Father Feeney and Commonweal
I was taking notes on John Murray Cuddihy’s fascinating and provocative No Offense: Civil Religion and Protestant Taste, and came across, well, us–Commonweal.
In a chapter entitled, “A Tale of Two Jesuits: Leonard Feeney, SJ, and John Courtney Murray, SJ”, Cuddihy suggests that the real animus of Feeney wasn’t non-Catholics –it was Commonweal Catholics.
Father Feeney’s From the Housetops was was founded not primarily to win Protestant converts but to attack Catholic liberals. It was to be a weapon in an intra-Catholic quaqrrel. Like its lineal post-Vatican II descendant of twenty years later, L. Brent Bozell’s Triumph magazine, it was created to proclaim an unembarrassed and militant Catholicism and to stem the “leakage” from the Church that was becoming increasingly evident. (p.50).
. . .
It was the growth of these well-bred, tolerant manners, the phenomenon of Irish Catholic “liberal Catholicism,” that Father Feeeney and his Center conceived of themselves as trying to stem. Commonweal magazine was the weekly voice of this liberal Catholicism. A “Commonweal Catholic,” in Feeney’s circle, was a Catholic who was fastidiously discrete about his Catholicism. He was “passing.” A liberal Catholic, Mrs. Clarke writes, is one who always knows “how god should behave. God’s behavior is invariably made to conform with the Liberal’s own fine feelings . . . [he knows] how an incarnate God should talk ad behave . . . [he] does not like the statement “No Salvation Outside the Church” [not because the statement is false but] because “it isn’t nice.” (p. 55).
Cuddihy is quoting Catherine Goddard Clarke, The Loyolas and the Cabots: The Story of the Boston Heresy Case (1950). She was the President of the Harvard Center run by Feeney. I’m trying to get the book.
Three things struck me:
1. It would be fun to see some of the Commonweal editorials of the time.
2. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
3. Some things that aren’t nice are also not true.
More perspective: Avery Dulles on Father Feeney’s death.