ARCHBISHOP LEFEBVRE AND THE DECLARATION ON RELIGIOUS LIBERTY
by Fr. William Most
Because of the claims, and subsequent schism, made by Archbishop
Lefebvre that the of Vatican II,
, contradicted teachings of Gregory
XVI, Pius IX, and Leo XIII, we will make a careful comparison of texts.
We must add that something taught repeatedly on the Ordinary
Magisterium level is infallible. Such seems to be the case with the
teaching of these three Popes. Hence, no matter on what level Vatican II,
was teaching in this Declaration, the charge amounts to a charge that a
general council taught heresy. Then the promises of Christ would be at
least largely void.
It is of capital importance to use in all
things, especially in this matter. God has made two promises, to protect
the teaching of the Church, and to give free will to humans. At times He
needs, as it were, to walk a tight line to carry out both. Therefore, in
some texts - such as some of those below - we may suspect that the Pope had
in his mind more strenuous things than what he set down on paper, we must
A) TEXTS OF THE THREE POPES
Gregory XVI, in of August 15, 1832. DS 2730: "We now continue
with a most fertile cause of evils by which we deplore that the Church at
present is being afflicted, that is, indifferentism, or that evil opinion.
. . . that by any profession of faith whatsoever, the eternal salvation of
the soul can be attained, if morals are kept to the norm of the right and
good. . . . And from this must putrid font of indifferentism flows that
absurd and erroneous view or rather insanity, that liberty of conscience
should be asserted and claimed for just anyone."
COMMENTS: The first sentence merely means that it does make a
difference what faith one professes. But it does not mean
that all Protestants are certainly damned - that would be the error of
Feeney. Rather, one may be saved not by just any profession of faith, but
a wrong one. Even Pius IX, famed for his strong words against
indifferentism, insisted that "God. . . in His supreme goodness and
clemency by no means allows anyone to be punished with eternal punishments
who does not have the guilt of voluntary fault." (, Aug 10, 1863: DS 2966). The second sentence merely
rejects the idea that one has a to be in error. A right is a claim,
ultimately coming from God, to have, to do, or to call for something. God
surely gives no one a claim to be wrong. Vatican II, as we shall see,
merely asserts one has a right not to be put in prison etc. for being
The vehemence, and almost emotional quality of the language, makes one
suspect Gregory XVI might have had in mind more drastic ideas than what he
put down on paper.
Pius IX, , Dec. 8, 1864. ASS 3. 162: [We have added numbers
for convenience in commenting]".
1."For you know well. . . that there are not a few, who. . . applying
that impious and absurd principle of what is called naturalism, dare to
teach, 'that the best state of public society and civil progress absolutely
requires that human society should be so constituted and governed, that
there is no consideration of religion, as if it [religion] did not exist,
or at least with no distinction made between true and false religions.'"
COMMENTS: Pius IX here condemns a proposition, which is printed
as a quotation, but the gives no source for it. It
seems, then, that it was framed precisely to be a condemned and false
proposition. Such condemned propositions are normally declared false if
even one thing is wrong with them.
This proposition is false because (a) the state as a state should
worship God, and in the way He has made known that He wills. Therefore to
ignore religion is wrong. (b)For the same reason, the state should make its
own the true religion, and not treat all religions indiscriminately. This
need not mean repression of false religions.
Vatican II, in DIGNITATIS HUMANAE #1 taught: "It leave untouched the traditional
Catholic doctrine about the moral duty of men towards the
true religion and the one Church of Christ." This means, of course, an
established Church. As we said, it would not imply repression of other
churches. Even pagan Greece and Rome realized that the state as a state
needs God's help: hence the state as a state must worship God. We add: If
God makes known which way He wills to be worshipped, of course we must
The application of that principle is difficult: (a) In the U. S. today
we have legal positivism, which means that the state does not know what is
morally right or wrong: all it can do is make things right or wrong by
passing laws. So today it gives special favor to homosexuality! (b)We may
ask: has history shown that the state is really incapable of determining
what God wills, what is the true religion? Such ignorance could excuse the
state from this duty. We think of the horrors of Islamic states such as
Iran, who claim their laws are all ordered by God! And in ages when there
was union of Church and State, it usually meant domination of the Church by
the civil power. - Difficult choice!
2."And they do not hesitate to assert, contrary to the doctrine of
Scripture, the Church, and the holy Fathers that 'that is the best
condition of society in which the government does not acknowledge the duty
of coercing by set penalties, the of the Catholic religion,
except to the extent that public peace requires.'"
COMMENT: Here again we have a condemned proposition, with no sources
for it given in the AAS.
We note that the Latin is very strong, whereas in English
is often weak - a parking meter may say that for a few minutes
overtime. says that means "treat with
violence, injure, invade, profane, outrage." So it must be some really
strong action positively against the Church.
3."As a result of the altogether false idea of the regime of society,
they do not fear to promote that erroneous opinion. . . . called insanity
by our Predecessor Gregory XVI, namely, 'that liberty of conscience and of
worship is a of each man, which ought to be proclaimed by
law and asserted in every rightly constituted society, and [it should be
proclaimed] that the citizens have liberty , which should be
restrained by no authority, whether or civil, in virtue of
which they are able to privately and publicly manifest and declare , orally or in print. '"
COMMENTS: As usual with condemned propositions, this one is made
extremely strong, so it can most obviously be seen as wrong: (1) One does
not have a to be wrong, as we said above. Vatican II merely
asserted a right to freedom from coercion. (2) Note that the right includes
"liberty of all sorts" - a sweeping thing, which would include even things
contrary to public order and would go beyond the "due limits" of Vatican II
DIGNITATIS HUMANAE §2. It would even let headhunters do as their god orders,
i.e. , cut off heads. (3)It allows propagation of all ideas ,
no matter how foul, .
Pius IX, Syllabus, Dec. 8, 1864. DS 2915, 2977 - 80:
DS 2915: "Each one is free to embrace and profess that religion which,
led by the light of reason, he thinks true."
COMMENT: This is false because no one has a right to be wrong, as
DS 2977:'In this our time it is no longer expedient for the Catholic
religion to be considered as the sole religion of the state, excluding all
other cults whatsoever."
COMMENT: It is false because it would still be good for the state to
profess the Catholic faith, but would not need to prohibit other faiths.
Compare DIGNITATIS HUMANAE 1.
DS 2978: "Hence, it is worthy of praise that in certain regions called
Catholic it has been provided by law that for persons immigrating there it
is permitted to hold public worship of each cult."
COMMENT: For men to be able to hold false beliefs is not "worthy of
praise", even though out of respect for conscience no one should be
to act against even an erroneous conscience. But, as Pius XII
taught in (text to be given below) the common good of the
universal Church requires that error be permitted. In fact, in determined
circumstances, God does not even give the state a right to suppress
erroneous things, namely, when the common good of Church and state call for
DS 2979:"It is not true to say that civil liberty for each cult, and
likewise full power given to all to manifest opinions and thoughts
more easily leads to corrupting the morals and souls of
people, and to propagating indifferentism."
COMMENT: We notice the word "any. . . whatsoever". That makes the
statement outrageously broad: one could then say there is no harm in
advocating cutting off other people's heads as ordered by the gods of the
heaDignitatis humanaeunters, or homosexuality, or polygamy.
DS 2980:"The Pope can and should reconcile and adjust himself with
progress, with liberalism, and with recent attitudes of civil society."
COMMENT: He cannot reconcile himself to such ideas as the notion that
error has rights, or that the state should be indifferent to religion.
Leo XIII, Nov. 1, 1885 ASS 18: 1."So too, that liberty of
thinking and of publishing , with , is not a good by its own nature over which human society should
rightly , but is the font and origin of many evils. . . for this
reason, a state errs from the rule and prescription of nature if it allows
a license of opinion and actions to such an extent that without penalty it
is permitted to lead minds away from the truth and souls from virtue."
COMMENT: Again, we note the deliberately sweeping language condemning
a liberty that can , and at all.
Surely that is not something society should over.
2."Really, if the Church judges that it is not permitted that various
kinds of divine worship have with the true religion, yet it
does no for this reason condemn the rulers of states who, to attain some
great good or prevent evil, patiently allow each [kind of cult] to have
place in the state."
COMMENTS: Here the Pope concedes that all kinds of religions can be
permitted as long as they are not given the same rights as the true
religion. He means that the state should worship by the true religion and
not by the others. This is the same as the thought of DIGNITATIS HUMANAE #1.
Leo XIII, , June 20, 1888. ASS 20. 1."It is
scarcely necessary to say that there can be no right for a freedom that is
. . . .
For if a of speaking and writing be conceded , nothing is going to remain holy and inviolate, not even those
greatest, most true judgments of nature, which are to be considered as the
common and most noble patrimony of the human race."
COMMENT: Again, the Pope speaks against most extreme things.
2. (a bit earlier in the same document):". . . while not conceding
to things that are not true and honorable, it [the Church] does
not refuse to let public authority endure these, that is, to avoid some
greater evil, or to attain or keep some greater good. The most provident
God, though He is infinite in power and can do all things, yet permits
evils in the world, in part, s o as not to impede greater good, in part so
greater evils will not follow. In ruling states, it is right to imitate the
Ruler of the World."
COMMENT: Such things have no right to exist, since God does not give
them a claim: no one has a right to be wrong.
Pius XII, , Dec. 6, 1953. AAS 45: The Pope asked: "Can it be
that in determined circumstances, He [God] does not give to man any
mandate, or impose a duty, finally, that He gives no right to impede and to
repress that which is erroneous or false?. . . Christ in the parable of the
cockle gave the following admonition: Let it be that the cockle grow in the
field of the world along with the good seed, for the sake of the
harvest."[Cf. Mt. 13:24-30].
COMMENT: We notice he said that "in determined circumstances" God does
not even give a right to repress. What are these circumstances? A bit
farther on he added: He [the Catholic statesman] in his decision will let
himself be guided by the harmful consequences which arise with tolerance,
compared with those that will be found in the international community by
way of the acceptance of tolerance. . . . in such individual cases, the
attitude of the Church is determined by the preservation and in
consideration of the common good, the common good of the Church, and of the
State in individual states on the one hand, and on the other hand, the
common good of the universal Church. . . ."
Conclusions from the above Papal texts:
1. Error has no rights, since rights are a claim given ultimately by God.
He gives no claim to error. This does not condemn the idea that people may
have a right not to be imprisoned etc. for error. DIGNITATIS HUMANAE will affirm that.
2. Yet the common good of the state and the Church may dictate the need of
tolerance of error. Pius XII added, in that God does not even
give a right to suppress error in circumstances in which the common good
3. It is false to say that one can be saved just any faith. This is
the sense of the strong condemnations of indifferentism. But one may say
that one could be saved an erroneous faith (cf. Pius IX,
LG 16 will say it more clearly as will
10 of John Paul II. ). 4. The state as a state
should worship God, in the way in which He has made known He wishes it.
This need not call for suppression of other faiths - cf. #2 above. DIGNITATIS HUMANAE # 1
also states this.
5. The strongest statement above is in the of Pius IX when he
says that the state in suppressing error must do more than just suppress
what is demanded by public order. We have not yet seen what DIGNITATIS HUMANAE does on this
score. We will see that it too demands more than what public order calls
for, in ## 4 & 7.
6. There is no right of publication of just anything. There are some
APPENDIX II) TEXTS OF VATICAN II, DIGNITATIS HUMANAE (Sectional
numbers given in margin)
1. a)". . . it leaves untouched the traditional Catholic doctrine about the
moral duty of men and societies to the true religion and the only Church of
COMMENT: The Council reaffirms completely the traditional teaching on
the obligation of the state to profess Catholicism. Mere reason shows that:
just as an individual must worship God for his own needs, so the state as
state must worship for its needs. Pagan Greece and Rome thought this way.
We add: If God has shown the way He wills to be worshipped, of course,
there is an obligation to follow it. This need not mean repressing other
faiths of course. One could still ask: Has the state historically shown
itself incapable of determining what is the true religion? Cases like Islam
make one wonder. On the other hand, without a union we are apt to get legal
positivism, such as the U. S. in practice has today: the state does not
know what is right or wrong in itself - all it can do is make something
right or wrong by passing a law. So today it even favors homosexuality.
b): "Besides, in treating of this religious liberty, the Sacred Synod
intends to develop the doctrine of recent Popes on the inviolable rights of
the human person and about the constitutional order of society."
COMMENT: Since the council intends to evolve, it did not mean to
contradict. The Church has long evolved various teachings without
contradicting. It is significant that John Courtney Murray denied the
teaching of 1a above. Therefore the Council did not entirely follow him.
Some have noted that the Council did not give references to the more
recent Popes. Actually, Leo XIII, in , did warn against
coercing consciences (DS 3177): "The Church is accustomed to take care that
no one be forced to embrace the Catholic faith when unwilling, as Augustine
wisely reminded:"A person cannot believe if he does not do it willingly."
Cf. DS 3246, 3251. And Pius XII in , as we saw above, taught
that in determined circumstances, God does not even give the state any
right to repress error. This applies when the public good calls for it.
Pius XII seems to imply these circumstances are always present:AAS 45, pp.
2. 1."This Vatican Synod declares that the human person has a right to
religious liberty. Liberty of this kind consists in this, that all persons
should be immune from coercion either on the part of individuals, or of
social societies, and of any human power at all, and this in such a way
that in a religious matter neither should anyone be forced to act against
his conscience, or impeded from acting according to his conscience
privately and publicly. either alone or in association with others, within
COMMENT: Since this section was hammered out with much labor, it must
be interpreted with equal care. We note in addition that John Courtney
Murray, in his introduction to this declaration in the Abbott edition of
Vatican II said (p. 674): "The conciliar affirmation of the principle of
freedom was narrowly limited - in the text." He thinks it will in practice
be given wider scope or have wider effects.
It is important to note that the focus is on : a man must not be forced to act against his conscience, or
impeded from acting according to his conscience in private and in public.
This seems to mean that one must not violate his conscience when the
conscience something. What if his conscience merely permits
something? It is not clear that a person has that added right, for the
purpose of not forcing action against conscience seems to be that no one
should force a man to sin. There would be sin in going against a positive
order of conscience to either do or to omit something. But if a conscience
merely if he merely omitted something that he was free to do but not
required to do. In that event, if a Protestant's conscience him
to write to attack the Catholic Church, but did not command that, this
declaration probably would not say he was to be free of coercion, since the
omission would not be sinful for him. It is not likely that his conscience
would be apt to him to attack.
Though conscience is not likely to publishing an on
Catholic doctrine, it could easily order a man to publish , and to join in social worship.
About the words "within due limits"-- they are not precise. Someone
might claim they meant the same as "public peace" in the document of Pius
IX. Pius IX clearly requires the state to do more than just maintain
public peace in this matter. Howsoever Vatican II also requires more. In #
4: "Religious communities also have the right not to be impeded in orally
and publicly teaching and testifying to their faith. However, in spreading
religious faith and practices, And in #7: "Since ;it should not be done in an arbitrary manner or
unfairly favoring one side, but according to juridical , which are required for the
effective protection of rights for all citizens, and for the peaceful
settlement of conflict of rights, and by a sufficient care for that
honorable public peace which is the well-ordered living together in true
We conclude: Vatican II does require much more than keeping public
peace. It requires that the sects .
#2. 2: "It also declares that the right to religious liberty is really
founded in the very dignity of the human person. . . . According to this
dignity, all are impelled by their own nature, and are bound by moral
obligation to seek the truth. . . . They cannot satisfy this obligation. .
. unless they have psychological freedom and at the same time immunity from
COMMENT: The coercion in mind is that of physical force, which would
come from the civil state. It does not rule out the use of the divinely
given authority of Christ to proclaim His truth and to say all are
obligated by His divine authority to accept it.
Therefore Archbishop Lefebvre was completely without justification in