Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Rebuttal of “Religious Freedom FAQ's”


Here are three comments which I have submitted to Mr. Keith Gurries’s Opuscula blog. I recommend that you read his “Religious Freedom FAQ’s” post first, otherwise the comments might be difficult to follow:

Comment 1 of 2

Mr. Gurries,

You say that

[Q1.] “In other words, a person following the dictates of an honestly erroneous conscience acts in true moral freedom – in spite of his error.”

But the action of disseminating his errors is still objectively evil, and therefore can only ever be the object of tolerance on the part of his countrymen and of the State.

“The reason is that the moral law commands us to obey a certain conscience under pain of sin – even when honestly erroneous.”

True, but we must be careful to avoid what Msgr. Lefebvre rightly denounced as a false symmetry between being forced to disobey one’s conscience and being prevented from obeying one’s conscience.

“Furthermore, the moral law confers the corresponding moral right (the means) to fulfill ones moral obligations.”

But isn’t it circular reasoning, a sort of tautology, to assert that one’s duty to obey one’s conscience implies a right to obey one’s conscience?

Q3. “… sometimes we tolerate error or evil for the sake of a higher good or a superior right (e.g., toleration in order to respect the rightful domain of conscience …”

But to prevent someone doing what he has perceived to be good, but which is objectively evil, implies no violation of his conscience, since an imprisoned heretic, for instance, continues to conform his will to what his intellect has judged to be good (the dissemination of his errors), and is just biding his time till he has the opportunity to resume his ealier activities.

“[Suarez writes that] The reason is that such observances do not in themselves violate the natural law, and therefore, the temporal power of even a Christian ruler does not confer a right to forbid them.”

But they violate the objective truth and, in a society whose members are united in the Catholic Faith, it harms the common good, which is the proper end of the State.

“[Suarez writes that] Such action would be based on the fact that what is being done goes contrary to the Christian Faith, but that is not enough to compel those who are not subject to the spiritual authority of the Church.”

But the State, in repressing offences against the Catholic religion, does not compel offenders to submit to the Church’s authority; it merely prevents them from harming the common good.

“[Suarez writes that] This opinion is also supported by the fact that such a ban would involve, to some extent, forcing people to accept the Faith; and that is never permitted.”

How can preventing someone from acting on his conscience possibly imply, to even the slightest extent, “forcing people to accept the Faith”? The imprisoned heretic continues to conform his will to the dictates of his conscience.
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Comment 2 of 3 (sorry, this’ll have to go to three comments)

Q4. “Where do we draw the “due limits” to religious freedom?”

Leo XIII’s answer in Libertas was unequivocal:

33. … But if, in such circumstances, for the sake of the common good (and this is the only legitimate reason), human law may or even should tolerate evil, it may not and should not approve or desire evil for its own sake; …
34. … [T]he tolerance of evil which is dictated by political prudence should be strictly confined to the limits which its justifying cause, the public welfare, requires. Wherefore, if such tolerance would be injurious to the public welfare, and entail greater evils on the State, it would not be lawful; for in such case the motive of good is wanting. …
[my emphasis]

Dignitatis Humanæ, however, treats the common good as a set of certain elements (“matters”), and identifies a strict subset of those elements as providing the proper criterion for whether or not to repress offences against the Catholic religion:

“[…] These matters [listed in D.H.’s preceding paragraph] constitute the basic component of the common welfare: they are what is meant by public order. For the rest, the usages of society are to be the usages of freedom in their full range: that is, the freedom of man is to be respected as far as possible and is not to be curtailed except when and insofar as necessary.”
[section 7.]

That the common good is, for D.H., one set of elements composed of two strict subsets—one, the ‘just public order’, and the other, whatever is not contained in the ‘just public order’—is clear from the mention of a certain subset of “matters” (the ‘just public order’), with other matters—“the rest”—not contained therein. So for D.H., the proper criterion is not the common good in all its elements, but rather, the strict subset of elements called the ‘just public order’. And the following portion is of particular interest:

“the freedom of man is to be respected as far as possible and is not to be curtailed except when and insofar as necessary”

So activity covered by the strict subset of elements belonging to the common good but outside the ‘just public order’ subset is to receive ‘as much freedom as possible, as little curtailment as necessary’. How is one to interpret this slogan? Not ‘in the light of Tradition’, surely, since it has no place in Tradition. Quite the contrary: if the Traditional doctrine were to be encapsulated in a nutshell it would be to invert this slogan to something along the lines of ‘as much curtailment as possible, as little freedom as necessary’. Bizarrely, this is clear from Msgr. de Smedt’s quotation from Ci riesce in his relatio of 19 November 1963:

“Hence the affirmation: religious and moral error must always be impeded, when it is possible, because toleration of them is in itself immoral, is not valid absolutely and unconditionally.”
(my emphasis,
Michael Davies, The Second Vatican Council and Religious Liberty, Appendix IV, 1992 (1999), The Neumann Press, Long Prairie, Minnesota, p. 293)
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Comment 3 of 3

So it is only plausible to do what Msgr. Tissier de Mallerais argued recently and interpret the document according to the meaning of its authors. And in fact, that bit at the end of D.H.’s section 7. derives from an article by none other than Fr. John Courteney Murray S.J. in Theological Studies, XXV, p. 530. PRF, p. 4:

“In what concerns religious freedom, the requirement [for knowing whether “the public powers are authorized to intervene and to inhibit forms of religious expression”] is fourfold: that the violation of the public order be really serious; that legal or police intervention be really necessary; that regard be had for the privileged character of religious freedom, which is not simply to be equated with other civil rights; that the rule of jurisprudence of the free society be strictly observed, scil., as much freedom as possible, as much coercion as necessary.”
(my emphasis,
quoted in Davies, op. cit., p. 78)

So D.H.’s ‘as much freedom as possible, as little curtailment as necessary’ is little more than a liberal slogan, it is “the rule of jurisprudence of the free society”, incompatible with the juridical criteria proper to the best plan for society, that is, the Catholic society.

So to the question of whether the State can repress heretical/schismatic activity that is harmful to the common good in the common good’s non-‘just public order’ component, the likes of Msgr. von Ketteler can answer an unambiguous ‘yes’. But the devotee of Dignitatis Humanæ can only answer that such activity must receive ‘as much freedom as possible, as little curtailment as necessary’.

Q5. “Man is a social being according to his nature and therefore he has the duty and corresponding right to worship in private and in public.”

There is strange logic here; man is a social being, therefore he has a right to generate occasions of sin for his neighbours?!

“Furthermore, to ban the public expression of all false worship is to apply another form of coercion as Suarez noted: “…such a ban would involve, to some extent, forcing people to accept the Faith, and that is never permitted.””

This remains a pure assertion; how does Suarez explain the notion that “such a ban would involve, to some extent, forcing people to accept the Faith”? He does not seem to elaborate on this here or in quotations from him in the earlier post in which you quote from him at length.
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Reginaldvs Cantvar
Vigil of St. John the Baptist, A.D. 2009

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