Some commentators are stating that the religious freedom argument in the Church was radically changed in the Vatican II document, Dignitatis Humanae, in so far as the idea of full freedom of conscience for all peoples means now that anyone can believe anything without impunity. Yes and no. Also, the other change may be seen in the idea that it is the duty of the State to protect the one, true Catholic Church, but not necessarily false religion or false religious institutions. These are tricky nuances and the protection of freedom of speech has meant, especially in the West, that the Church no longer prosecutes blasphemy or sacrilegious behaviour, according to civil law.
Two points: that the Church should be protected by the State does not seem to be abrogated by the newer document. What is clear is that people should be allowed to pursue religious truth, a phrase from DH and the implication that if people pursue the truth this journey will lead them into the Catholic Church. The days of religious persecution would seem over. Here is the section to which I refer:
We believe that this one true religion subsists in the Catholic and Apostolic Church, to which the Lord Jesus committed the duty of spreading it abroad among all men. Thus He spoke to the Apostles: "Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have enjoined upon you" (Matt. 28: 19-20). On their part, all men are bound to seek the truth, especially in what concerns God and His Church, and to embrace the truth they come to know, and to hold fast to it.
This Vatican Council likewise professes its belief that it is upon the human conscience that these obligations fall and exert their binding force. The truth cannot impose itself except by virtue of its own truth, as it makes its entrance into the mind at once quietly and with power.
Religious freedom, in turn, which men demand as necessary to fulfil their duty to worship God, has to do with immunity from coercion in civil society. Therefore it leaves untouched traditional Catholic doctrine on the moral duty of men and societies toward the true religion and toward the one Church of Christ.
Notice the last line. This is crucial and means, indeed, that the previous documents with regard to the State protecting the Church and the superiority of the Catholic Faith over others stands as Catholic Teaching. The difference is that there would be no civil persecution of non-Catholics. However, this does beg the question as to what duties the State has specifically in relation to the Church, if there is an immunity from coercion. Does this allow for total freedom of speech, such as blasphemy, or dramas, or tirades on the radio, for which we have plenty of examples of late? One of the common criticisms of this and other Vatican II documents is vagueness.
More: 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.(2) 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.
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.
This is a document right out of the Cold War era. The assumptions underlining these texts is that communism is persecuting Christianity, and specifically, the Catholic Faith. The assumption is that a Christian nation would not persecute Catholics. The assumption is that Western Civilization defends Christianity. But, what if the State is so secular as to no longer value any religion whatsoever, such as in modern Europe and America is fast becoming?
No one would argue that faith can be externally coerced, but what of the discussion of a completely secularized culture which, unlike communism, has internal, rather than external coercion? Internal coercion would be the kulturkampf, the peer pressure, the tolerance of sin, and other secular or modernist heretical positions which internally have been absorbed by the populace? Did not the Vatican II Fathers see this coming? Were they involved in utopian thinking to the point of not seeing the rot under their own eyes? Was there an ignoring of the movement of the Holy Spirit against relativism and indifference, and the disturbing corruption of the education systems by 1965? The document seems naive and almost over spiritual, ignoring the realities of the day.
We would agree with the following:
The reason is that the exercise of religion, of its very nature, consists before all else in those internal, voluntary and free acts whereby man sets the course of his life directly toward God. No merely human power can either command or prohibit acts of this kind.(3) The social nature of man, however, itself requires that he should give external expression to his internal acts of religion: that he should share with others in matters religious; that he should profess his religion in community. Injury therefore is done to the human person and to the very order established by God for human life, if the free exercise of religion is denied in society, provided just public order is observed.
Not quite as strong as previous papal documents, but not contradictory, and here is another bit.
The religious acts whereby men, in private and in public and out of a sense of personal conviction, direct their lives to God transcend by their very nature the order of terrestrial and temporal affairs. Government therefore ought indeed to take account of the religious life of the citizenry and show it favor, since the function of government is to make provision for the common welfare. However, it would clearly transgress the limits set to its power, were it to presume to command or inhibit acts that are religious.
4. The freedom or immunity from coercion in matters religious which is the endowment of persons as individuals is also to be recognized as their right when they act in community. Religious communities are a requirement of the social nature both of man and of religion itself
Phrases like "take account" and "show it favor" could be and need to be stronger. The common welfare needs to be protected in so far as the Catholic Church needs to be protected. We, in 2012, see the language of this document as needing to be much stronger and more clear, as were the earlier ones. We see how such phrases as "personal conviction" have been co-opted by the relativists and agnostics. The dignity of the human is only fully protected in the truth of the Catholic Church. However, what follows is a bit more questionable, even in view of a pastoral application.
If, in view of peculiar circumstances obtaining among peoples, special civil recognition is given to one religious community in the constitutional order of society, it is at the same time imperative that the right of all citizens and religious communities to religious freedom should be recognized and made effective in practice.
This, in my studies, is a blatant departure from previous papal documents. The Catholic Church is not necessarily being given a superior status in these words. I am not purposefully looking for difficulties, but again, the criticism could be made, and has been, that the wording is simply too vague, or at worst, presupposes another point of view. What if that one religious community is, like in Mali today, the Muslims persecuting the Christians, or as in Sudan, now split into two, or in Egypt, religious groupings with the potential of sharia law, which obviously would only not allow religious freedom but outwardly persecute other religions? That the Catholic Faith and the Catholic Church is the one and true institution seems to be undermined here. Or, am I reading too much (or too little) into the language? It would be imperative for
Catholics to fight against those constitutions, to actively seek protection for the Catholic Church. To appeal for tolerance from tyrants, even tyrants of liberalism, is simply not enough. Previous documents condemned tyrannies by name and false religions by labels. I think a false ecumenism undermines stronger language which could and should have been implemented in 1965 for the benefit of those in 2012. Why did the Fathers not be more specific? We had over one-hundred years of documents on modernists heresies and on Church-State relations, which were strong and specific. What happened? The appeal is to society and not to the Catholic Church. Society has the right to defend itself against possible abuses committed on the pretext of freedom of religion. It is the special duty of government to provide this protection
I would add, not society, but the Catholic Church. And, oh dear, how the following could be misconstrued. Therefore, a harmony exists between the freedom of the Church and the religious freedom which is to be recognized as the right of all men and communities and sanctioned by constitutional law.
This is just not specific enough.
And, did not the Fathers of the Council see modern Europe in the making? A mere few years after the writing of this document, Britain passed the abortion law. What happened? This was written in 1965, and the abortion act passed in 1968. Did the Fathers not see the entrenchment of secularism, which was seen by Pius IX, X, XI and XII, as well as Leo XIII? What is being said is not wrong, but it is not aimed at the real enemies of religion.
The fact is that men of the present day want to be able freely to profess their religion in private and in public. Indeed, religious freedom has already been declared to be a civil right in most constitutions, and it is solemnly recognized in international documents.(38) The further fact is that forms of government still exist under which, even though freedom of religious worship receives constitutional recognition, the powers of government are engaged in the effort to deter citizens from the profession of religion and to make life very difficult and dangerous for religious communities
I invite comments.