Factions In Dissident Catholic Community Continue Squabble
BOSTON (AP) _ Warring factions in a tiny community of dissident Roman Catholics are avoiding each other by eating and holding services at different times despite a state Supreme Court ruling meant to resolve the squabble, says a lawyer for one of the sides.
The case involves a dispute over leadership of a breakaway sect of Catholics who split from church teaching and set up their own community called the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary of St. Benedict Center Inc. in the town of Harvard near Worcester.
The state Supreme Court on Monday unanimously upheld a ruling that the group properly elected Brother Thomas, or Thomas A. Dalton, as their president in 1983. The ruling ended the legal case between Dalton, 34, and Fakhri Maluf, 72, who is known as Brother Francis.
But the dispute continues among the 20 members, who still refuse to eat and pray together, Brian A. O’Connell, attorney for Brother Francis, said Tuesday.
″I’ve felt for a long time that the issue of discord at the center could not be ideally resolved through civil litigation,″ O’Connell said.
The case arose when Brother Francis brought suit against Dalton insisting he was the properly elected president-superior.
″A lot depends on Brother Francis and whether he lives with the decision,″ Dalton said.
Brother Francis, who as Maluf was fired from his teaching job at Boston College in 1949 for advocating the belief that salvation for non-Catholics was impossible, joined the Rev. Leonard J. Feeney in founding the center in 1958.
Feeney, a Jesuit priest, had been excommunicated in 1953 for preaching the same belief. He died in 1978.
Despite his excommunication, Feeney’s beliefs attracted traditionalists who opposed changes in church doctrine and services.
″The church has watered down teachings to make them acceptable to Protestants,″ Dalton said. ″We believe what the Catholic Church has always believed. If your mother is 2,000 years old, she must have some wisdom.″
Feeney’s followers were known as ″Feeneyites″ and dressed in white shirts and black suits or dresses. They traveled the country preaching their beliefs and selling books by Feeney.
When Feeney died, Brother Francis was named president-superior for life in the bylaws of the corporation, which owns a few acres and a half-dozen buildings.
In 1983, the bylaws were repealed and Dalton was elected president-superior by the membership.
Dalton said his opponent had few supporters, but O’Connell said support for the elder man was growing among younger members of the group and that Brother Francis might be able to win another election.
Dalton blamed the court battle for draining the center of money. ″Definitely in the past five years there has been internal trouble with dissension and debts and one reason is the litigation that has gone on for three or four years,″ Dalton said.
Brother Francis said he had not seen the court decision and could not comment on it, but he criticized Dalton and his supporters.
″I was one of the founders before any one of these young people tried to take over,″ he said. ″I don’t think they quite understand the doctrine.″