I am more and more convinced that the misinterpretation of the documents of Vatican II are at the root cause of the disaster in the Catholic Church and with it, society at large. For as the Catholic Church goes, so goes the West and the world. Our enemies know it, but we have largely forgotten it. Many Catholics believe that the Church is just “one of many” players in the culture. That’s false. We’re the player on which everything hangs or falls.
If you peruse the documents of Vatican II, you will see that the subjects which these documents addressed are still hot topics in the Church and within the culture at large. The hottest one right now is the Council’s declaration on religious liberty.
The topic of religious liberty is probably the most contentious topic over the past 50 years within the Catholic Church, and now that controversy has spilled over into American politics as Obama’s HHS mandate now forces Catholics to pay for someone’s else’s condom purchases.
These are not pie-in-the-sky theological discussions but impact the core of what it means to be a human person and what it means to exercise authentic human freedom. And then there is the small issue of money and financing perverse acts. That makes it even a practical “dollars and cents” issue that everyone should be concerned about.
The liberals who use the Church’s declaration on “religous freedom” to demote the necessity of converting to Christ’s Church for salvation need to be confronted. So far, they’ve been largely unchecked and they use this declaration to spread their phoney “Spirit of Vatican II” heresies in the Church and within the culture. But that is not the only problem. The SSPX insists that there are “errors” in the documents of Vatican II, the most prominent collection of these errors allegedly being the propositions advanced in DIGNITATIS HUMANAE. This too is false.
In the Catholic Faith, you can be in essentially five places. You can be off the boat in four of them. To the Right. To the Left. At the Back. Or in the Front. The key for a Catholic is to stay within the barque of Peter or risk losing one’s salvation.
In the case of Dignitatis Humane, there is no contradiction with past Catholic teaching.
In the context of a Catholic Confessional State, there is no such thing as a right to “religious liberty” because there is no such thing as “religious liberty” within the Catholic Faith – obviously. A Catholic Confessional State can tolerate other religions within its geographical boundaries but it cannot grant it “rights” per se, because as Pope Pius XII famously taught: “Error has no rights”. True rights come from God alone and not the State. Therefore, a true “right” cannot contradict the Catholic Faith. That is why there is no “right” to abortion and there is no “right” to a non-Catholic religion, either.
However, in a situation where the State is officially secular and holds to a pluralistic creed, or worse, if it is officially atheistic like the former Communist regimes were behind the iron curtain (and this was, by the way, the context in which DH was proposed), the “right” to religious freedom does not in any way endorse error but rather only protects the Church’s freedom from the meddling of the State. If a non-Christian (or even anti-Catholic) regime takes power, then the Church only seeks to protect itself from State interference by recognising that a non-Catholic regime has no right to meddle in the affairs of the Catholic Church, or any other Religion for that matter, provided ( in the case of the latter) the public order is not over-turned or put at risk. The Church takes this approach because atheistic regimes make no legal distinction between Catholic and non-Catholic religions, and so the Church proposes to protect itself by protecting all religions in a secular, civil society. But in doing so, it would be an error to believe that she regards all religions as equal or that She does not have a right to judge them or even call for their suppression, if circumstances warrant it.
However, the Declaration did not stop there. It went further. It sought to develop the doctrine of religious liberty in the context of the dignity of the human person:
Over and above all this, the council intends to develop the doctrine of recent popes on the inviolable rights of the human person and the constitutional order of society. (DH, 1)
The Council went on to define what religious freedom was:
This Vatican Council declares that the human person has a right to religious freedom. This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits.
The council further declares that the right to religious freedom has its foundation in the very dignity of the human person as this dignity is known through the revealed word of God and by reason itself. This right of the human person to religious freedom is to be recognized in the constitutional law whereby society is governed and thus it is to become a civil right. (DH, 2)
The right to religious freedom in this context is not about a “right” to remain in false religion. The Catholic Church has always believed and taught that there is no such thing as a “right” to a false religion. But there is a right to search for the true religion without any coercion or interference from the State or other religious bodies, in keeping with our dignity as persons created in God’s image. This human right, endowed to us by God Himself, is not abrogated or diminished in any way even while concurrently holding on to erroneous religious beliefs in that search.
It is in accordance with their dignity as persons-that is, beings endowed with reason and free will and therefore privileged to bear personal responsibility-that all men should be at once impelled by nature and also bound by a moral obligation to seek the truth, especially religious truth. They are also bound to adhere to the truth, once it is known, and to order their whole lives in accord with the demands of truth. However, men cannot discharge these obligations in a manner in keeping with their own nature unless they enjoy immunity from external coercion as well as psychological freedom. Therefore, the right to religious freedom has its foundation not in the subjective disposition of the person, but in his very nature. In consequence, the right to this immunity continues to exist even in those who do not live up to their obligation of seeking the truth and adhering to it and the exercise of this right is not to be impeded, provided that just public order be observed. (DH, 2)
The unencumbered search for the truth, therefore, is a fundamental human right given to us by God. That search for the truth will nevertheless sometimes mean that people will join religions which teach at least some error. This is something which, because of our fallen world, must be tolerated for the sake of permitting the inalienable right and indeed responsibility to seek the truth. Coercion or manipulation is no less present when civil and even ecclesisiastical authorities try to prevent religious bodies from public association.
At its fundamental core, salvation is a pure invitation by the Lord to every human person. The Church rejects any act which diminishes this free and open invitation that is subject to any external pressure, within due limits. Like sacramental marriage, a person must be completely free to give his or her assent. The alternative is a fake marriage. And the eternal marriage to God is no fake marriage.
No right given to us by God (and indeed there are no “rights” without God) is contingent on human fallibility or false beliefs or false religions. That is, one may hold to erroneous beliefs (which in themselves have no “rights”) while in no way impacting one’s right to search for the truth without interference from the State or another Ecclesial body. We are no less of a person created in God’s image because we may hold to a false religion in the search for truth. That is what DH is trying to emphasizes when it states: “Therefore, the right to religious freedom has its foundation not in the subjective disposition of the person, but in his very nature. In consequence, the right to this immunity continues to exist even in those who do not live up to their obligation of seeking the truth and adhering to it and the exercise of this right is not to be impeded.” (DH, 2)
Those Catholics therefore who propose that Dignitatis Humanae is not authentic Catholic teaching are, in fact, spreading a heresy that demotes the image of God in the human person by denying something that is part of his very nature.
I hope to flush out this topic and more of the controversial topics of Vatican II at my upcoming conference.