Friday, January 13, 2012

Waugh on Feeney

Evelyn Waugh described his visit to Fr. Leonard Feeney, S.J., in this letter of November 20, 1948 to his wife Laura (pp. 292/3, Letters of Evelyn Waugh ed. Mark Amory, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1980).

The most disturbing event at Boston was a visit to a Father Feeney S.J. at Harvard. Mrs Luce told me he was a saint & apostle and on no account to be missed. He has a Catholic Center, as it is called, just outside the University campus & has made some showy converts. Well when I asked about him in Boston clergy and laymen alike looked embarrassed and said: 'We haven't seen him for a long time'. I went one morning by appointment & found him surrounded by a court of bemused youths of both sexes & he stark, raving mad. All his converts have chucked their Harvard careers and go to him only for all instruction.

He fell into a rambling denunciation of all secular learning which gradually became more and more violent. He shouted that Newman had done irreparable damage to the Church then started on Ronnie Knox's Mass in Slow Motion saying 'To think that any girl of 12 could have this blasphemous and obscene book put into her hands' as though it were Lady Chatterley's Lover. I asked if he had read it. 'I don't have to eat a rotten egg to know it stinks'.

Then I addressed him in strong words. His court sat absolutely aghast at hearing their holy man addressed like this. And in unbroken silence I walked out of the house. I talked to some Jesuits later & they said that he is disobeying the plain orders of his provincial by staying there. It seemed to me he needed an exorcist more than an alienist. A case of demonic possession & jolly frightening."

Evelyn Waugh, 1940

Fr. Leonard Feeney, S.J.


Anonymous said...

"To think that any girl of 12 could have this blasphemous and obscene book put into her hands' as though it were Lady Chatterley's Lover."

This quote comes up in a lot of searches for Fr Feeney, but I have absolutely no idea what he meant by this. I understand that LCL is a pornographic novel, but no one ever explains why Fr Feeney compares a book on the Mass by a Catholic priest to a book of pornography. Can you explain why he said this?

Sean said...

Fr. Feeney called "The Mass in Slow Motion" blasphemous and obscene, but as far as I know he did not compare it to LCL; rather, that was Waugh's observation, who was illustrating the implication of Feeney's slander. Feeney acknowledged that he hadn't read the book, so there is no justification for his remark; it was just malicious nonsense, entirely without foundation, and Waugh's response to him was warranted. Waugh added that Feeney was possessed; I don't know if that's true, but it would account for his assaults on Newman and Knox.