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Vatican II and Religious Freedom: Rupture or Authentic Development?

The authors of Freedom, Truth, and Human Dignity argue that Dignitatis Humanae, the “Declaration on Religious Freedom”, grounds the right to religious freedom in the obligation to seek the truth, especially the truth about God.

Editor’s note: The following interview, originally posted at CWR on November 11, 2015, is reposted in memory of the late David L. Schindler, who died on November 16, 2022, and to help mark the 60th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council.

One of the most contentious and heavily debated topics in the Church during and following the Second Vatican Council is that of religious freedom. In recent years, questions about the nature, parameters, and recognition of religious liberty have become even more timely and pressing in the United States and other Western nations. In Freedom, Truth, and Human Dignity (Eerdmans, 2015), Dr. David L. Schindler and Dr. Nicholas J. Healy offer a rigorous and detailed examination of Dignitatis Humanae, the Council’s “Declaration on Religious Freedom”, providing a new translation, a redaction history, and a rich and provocative interpretation of the text.

Dr. Schindler, who is the Edouard Cardinal Gagnon Professor of Fundamental Theology at the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family at The Catholic University of America, Washington DC, and Dr. Healy, assistant professor of philosophy at the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family at The Catholic University of America, recently responded to written questions from Carl E. Olson, editor of Catholic World Report, about their book, Dignitatis Humanae, and the situation faced by Catholics today.

CWR: In the Preface to Freedom, Truth, and Human Dignity, you state that the book “seeks to promote a deeper understanding of the Second Vatican Council’s Declaration on Religious Freedom.” What are some specific reasons that such an understanding is important fifty years after the Council?

Dr. Healy: The Declaration on Religious Freedom, Dignitatis Humanae, was the most controversial document of the Second Vatican Council. A significant minority of Council fathers harbored reservations on the grounds that the Declaration seemed to depart from established Catholic doctrine on the duties of the state toward the Catholic religion. Within the majority that supported an affirmation of religious freedom, there were deep disagreements about the nature and foundation of the right to religious freedom and the relationship between freedom and truth. Although approved by an overwhelming majority of Council fathers and commended by Pope Paul VI as “one of the greatest documents” of the Council, Dignitatis Humanae has remained a source of controversy and debate. Behind Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre’s schismatic act of consecrating bishops without papal mandate was a conviction that the Declaration represented a departure from Catholic doctrine and a capitulation to the heresy of modernism. Among the supporters of religious freedom, the disagreements that accompanied the drafting of the Declaration have served as a fault line for differing accounts of the nature and ground of religious freedom, and the significance of this teaching for the relationship between the Church and modernity.

One reason why the Declaration continues to generate interest and debate is the central importance of the question of freedom for the Church’s encounter with contemporary culture. “The era we call modern times,” Joseph Ratzinger observed, “has been determined from the beginning by the theme of freedom; the striving for new forms of freedom.” Both Gaudium et spes and Dignitatis Humanae acknowledge the legitimacy of this aspiration for freedom. At the same time, the Council fathers recognized the need for a critical discernment of the modern idea of freedom in light of the truth of human nature and the Christian mystery of redemption in Christ.

Freedom is not simply the capacity to choose between alternatives; it is a sign of the ontological dignity of the human person who is created in love and called to live in communion with the truth. One of the great achievements of the Declaration is to develop an understanding of human dignity and human freedom that is grounded in the human person’s constitutive relation to God. In the words of John Paul II, “the freedom of the individual finds its basis in man’s transcendent dignity: a dignity given to him by God the Creator and Father, in whose image and likeness he was created.” There is no freedom without truth, and no truth without freedom.

In the face of new challenges and new threats to religious freedom, it is important to rediscover the Council’s authentic teaching on the right to religious freedom as grounded in the obligation to seek the truth about God. As Gaudium et spes teaches, once God is forgotten, the creature is lost sight of as well. Especially in our time, it is necessary to uphold the transcendent and relational dignity of the human person, who is created by God and destined to share in the “glorious freedom of the children of God” (Rom 8:21).

CWR: What are some of the resources that your book provides to help readers understand and interpret Dignitatis Humanae?

Dr. Healy: First of all, our book provides a new translation of the Declaration on Religious Freedom, side by side with the Latin text. Footnotes are provided that indicate alternative translations of important words or phrases from previous English translations.

Secondly, we have published—for the first time in English—the five schemas or draft texts that were debated and discussed during the Council. My chapter on “The Drafting of Dignitatis Humanae,” describes the genesis and redaction history of the document. A better awareness of the changes that were introduced into the final text as a result of the conciliar debate is essential for understanding the document’s continuity with and development of Catholic doctrine.

Thirdly, the book provides the conciliar interventions of Bishop Karol Wojtyla on religious freedom. Speaking of behalf of the entire Polish episcopate, Wojtyla’s interventions on the relationship between freedom and truth proved decisive for the final redaction of document.

Finally, the book includes a major interpretative essay by Schindler that explores the current state of the question and develops an extended argument on the meaning of the right to religious freedom. A passage from Schindler’s chapter sums up the argument:

It is not the case that, with the conciliar affirmation of religious freedom, the Church has signaled a new awareness of the importance of freedom in addition to, or even despite, her traditional emphasis on truth. On the contrary, with this conciliar teaching, rightly understood, the Church rather signals a development in her understanding of the inherent unity of truth with freedom and freedom with truth. While still affirming that the truth alone frees, she now affirms at the same time, in a more explicit way, that truth itself presupposes freedom, and that truth really does free.

CWR: What were some of the key issues debated and discussed by the Council bishops regarding religious freedom? Dr. Healy, what are some important insights that can be found in studying, as you have, the drafting of Dignitatis Humanae?

Dr. Healy: The first and most basic question discussed at the Council was how to understand the nature and foundation of the right to religious freedom. One of the significant shifts that occurred as a result of the conciliar debate was to ground the right to religious freedom in the obligation to seek the truth, especially the truth about God. This conceptual shift entails a further question. Does the person’s relation to God and to truth inform the meaning of human dignity and the content of the right to immunity from coercion? In his book John Paul II and the Legacy of Dignitatis Humanae, Jesuit Father Hermínio Rico frames this question as follows:

The basic issue at [the] level of the foundation of the right to religious freedom has to do with the kind of definitive answer to the following question: Where does human dignity ultimately rest in the person? . . . [Does it rest in] the freedom inherent in every person? . . . Or is it the person’s relationship with transcendent truth?

As suggested by Rico, the underlying question involves the relationship between human freedom and truth. One school of thought—represented by John Courtney Murray and Pietro Pavan—tended to view the right to religious freedom as a formally juridical concept that abstracts from the question of truth. “Religious freedom,” writes Pavan, “does not concern . . . the person’s relation to truth.” More recently, Martin Rhonheimer has endorsed a version of this position.

Another group—made up of bishops especially from France, Italy, and Poland—considered the link between freedom and truth as foundational for human dignity and as informing the right to religious freedom. In a crucial intervention during the fourth and final session of the Council, French Bishop Ancel stated concisely: “the obligation to seek the truth is itself the ontological foundation of religious freedom.” One of the key discoveries that we made while undertaking research for this book was that early drafts of the Declaration were significantly enriched and deepened in response to the concerns of Bishops Wojtyla, Columbo, and Ancel—concerns which Paul VI shared.

A second and related issue that was discussed at the Council involves the “due limits” to religious freedom. This question in turn presupposes an account of the nature and purpose of political authority. Consider, for example, two very different proposals regarding the responsibility of the state:

The civil power also, and not only each of the citizens, has the duty of accepting the revelation proposed by the Church itself. Likewise, in its legislation, it must conform itself to the precepts of the natural law and take a strict account of the positive laws, both divine and ecclesiastical, intended to lead men to supernatural beatitude. . . . It devolves seriously upon the civil power to exclude from legislation, government, and public activity everything it would judge to be capable of impeding the Church from attaining its eternal end.

Religious acts, in which men and women privately and publicly order themselves toward God out of a personal, intimate conviction, transcend the temporal and earthly order of things. In performing these acts, therefore, man is not subject to the civil power, whose competence, on account of its end, is restricted to the earthly and temporal order, and whose legislative power extends only to external actions. The public power, therefore, since it cannot pass judgment on interior religious acts, likewise cannot coerce or impede the public exercise of religion, provided that the demands of public order are preserved. . . . The public power completely exceeds its limits if it involves itself in any way in the governing of minds or the care of souls.

The first text, taken from the preparatory schema De Ecclesia drafted under the direction of Cardinal Ottaviani, presupposes the traditional Catholic view that the purpose of political authority is to care for the temporal common good. According to this view, responsibility for the common good includes an acknowledgment of the truth of the Catholic religion and allows the suppression of public manifestations of false religions. The second text, taken from an earlier draft of Dignitatis Humanae (the 3rd draft or “textus emendatus”), suggests the total incompetence of the state in religious matters. Instead of the traditional idea of responsibility for the common good, the “textus emendatus” presents the purpose of political authority in terms of “protecting, cultivating, and defending the natural rights of all citizens.”

The final text of the Declaration on Religious Freedom differs from both of these earlier drafts. Dignitatis Humanae describes the purpose or “proper end” of political authority as “the care of the temporal common good” (DH, 3). At the same time, the Declaration develops the idea of the common good in light of a new awareness of the dignity and freedom of human persons. In terms of the disputed question of the state’s responsibility for the truth and practice of religion, the Declaration acknowledges the transcendent nature of religious acts. Accordingly, political authority “would be said to exceed its limit if it presumes either to direct or to impede religious acts” (DH, 3). At the same time, care for the common good requires that political authority should “acknowledge and show favor to the religious life of its citizens” (DH, 3). It is not possible for the state to be neutral or simply to abstract from questions about the truth of human nature and the truth of religion.

A third issue, which presupposes and implicates the preceding questions, concerns the development of doctrine. Can the affirmation of a right to religious freedom be interpreted as an authentic development rather than a reversal or contradiction of earlier teaching by popes Gregory XVI, Pius IX, and Leo XIII? Most commentators agree that Dignitatis Humanae represents a shift or new development with respect to the teaching and practice of these nineteenth century popes. Does the novelty of the Declaration represent an authentic development or a rupture with the preceding tradition? Despite their obvious differences, “traditionalist” theologians such as Marcel Lefebvre and Michael Davies, and “progressive” theologians such as Charles Curran, Richard McCormick, and John T. Noonan share a common assumption: the Declaration on Religious Freedom represents a break with or contradiction of earlier papal teaching. The former argue that the teaching of the Declaration is erroneous, while the latter theologians often adduce the example of the Declaration to support other possible changes in Catholic doctrine.

In our view, both of these positions represent a false hermeneutic for a conciliar text, and both positions overlook the true significance of the Declaration.

CWR: Today, what are some of the more common or influential misunderstandings or misrepresentations of the Declaration? What are some examples of their influence in contemporary debates or situations?

Dr. Schindler: The most common misinterpretations of the Declaration are tied to ideas regarding the human being that are generally operative in the culture. The right to religious freedom, in the prevailing view, is essentially “negative”; it has to do primarily with each person’s immunity from coercion by others. It is of course true that a right entails such a “negative” immunity. The crucial question, however, arises when we ponder its foundation. The Declaration roots the right to immunity in man’s nature and in his moral obligation to seek the truth, especially religious truth (par.2). ‘[E]verybody,” it says, “has the duty and consequently the right to seek the truth in religious matters. . .” (par. 3). The right to religious freedom has a primarily positive meaning: because I am by nature made for the truth, and am thus morally obliged to search for it, therefore I must not be restricted by others in this search. My (negative) right to immunity from coercion takes its first meaning from within my natural (positive) relation to the truth.

When the foundation and nature of the right to religious freedom are conceived in this way, we are able to affirm such a right for every human being without exception—since every human being, exercising his own intelligence and freedom, is bound to seek the truth about God. And at the same time we uphold the negative right to immunity—because this immunity remains the necessary condition for, even as it remains tied to, the obligation to seek the truth.

The Declaration, in a word, bases the right to religious freedom on a human dignity that consists in man’s spiritual faculties of reason and free will, as these are ordered to and bound by the truth regarding the nature and destiny of the human being.

We can offer a second example of why Catholics often tend to misinterpret the Declaration. In liberal cultures, the tendency is to conceive the truth mostly as a limit and thus a burden to freedom. We typically conceive freedom in terms of simple freedom of choice—what the late Fr. Servais Pinckaers called “freedom of indifference.” On this view, the more options I keep open, the freer I am; the more I permit freedom to be shaped by truth, the less free I am. Needless to say, this view lends itself to a definite conception of political order. Given such a view, the tendency will be to order political society in terms of a freedom abstracted from truth. Why? Because ordering society around truth would by definition—for those who follow this view—threaten the political freedom of those who have different versions of what counts as true. It is hardly surprising, then, that Catholics living in liberal societies incline toward what is called the “juridical” interpretation of religious freedom. The juridical approach understands the hallmark of constitutional order to lie in freedom, or the right to immunity, in abstraction from questions of truth and moral obligation to the truth. Catholics often take for granted that it was just this juridical approach that was enshrined as the authentic teaching of the Council. But this interpretation misses the express burden of the significant changes made in Schema 5 of the Declaration, which are discussed in detail in our book.

CWR: Is it correct to say, Dr. Schindler, that in your interpretive essay you argue that the Declaration does not, as some insist, mark a break with the Church’s previous teaching about truth and freedom, but advances a deeper and integrated development of her understanding of the two? What are some essential aspects of your interpretation?

Dr. Schindler: If one assumes that the central teaching of the Declaration lies in its affirmation of an individual’s negative right to immunity, then of course this teaching will appear to represent a significant break from the past: formerly the Church emphasized the need for truth in the social-political order; now she has caught up with modern civilization, with its emphasis on “negative” freedom. But the claim that the Declaration displaced the Church’s perennial concern for truth essentially with a concern for freedom simply cannot be sustained on a proper reading of the text.

Is there a sense in which we can—or rightly must—say that the Declaration’s defense of religious freedom involves a genuine development in Church teaching? Yes—in the sense that the Church now draws out more explicitly how the realization of truth itself demands interiorization by a human-spiritual subject. Truth does not lie merely in an external correspondence between the mind and reality–which would open the door more readily to the use of coercive measures in effecting this correspondence. Truth consists rather in the mind’s interior “re-presencing” of reality, which requires the active participation of the person’s mind and will. My essay unfolds this claim especially in light of the work of philosopher Josef Pieper.

For the Council, a truth that is coerced does not measure up to what is understood as truth in the ancient-medieval sense. In the phrasing of John Paul II, the truth is to be proposed, not imposed (Redemptoris Missio, 39, 46). But let us be clear: the Declaration does not thereby deny the need for good laws, or abandon the essentially pedagogical purpose of the juridical order of society affirmed by St. Thomas. The Declaration re-affirms the Church’s perennial concern for the common good. While employing the more juridically conceived term, “public order,” to characterize the end of political authority, the Declaration consistently adds substantive qualifiers—in the name of the common good, justice, objective moral order, and the like (cf. DH, a. 7).

According to the Declaration, freedom is indeed to be vigorously protected in the political order, but only as ordered to the objective common good—at the heart of which is the dignity of the human person in his relation to truth, especially as it concerns God. Karol Wojtyla, for example, argued strongly that failure to qualify the meaning of “public order” in this way would leave society logically vulnerable to relativism, and the final text of the Declaration reflects these concerns. We may say, then, that Vatican II, in its Declaration on Religious Freedom, provides a key example of the continuity within discontinuity that Pope Benedict XVI affirmed as characteristic of the Council’s teaching, when properly interpreted.

My chapter also looks at the question of doctrinal development in connection with Brian Tierney’s well-known historical argument regarding rights. Tierney defends a continuity between the ancients and the moderns in the matter of rights’ theories. But he does so in terms of the priority of rights in their modern sense—as immunities. Tierney thus claims that rights as immunities are already implicit in classical-medieval thinkers, and that the emphasis by moderns on the negative meaning of rights can be interpreted to respect man’s positive social responsibilities as emphasized by the pre-moderns. My chapter, however, argues that Dignitatis Humanae in fact affirms something closer to the inverse of Tierney. The Declaration does indeed presuppose a continuity within discontinuity between medievals and moderns regarding human rights, but the continuity is established first in the terms developed in the medieval period by thinkers like Aquinas. The difference lies in the priority of truth, in a double sense: it is truth itself that demands the right to the religious freedom; and the right to religious freedom is intrinsically affirmed, but as always informed by freedom’s ordering to truth.

The teaching of the Council thus demands conformity with the modern notion of rights only insofar as it demands transformation of such rights: affirming the negative meaning of rights as shaped by the positive meaning of what rights are for.

CWR: There is, of course, much discussion today in the U.S. and the West about religious freedom and liberty. How might Dignitatis Humanae and your study of it help make sense of the conflicts between Church and state and between religious faith and secular/civil law?

Dr. Schindler: The Declaration doesn’t formally engage the question of the Church-State relationship, but its teaching clearly implies principles that are crucial for understanding this relationship. What are these principles?

The perception prevalent in liberal societies today, with their “”juridical” approach to rights, is that the separation of Church and State implies neutrality regarding religious truth and practices. The position taken in the Declaration implies rejection of such neutrality.

The idea of neutrality is invariably tied to the view that freedom is an “empty” act of choice that can be legitimately considered in abstraction from any order toward transcendence. But such a view does not avoid a definite conception of freedom; on the contrary, it embodies the conception of freedom called freedom of indifference—as already mentioned. Freedom of indifference by definition makes over all claims of religious truth into optional, or arbitrary, claims.

The idea of religious neutrality on the part of the state thus falls into two basic errors. It governs in the name of fair procedures designed to protect freedom conceived as freedom of indifference. This results in what is often termed procedural relativism—but it is important to note that the relativism is a function of the specific kind of (false) freedom guiding the procedures. At the same time, the “juridical” approach favors religions or churches that are voluntaristic in nature: that take relation to God to be primarily a function of choice. All traditional world religions, on the contrary, understand man’s relation to God to be already initiated in man in the act of creation. According to these religions, the human being is by nature religious (homo religiosus), even as the realization of the truth of one’s religious nature of course presupposes the exercise of freedom. The “juridical” approach to church-state questions in this way legally (even if only unconsciously) favors “sects” in preference to traditional world religions—like Roman Catholicism.

Regarding religious faith and civil law, then: the language of “competence” was used in Schema 2, and it is sometimes still said in discussions regarding the Declaration that the state is incompetent in matters of religion. But the final draft omitted the language of incompetence, and in fact the term can be problematic. For, as indicated, every state will necessarily favor some idea of man vis-à-vis religious truth. The state will operate “competently”—even if not in an explicit sense: it will treat religious activity either as primarily optional for man or as primarily natural to him (and thus as something that is necessary for him if he is to live with integrity, also in his political life).

The teaching of the Declaration regarding religion and the competence of the civil power (potestas civilis), then, carries two claims. On the one hand, the civil power cannot be the first or final arbiter of religion and religious truth and practice, and in this sense the state must remain “incompetent” in religious matters. At the same time, this negation of competence itself already indicates a kind of competence, inasmuch as it implies some positive conception of religion in its transcendent nature: that is why the state can never presume to be a proper arbiter of religion, qua religion (cf. DH, 3)! Indeed, the Declaration goes further in the matter of religious competence: it says that the state should “show favor to the religious life of its citizens” (DH, 3), and “effectively undertake . . . to provide favorable conditions for fostering religious life” (DH, 6). The negative prohibition implied by “incompetence,” therefore, according to the Declaration, would always, at least tacitly, presuppose a (positive) recognition of the transcendent nature of religion on the part of the state, and any defense of the state’s “incompetence” can be rightly understood only in terms of such (positive) recognition.

This reading of the Declaration carries surprising implications in the face of the common perception that the Declaration demands a posture of religious neutrality from the state. In fact, on a proper reading of the document, there is no problem in principle for the state to promote conditions favoring claims of truth regarding religion—for neutrality in such matters is in any case logically impossible! Indeed, there is no problem in principle for Catholics to promote conditions favoring the Catholic understanding of the nature and destiny of man. On the contrary, the Declaration rightly interpreted entrusts Catholics with the task of undertaking precisely this mission of truth regarding the ultimate meaning of man. (“All men are bound to seek the truth, especially in what concerns God and his Church, and embrace it and hold on to it as they come to know it”: DH, 1). The crucial point is simply that this missionary service, elicited by the truth of the “Catholic and Apostolic Church” (DH, 1), be carried out in a way that is vigilant in protecting the right to immunity from coercion for all citizens. It is indeed the hallmark claim of the Church that the truth of Jesus Christ liberates human freedom in the fullest sense, as a core implication of its own truth (cf. DH, Ch. 2).

CWR: In that same context, what mistakes should Catholics avoid in addressing issues of religious freedom? And what ways in which Catholics can advance a robust and orthodox understanding of the same?

Dr. Schindler: Perhaps the simplest way to reply to these questions is recall the summary judgment of John Courtney Murray regarding the Declaration. (As is well-known, Murray was the “first scribe” of Schema 3 of the Declaration.) Murray had two major concerns regarding the document in its final form. First, he worried that founding the right to religious freedom on the obligation to seek the truth could provide justification for states to impose the truth, in order thereby to hasten citizens’ arrival at the truth they were meant to seek. Second, he thought that the Council Fathers’ insistence on binding freedom explicitly with truth reflected a failure to distinguish Anglo-American liberalism’s formal-juridical approach to rights adequately from French-Continental liberalism’s repressive-secularist approach. Finally, notwithstanding these two reservations, Murray believed that the hallmark claim of the final Declaration remained its “negative” conception of the right to religious freedom as an immunity.

In response our book argues, regarding the first: that the Council Fathers were at pains to insist that, on a Catholic understanding, it is truth itself that demands freedom, even as freedom retains its essential link with truth—even in the civil-political order. Regarding the second: the Council Fathers perceived that the would-be purely juridical notion of freedom logically implies a freedom of indifference that leads to relativism, despite its apparently innocent “procedural” intentions. Regarding the third: the effort of our book is to show that, if truth and freedom are indissoluble, also-even in the political order, it follows that a negative right to freedom can be properly secured, always and everywhere, only from within the human person’s positive ordering toward and by the truth.

If Catholics are going to avoid mistakes in addressing issues regarding religious freedom, and promote a faithful interpretation of the Church’s teaching regarding religious freedom, it seems to us that they will have to achieve clarity especially with respect to these issues raised by Murray in his concluding judgment regarding the Declaration.

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About Carl E. Olson 1197 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @carleolson.


  1. We read that “the ‘juridical’ approach favors religions or churches that are voluntaristic in nature: that take relation to God to be primarily a function of CHOICE.”

    Like Schindler and Healy (Jr.), St. Augustine rejected today’s specious understanding of “choice.” He held that true freedom “cannot be reduced to a sense of choice: it is freedom to act FULLY . . . For a sense of choice is a symptom of the disintegration of will: the final union of knowledge and feeling would involve a man in the object of his choice in such a way that any other alternative would be INCONCEIVABLE” (Augustine in the words of Peter Brown, Augustine of Hippo, 1967).

    The Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family at the Catholic University of America is a satellite of the recently modified (including staff changes) John Paul II Pontifical Theological Institute for Marriage and Family Sciences. May the former institute continue to illuminate any overt or subliminal moral ambiguities possibly embedded in the “social science” statistical magisterium (an asymptomatic carrier of the secularist virus!)—as in an “inconceivable” compartmentalization of affirmed moral principles apart from admissible practices or even subcultures.

    In addition to spotlighting the book under interview (2015), Veritatis Splendor and the Theology of the Body should not be allowed to go silently in the night. The irreducible truth is the “TRANSCENDENT dignity of the human person.”

  2. The many finer points in the article, bit above the head …

    The focal point that ‘ everybody has the duty and consequently the right to seek the truth in religious matters ‘..
    Profound indeed ,esp. from the point of the right of the unborn ..

    and the trust in the Holy Spirit with which that blessing is given , that all who truly seek The Truth would find who that IS –

    St.John Paul 11 , present at The Council , very likely hand picked by The Spirit for the related Divine Mercy mission and motto –
    ‘ Jesus , I trust in You ‘ ,
    to bring many , to the truth of the holiness of God , the oneness of His attributes of holiness and love as One , pouring in His holiness as mercy into the wounded in the merits of The Precious Blood , thus freeing many from the agents that cloud and confuse the truth in hearts , seeing unbridled slavery to carnal spirits and its brokenness as ‘freedom ‘ .
    The millions and even billions spent by the ‘princes’ of this world , to destroy the right of the unborn – does not The Church have the right for huge reparations , from all involved !

  3. So if I am following you correctly, I as a parent should never have Baptised my children or taught them the Faith. I should allow them to come to it on their own? Seriously, I know some friends whose son, a very well educated man, told his parents that. But that flys in the face of the New Testament accounts of entire families being brought into the Faith. Just my opinion, I think the only way is a confessional state, where the Catholic Faith is the Faith of the land, and where others can practice their religion freely, but not evangelize or protestantize the citizens. In the US and other countries, and families, this so-called freedom of religion has destroyed the True Faith of millions and millions of Catholics. On paper it sounds good, in practice, it leads people and even priests and bishops to believe, and put into practice by example, one religion is just as good as another. I believe it continues to wreak havoc on the True Faith because it is a very confusing topic. I think this idea is part of the Enlightenment, and the experiment has gone badly. Against all evidence, we keep trying to push a drug that does not help. Maybe I am just misunderstanding the whole thing.

    • No, you’ve hit the nail squarely. The confessional state – like a good “Patria” is as a good father who instructs his children in The Faith. This is a tremendous benefit to the children who will know the truth (as least rudimentarily), which – far from inhibiting their seeking – will serve as so many guideposts and an abiding source of encouragement to seek Truth…

  4. What this article demonstrates with terrifying clarity is how esoterically ambiguous and open to wildly different and directly contradictory interpretations Dignitatis Humanae is. What sort of authentically Catholic magisterium is there that after 55 year of examination and interpretation is incapable of being understood and accepted on a common, consistent, articulable basis by legions of trained theologians, let alone comprehended by 1.2 billion lay Catholics? Its practical effect has been precisely to install the relativistic believe-whatever-you-want “freedom of indifference” as the practical normative absolute in every Western nation.

  5. I never thought Dignitatis Humanae was all that difficult to understand. First and foremost, this document condemns forced conversion, i.e forced acceptance of a particular religion. This is what is meant, in the context of the document, by freedom of conscience. This is opposite of what we see, for example, in Islamic law where non-believers are punished by either being killed or become second class citizens. This freedom of conscience is in accord with ‘free will’ as granted by God. On the other hand, we are required to seek the truth, which is the one true Church, the Catholic Church. Thus, I don’t see how this document can be interpreted as making all religions equal.

    As far as the state is concerned, all laws are based on someone’s moral principles. The question is, who’s moral principles? The US constitution is based on Judaeo/Christian principles with freedom of religion, as opposed to a theocracy such as found in an Islamic state. As our society becomes more secularized we see some of these principles eroding, especially in the acceptance of abortion and liberalization of sexual morality. We also see a gradual, and more recently accelerated, denial of religious freedom. God has put in place natural laws, which when violated lead to chaos and division, as viewed by the direction our present society is heading.

    Thus, I see two major themes In Dignitatis Humanae
    – Freedom from religious coercion, i.e. forced conversion, or the establishment of a theocracy
    – A moral obligation to seek the truth, which is the one true faith, the Catholic Church

  6. Blessed Feast of St.Ignatius , to all at CWR ; may his prayers continue to help in deeper gratitude for the freedom through holiness given us all through The Church and the Sacraments , for The Council having been about focus on this important aspect of our times , thus calling forth for The Spirit to help thwart the rampant attacks prepared against same .

    May The Spirit help many to discern and repent of the occasions of hampering the freedom owed each other – freedom for the babies to be born into holy families where marriage is seen as occasions for each other to be the gifts of holiness and its freedom and peace , free of the subtle slavery of the ‘user ‘ attitudes of contraceptive mentality and so forth .
    Thank God that the Spirit continue to guide and lead The Church in these times , to counter all these varied ways that such freedom has been under attack and holds forth the hope and compassion to trust in the The Father’s riches , given us in The Son, thus to help many to return to that freedom too .

      on the effects of sins against life , ‘ breaking the seals of hell and letting the demons out ‘ – how nations get possessed , when freedom to worship the True God is misused , instead calling on those very agents who are there to do the opposite .
      Thank God that The Council was to prepare The Church for what was to come !

  7. “For the Council, a truth that is coerced does not measure up to what is understood as truth in the ancient-medieval sense. In the phrasing of John Paul II, the truth is to be proposed, not imposed Redemptoris Missio, 39, 46 (Dr Schindler). Dr Schindler in summation juxtaposes “a juridical freedom of indifference and relativism to the indissolubility of truth and freedom ”. Does John Paul actually refer to the non Christian searching for truth or to the baptized Caholic? If we reference The Doctrinal Commentary to Ad Tuendam Fidem propagated by John Paul II coercion is required regarding the Deposit of Faith. For baptized Catholics. True in the modern world of Liberty the supreme juridical principle persons may not be coerced to believe either by State or religion. If it may be construed from Dignitatis Humanae that it affirms a freedom to discover God on one’s own terms, that revelation in the words of Christ is otherwise. We believe because God has spoken. Consequently the completion of a free act is to choose what is good. “French Bishop Ancel stated concisely: the obligation to seek the truth is itself the ontological foundation of religious freedom.” That inviolable principle is juxtaposed in a democraic pluralistic society to the religious right of any religious group. That is an acknowledgment to discover God on one’s own terms and permits religious tolerance and State protection. Unfortunately the distinction between a religious belief and State protection of presumed freedoms that are contrary to natural law is blurred. The State then presumes the position which the Church once held as supreme arbiter of religious belief. That in instances contrary to Catholic Christian belief and mandated by the State for Catholicism to accommodate. That is the inevitable and factual outcome of Dignitatis Humanae.

    • Addended to my comment is the “obligation” not simply to seek truth, but to adhere to it. That adherence completes the ontological nature of human freedom as it relates to that ultimate truth, who is God revealed in his Son. That is likely what John Paul II meant, if we interpret it in context of his complete opera to encompass in Redemptoris Missio, 39, 46. As explained earlier the revelation of God in the Person of Christ possesses intelligibility of the highest order, as such self evident to the intellect. Why we believe because God has spoken. Failure to recognize this has resulted in Catholic politicians promoting abortion and homosexuality. Insofar as freedom to search for ‘that’ truth we are not required to research Dr Shindler’s interpretation of Dignitatis Humanae, or to explore indigenous ritual practice in the rain forests of Amazonia. God has no need of that and most likely is repugnant to such in lieu of what his Son has revealed to the world.

      • We read: “Why we believe [is] because God has spoken. Failure to recognize this has resulted in Catholic politicians promoting abortion and homosexuality.”

        But possibly a little less “blurred” if the subordinate Dignitatis Humanea is ever read in conjunction with missing lines found elsewhere, in the superior and contextual (?) Constitution on the Church in the Modern World:

        “In the depths of his conscience, man detects a law be does not impose upon himself, but which holds him to obedience [….] the Council wishes to recall first of all the permanent binding force of universal natural law and its all-embracing principles” (Gaudium et spes, n. 16, 79).

    • Correction, should read: The Doctrinal Commentary to Ad Tuendam Fidem [promulgated by John Paul II written by Card Ratzinger] coercion is required regarding the Deposit of Faith. For baptized Catholics [and by inference everyone]. Natural Law principles are natural insofar as they inher in us by nature, the Natural Law Within. They cannot be conscientiously laid aside for consideration. Their rejection whether subject to questioning or dismissed outright is a wrongful, most likely in every instance a sin. As such the Church reminds us of the obligation to assent to those principles, a form of coercive admonition. Similar to Moses presenting Israel with the Decalogue.
      Revealed doctrine is similar as given in the Nicene Creed. Christ’s revelation to the World is not simply a matter of consideration; God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God are to be [must be] believed to be saved. If a village or town refused to believe the Apostles, ‘Truly I tell you, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town’ (Mt10 14). As in the above reference to conscience, coercion in respect to what must be legitimately and justly believed is not an imposition, rather it holds us to obedience to the truth.

  8. See the LIFESITE link.

    Czerny is not saying “Church is in decline”, he is saying Church has to be refashioned. He is proposing a supplanting of something supposedly outmoded and saying its irrelevance justifies replacing it. Its a well-crafted usurpation determined to go the distance in a relaxed atmosphere to conceal its impertinence.

    A former bishop where I live used to say the same things. His successor the present bishop is following through in a sort of perfection of harmony. This didn’t just develop at the beginning of the 21st Century; what we are seeing is the coming of age of long effort in fleshing out the idea and looking for opportunity and trying to muster forces and building like-mindedness -across regions.

    Dignitatis Humanae is not dogmatic, it is a declaration describing a format or platform for presenting the Christian witness and its content to the era. This is not original for the Church nor original to the present. It is ages’ old and there are so many examples it would be trite to reference one or two.

    Chapter 2, 12, DH, the individual is to be kept free of coercion in all matter to do with religion, is in keeping with the Christian tenet. The corollary is also true, the Christian is to be kept free of coercion. The particular malignity arising is the faithful Christian being told by the “new” counterpart Christian there is an “old Christianity” that is outmoded and useless that will die out and the “new” Christian doesn’t have to do anything about; also insisting that this is “founded on VATICAN II”.

    BUT this is not the meaning of either Dignitatis Humanae or VATICAN II.

    If your whole approach to VATICAN II is misconceived and/or deluded, you will want to draw from it what is not there and you will use your office to try to put it over as authentic; and I cite the example of Czerny of one manifestation of what is happening around VATICAN II.

    Not to point fingers, one can show cause (proofs), where, the same “Christian” one preaching the “new Church” business, is the very one offending religious freedom of Christians and doing it with “gracious” self-confidence and indifference and sometimes obstruction, in the Name of God.

    Where, however, your approach to the Council is confused or under-developed, you will not be able to tackle any of these issues properly nor be able to help others on it.

  9. Saying that a person has religious freedom is like saying that he can tell his math teacher that 2+2=5 and not be reprimanded – or corrected.

    While religion isn’t as straightforward as math it is capable of objective rational proof. As such, those who reject the true religion – the Catholic faith – will be held accountable by God and can be held accountable – to an extent – by the civil authority.

    • Don’t you think Mother Teresa is a perfect example of Dignitatis Humanae in action?

      Here’s what I can add, to help you. DH is a Declaration, it is subject to ecclesial experience and freedom according to the sensus fidei /fidelium.

      In contrast, Inter Mirifica is a Decree. Accord with Canon Law must be in the first place, in order to satisfy what it is anticipating.

      So if now you look back at the mission of Mother Teresa and her particular expressions you can see how she lived out VATICAN II before the good fellow who thought of it even had the inspiration. I would dare to hold that she was partly responsible for that inspiration.

      She would be one example.

      Going a little further, when post-Council new decrees are entered without right regard for the distinctions in the Council frameworks and integrity, you get a crossing of authorities and meanings, confliction with the Council and offerings not binding in conscience likely also voidable.

      When they would have been done by the Pope, his acting without due cause or purpose, in that independent manner, singularly, also would tend to be contrary to the Council; and where that is so, it would distort the simplicity in the Documents and bring an added scandal.

      Again, following Mother Teresa, you will find that none of her actions offend VATICAN II even though it didn’t exist to guide her.

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