Monday, October 6, 2008

H.H. The Pope on religious liberty

According to the Vatican Information Service (V.I.S.) e-mail bulletin for October 2, 2008, H.H. The Pope told the Ordinaries of Kazakhstan and Central Asia that

the force of law must never itself become iniquity, nor can the free exercise of religion be limited, because freely to profess one's faith is a fundamental and universally-recognised human right".

Benedict XVI highlighted how "the Church does not impose but freely proposes the Catholic faith, well aware that conversion is the mysterious fruit of the action of the Holy Spirit. Faith is a gift and a work of God, and hence excludes any form of proselytism that forces, allures or entices people by trickery to embrace it. A person may open to the faith after mature and responsible reflection, and must be able freely to realise that intimate aspiration. This benefits not only the individual, but all society, because the faithful observance of divine precepts helps to build a more just and united form of coexistence".
(my emphasis)
Note His Holiness’ very careful choice of words in the highlighted portion of the first quoted paragraph. To say that “everyone has a natural right to the free exercise of religion” (call this proposition A) is not erroneous, since it does not specify the object of this right. But if one were to add the words ‘any’ and ‘whether Catholic or non-Catholic’, so that the proposition becomes “everyone has a natural right to the free exercise of any religion, whether Catholic or non-Catholic” (call this proposition B), then this would indeed be erroneous. It is the diction of proposition A, as one finds in Dignitatis Humanæ, that has got me wondering whether Dr. Sudlow was right when he said that

I see no reason why a confessional State and religious liberty, not in the Enlightenment sense but as understood by Dignitatis Humanae, cannot be reconciled
and that in fact it was Fr. Murray who was wrong when he inferred, in the commentary to his translation of Dignitatis Humanæ, that

The Church does not make, as a matter of right or divine law, the claim that she should be established as ‘the religion of the state’
and that

The freedoms listed here are those which the Catholic Church claims for herself. The Declaration likewise claims those for all Churches and religious communities.
(both quotations from The Second Vatican Council and Religious Liberty by Mr. Michael Davies)
One might object that the Holy Father’s reference to ‘freely professing one’s faith’ is problematic, but this need not be the case. ‘One’s faith’ can still mean either Catholic or non-Catholic faith.

Nonetheless, the problem of imprecision and misemphasis remains. It’s like saying ‘it is not sinful to do servile work on the weekend’; the statement can be true or false depending on the object i.e. it is false to say that ‘it is not sinful to work on either day of the weekend, whether Saturday or Sunday.”

As for the second highlighted portion, this is not at all in doubt, but unfortunately the straw man of ‘confessional State implies forced belief’ (usually invoked by Americanists) crops up all too frequently in discussions on religious liberty. See, for example, the following discussion at Fr. Zuhlsdorf’s blog:

If I find the time I might do a post in which I elaborate on the question of subjective vs. objective rights in Dignitatis Humanæ.

Reginaldvs Cantvar

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