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Cabbages and Kings

Faith On The Common

By Michael J. Halberstam

Father Leonard J. Feeney is the director of St. Benedict's Center near Adams House and a constant foe of the teachings at the University. Suspended from the Jesuit order two years ago for teaching that only Catholics may enter Heaven, he has lately been holding open-air meetings he expounds his own particular brand of Catholicism and, more recently, his rather common place brand of anti-Semitism.

Last Sunday's meeting was typical of those Father Feeney has been conducting on the Common. It was a fine, summery day, and over 200 people were gathered around the altar that Father Feeney and his friends had set up. The altar consisted of a platform large enough for one man to stand on, with a vividly-colored picture of the Virgin Mary set on top of it. A small green statue of the infant Jesus rested on a shelf beside the speaker.

Father Feeney, an elderly man with fleshy jowls and stringy gray hair, took the platform. His voice is high-pitched and has a tendency toward lisping, which he makes up for by an outraged tone of delivery and much smashing of fist into palm.

He began his oration by attacking the bishops of the Catholic Church; "All these men do is be photographed for the pages of the newspaper with a rabbi on one side of them and a minister on the order. They forget all about their own faith. No one was ever martyred for supporting the March of Dimes."

The tenor of his speech gradually changed from denunciation of the Catholic officials who had taken his pulpit away from him to a bitter dissertation on Jews and the Jewish faith. "For all my troubles, I've been calied every name that a Jew or a heretic could think of," he began.

At about this point a commotion broke out in the audience, which was composed of followers of the suspended priest, the bums and degenerates that flock to the Common, and a solid core of hecklers. The latter began to shout questions as the speaker steadfastly shrilled on. The interruptions obviously disturbed Father Feeney. "Gee, gimme a chance, I've been out here a year and a half," he pleaded at one point.

But the heckling continued. Father Feeney got angrier and angrier. He screamed, "People have been calling me a Hitler. That's a typical Jew trick. The Jews in Boston are trying to take our religion away." He made frequent appeals to the picture of Mary and the statue of Jesus as the shouts continued from the crowd. Pointing to the statue, he said, "That's the child that the Jews despise and the Protestants ignore."

Throughout the speech Father Feeney had been bothered by the noise from a loudspeaker a few hundred yards down on the Common which blared out a hellfire revival sermon. That and the heckling finally seemed to break him down. His voice cracked as he yelled, "I get up here to teach the true faith and I get called every dirty rotten filthy name that your foul minds can think of. People try to disturb me. they come down here and call me Mr. Feeney"--then someone shouted from the crowd, "Even that's too good for you." Feeney yelped back, "That's Protestant evangelicism for you," and the crowd laughed.

The priest got off the mainline of his attack on orthodox Catholic theology and concentrated all his vocal power on the Jews. He called them shady businessmen, hypocrites, and insidious destroyers of the Catholic faith. The people near the altar nodded with agreement at these sentiments, but the shouting grew agreement from the fringes of the crowd.

Before Father Feeney wound up his sermon with an impassioned prayer, he said, "We're going to be here every Sunday afternoon at 4 o'clock for the rest of the fall and winter. We're going to come out here and show God that there are some who still believe in the true faith. We're going to keep teaching and praying."

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