DECLARATION ON RELIGIOUS LIBERTY
Because of the claims, and subsequent schism, made by Archbishop Lefebvre
that the "Declaration on Religious Liberty of Vatican II" ("Dignitatis
humanae" hereinafter DH) contradicted teachings of Gregory XVI, Pius IX,
and Leo XIII, we will make a careful comparison to 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 sound theological method 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 say that
only the things put down on paper are protected by Divine Providence - not
all what he may or may not have had in his mind.
A) TEXTS OF THE THREE POPES
Gregory XVI, in "Mirari vos" 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
objectively 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 in spite
of 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." ("Quanto conficiamur maerore," Aug 10,
1863: DS 2966).
The second sentence merely rejects the idea that one has a right 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 wrong.
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, "Quanta cura," 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 "Acta Sanctae Sedis" 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
(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 DH P1 taught: "It leave untouched the traditional Catholic
doctrine about the moral duty of men and societies 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
"violatores" 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 "violatores" is very strong, whereas in English
violation is often weak - a parking meter may say that for a few minutes
overtime. "Harpers' Latin Dictionary" says that "violare" 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 proper
right 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 of all sorts ,which
should be restrained by no authority, whether ecclesiastical or
civil, in virtue of which they are able to privately and
publicly manifest and declare all ideas whatsoever, orally or in
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 right 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
DH P2. It would even let headhunters do as their god orders,
i.e., cut off heads.
(3) It allows propagation of all ideas whatsoever, no matter how
foul, and not even ecclesiastical authority would have a right
to stop them.
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 explained
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 DH 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
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 forced
to act against even an erroneous conscience. But, as Pius XII taught in "Ci
riesce" (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 tolerance.
DS 2979: "It is not true to say that civil liberty for each
cult, and likewise full power given to all to manifest any
opinions and thoughts whatsoever more easily leads to corrupting
the morals and souls of people, and to propagating
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 headhunters,
or homosexuality, or polygamy.
DS 2980: "The Pope can and should reconcile and adjust himself
with progress, with liberalism, and with recent attitudes of
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, "Immortale Dei." Nov. 1, 1885 ASS 18:
1. "So too, that liberty of thinking and of publishing anything
whatsoever,with no restraint at all, is not a good by its own
nature over which human society should rightly rejoice, 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 publish just anything, and with no restraint at all.
Surely that is not something society should rejoice over.
2. "Really, if the Church judges that it is not permitted that
various kinds of divine worship have equal rights 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 DH P1.
Leo XIII, "Libertas Praestantissimum," June 20,1888 ASS 20.
1. "It is scarcely necessary to say that there can be no right
for a freedom that is not moderately tempered,but which goes
beyond measure and bounds.... For if a boundless license of
speaking and writing be conceded to just anyone, 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
any right 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, "Ci riesce," 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
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. DH 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 "Ci riesce" 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 by just any faith. This is the
sense of the strong condemnations of indifferentism. But one may say that
one could be saved in spite of an erroneous faith (cf. Pius IX, "Quanto
conficiamur moerore." LG 16 will say it more clearly as will "Redemptoris
missio" 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. DH P 1 also states this.
5. The strongest statement above is in the "Quanta cura" 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 DH does on this
score. We will see that it too demands more than what public order calls
for, in PP 4 & 7.
6. There is no right of publication of just anything.There are some limits.
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 Christ."
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 "Immortale Dei," 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 "Ci riesce," 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. 799,
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 due limits."
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 not coercing consciences: 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 orders
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 permitted something but
did not command it, the person would not be sinning if he merely omitted
something that he was free to do but not required to do. In that event, if
a Protestant's conscience permitted 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 command him to
Though conscience is not likely to order publishing an attack on Catholic
doctrine, it could easily order a man to publish his own doctrine, 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 P 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, all must abstain always from every kind of
action which seems to be coercion or improper or less right persuasion,
especially towards the uneducated and the poor. Such a way of acting must
be considered as an abuse of their own rights and infringement of the
rights of others. And in P7: "Since civil society has the right of
protecting itself against the abuses that could happen under the pretext of
religious liberty, it pertains especially to the civil authority to provide
protection of this kind; it should not be done in an arbitrary manner or
unfairly favoring one side, but according to juridical norms that are in
accord with the objective moral order, 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 justice, and
[required] by due custody of public morality."
We conclude: Vatican II does require much more than keeping public peace.
It requires that the sects refrain from unfair persuasion aimed at the
uneducated and the poor - that would be "an abuse of their rights"; it
requires care for public morality.
P2. 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 external coercion."
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 his