quanto Conficiamur" or the
Letter from the Holy Office under Pius XII explaining the doctrine for Fr. Feeney. The
last excerpt is alone sufficient to show the Church's official recognition of this
doctrine in a practical way by allowing priest's to offer Mass for the souls of deceased
Careful note should be taken especially of what Pope Pius XII says in Humani
Generis on page eleven. We can be sure that Pope Pius XII had this "grave
controversy" of the Boston College in mind when he authored this Encyclical as it was
written after the Declaration letter of the Holy Office, and before Fr. Feeney was
excommunicated. He makes it clear that it is solely the office of the living Teaching
authority to interpret, elucidate and explain that which may be only implicitly and
obscurely contained within the deposit of faith.
The possibility of baptism of desire in a non-Catholic is a solid teaching of
our faith. However, the probability of such a thing occuring is another matter. Judging
from the Church's Ordinary teaching on this it would seem that such justification by
perfect love and contrition is possible but not very probable. It would seem silly,
however, to expect the Church to define the degree of probability: whether it is simply
difficult, very difficult, or very-very difficult, etc. This doctrine clearly shows the
infinite Mercy of God and supports the teachings that God wills the salvation of all men,
and that if anyone is damned it is through their own fault.
The objection may be raised that the doctrine of Baptism of Desire with
invincible ignorance would destroy the zeal of Catholic missionaries to convert pagans and
natives. Those who think this obviously do not understand the doctrine.
We only need to look at the zeal of a Catholic pastor for his parishioners.
Even though his parishioners, as Catholics, are in the one true Church - "the way of
salvation" - with all the means of grace at their disposal, the parish priest works
with much zeal to help keep each member of his flock securely in the state of grace.
Knowing this to be so, what must be the zeal of a missionary who seeks to convert savages
from "the way of perdition"? The Catholic doctrine of Baptism of Desire in fact
greatly supports the zeal of missionaries in their work of conversion: it gives them a
greater hope that any particular savage they work with may just be one who is well
disposed to do God's will and be more easily converted to the secure "way of
salvation", and possibly having even the implicit desire of Baptism.
It seems that the followers of Fr. Feeney at the St. Benedict Center are
coming to see the light. Although they still unfortunately deny the Catholic doctrine of
"baptism of desire", they no longer follow Fr. Feeney in considering it to be a
heresy: In their January 1992 issue of the Crusader, the doctrine of "baptism
of desire" has been classified as an "undefined theory" in which "each
man has as much right to his opinion as the other." They have yet to see,
however, that they are still in error and have no right to hold an opinion contrary to
Church teaching on this matter.