American Cardinals Back Religious Liberty Draft

86th General Congregation
September 23, 1964

Three American cardinals spoke out strongly in support of the proposed council declaration on religious liberty.

Two of the Americans, Richard Cardinal Cushing of Boston and Albert Cardinal Meyer of Chicago, warmly favored approving the entire document with minor changes.

Joseph Cardinal Ritter of St. Louis, while giving full support to the substance of the document, declared he did not agree with some of the arguments advanced for various parts of the declaration. He proposed that when the council moderators ask the council Fathers to vote on accepting the present text as a basis for discussion, they take two votes — one on the acceptability of its substance and a second on the reasoning supporting it.

At the same council meeting the Fathers approved overwhelmingly a key amendment on the doctrine of collegiality, amendment 13. By a vote of 1,927 to 292, the council Fathers approved the statement that the order of bishops, which succeeds the College of the Apostles and in which the Apostolic College continues with the Roman pontiff as its head, is the subject of supreme and full power over the universal Church. One invalid vote and four null votes were cast.

Before the debate on religious liberty was opened, Bishop Charles P. Greco of Alexandria, La., spoke on the schema on bishops and the government of dioceses to ask that a reference to the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine be inserted as well as an exhortation to the world’s bishops to establish CCD centers where they are not already in existence.

Paul Cardinal Leger of Montreal gave strong support to the religious freedom declaration and even advocated freedom of non-belief. But Ernesto Cardinal Ruffini of Palermo, Italy, and Alfredo Cardinal Ottaviani, secretary of the Congregation of the Holy Office, were less enthusiastic. A Yugoslav, Bishop Smiljan Cekada of Skoplje, proposed that the council draft a proposal to be submitted to the United Nations, asking that it promulgate a declaration on religious liberty in all lands and nations, including freedom of all church activities.

The meeting opened with Pope Paul VI’s entrance into St. Peter’s basilica carrying a silver reliquary containing the head of St. Andrew, which the Pope is having sent back to Patras, Greece, as a gesture of brotherhood with Orthodox Christians. The reliquary was placed on the altar and Paolo Cardinal Marella of the Roman curia celebrated the Mass of St. Andrew, while the Sistine choir sang. After Mass, the eulogy was delivered by Franziskus Cardinal Koenig of Vienna.

The business of the 86th council meeting got underway after the ceremonies, but the reliquary remained on the altar instead of the usual enthroned Gospel.

After two Fathers spoke on the schema on bishops, the day’s moderator, Leo Cardinal Suenens of Malines-Brussels, opened the floor to the religious liberty declaration. Bishop Emile De Smedt of Bruges, Belgium, was the declaration’s relator, informing the Fathers how the document was drawn up and what problems had been encountered and anticipated in its drafting.

Nine cardinals and one bishop took the floor in the opening day’s discussion. Cardinal Cushing was the first American and the fourth cardinal to speak. Those present said the cardinal’s Latin was clear and somewhat oratorical in style for his first speech of the council.

Both Cardinal Cushing and Cardinal Meyer announced they were speaking in the name of practically all the American bishops. It was explained that they spoke in the name of all U.S. bishops who had attended a recent meeting called to discuss the declaration.

Cardinal Cushing led off by expressing satisfaction that the declaration had finally come before the council. He said the declaration was much awaited by non-Catholics and dealt with a practical question of major importance.

He summed up its contents with the English-language phrase, “a decent respect for the opinions of mankind.” He declared the Church must champion religious liberty, and if any changes are to be made, they should strengthen rather than weaken the document.

Boston’s cardinal pointed out that the Church has always championed freedom for its own activities and that now it is up to the council to proclaim that what it asks for itself it also asks for every human being.

Toward the end of his speech, Cardinal Cushing again used English to quote the statement of Lord Acton, British political scientist, that “freedom is the highest political end.” He also cited Pope John XXIII, who stated that every well-ordered society seeks to guarantee its members a life according to truth, justice, love and freedom.

Each of these characteristics is reflected in the concept of religious liberty, Cardinal Cushing said.

Truth is reflected, he said, because all men have a right to human dignity, and society cannot discriminate against its members.

Justice is reflected, he went on, because it requires that all men enjoy the civil rights due to human nature and dignity.

Love is reflected because nothing is more destructive of unity, concord and fraternal charity than attacks on religion.

Lastly, freedom of civil liberty is reflected because it is a necessary means to achieve the higher ends of man.

Cardinal Meyer said in his address that the declaration is in accord with Pope John’s teaching in the encyclical Pacem in Terris. He added that its passage is absolutely necessary for five reasons:

First, men want from the Church the promotion of religious liberty.

Second, because it will give the Church the opportunity of giving example to governments as to how they should treat religious bodies within their borders.

Third, it will teach Catholics that true religion consists in the free, generous and conscious acceptance of God.

Fourth, the apostolate of the Church will be assisted by the demonstration that none can be led to the Faith by force but only by hearing, preaching and receiving the gift of God.

Finally, it will lead to a fruitful dialogue with non-Catholics and work for the cause of Christian unity.

Cardinal Meyer conceded that he thought some changes should be made in the text, but he warned that if the declaration is not passed, nothing else enacted by the council will make much difference.

Cardinal Ritter said there were good reasons for accepting the declaration and praised it for its pastoral character, its prudence and its adaptability. He said he agreed with its substance but disagreed with some of the reasoning advanced to support various parts of the document and recommended the elimination of elements which would give rise to controversy among the council Fathers. Instead, he said, he would like to see adopted a simple statement affirming religious liberty.

He stated that it is not the duty of the council to demonstrate or argue but simply to declare; not to argue but to state. Moreover, a simple statement, he said, would be more to the point and have greater effect.

Finally, he warned that in his opinion some of the arguments advanced are not solid and would lead some Fathers to vote against the declaration even though they endorse the principle of religious freedom.

For this reason, he said, he was asking the moderators that when the general discussion is completed they do not present the entire document for a simple acceptance or rejection. He proposed that the Fathers be asked to vote first on the acceptability of the substance of the declaration and then on the acceptability of its arguments. This would leave the door open for another document if present arguments are rejected, he said.

Cardinal Leger, speaking for several Canadian bishops, stated that the text was very satisfactory. He praised the document as being a prudent and cautious one that sought to safeguard men’s’ rights.

But he criticized the text for referring to believers only and omitting non-believers. He said the Church must defend the freedom even of non-believers. He also noted that in the text, as it now stands, the foundation given for the right of religious freedom presupposes the existence of God. This is objectionable to non-believers, he continued, and does not provide for their protection. Instead of presupposing God’s existence, he proposed that the foundation for the right of religious freedom should be based on the idea that religious freedom is the highest peak of human reason.

In his introduction, Bishop De Smedt noted that 380 written observations had been sent to the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity prior to the drafting of the declaration and that all had been considered carefully.

He said several improvements had been made in the present text over the previous one. One of these is that the notion of religious freedom is more clearly expressed, he said. He added that the rights of religious groups are dealt with more explicitly, that there is more effort to show that religious freedom comes from divine law and that there are sections pointing out how religious freedom can be more effectively promoted.

Bishop De Smedt noted that the declaration speaks of religious freedom rather than of religious tolerance. The reason for this, he said, is that the Church is speaking to the modern world and it must use modern terms as used by all others.

He said that the present text avoided two difficulties — that of presenting simply a list of practical points and that of turning the declaration into a merely juridical treatise. He pointed out that the basic foundation of religious liberty is the nature of the human person as created by God. The right to religious liberty rests on the fact that under the guidance of his conscience, every human person must obey God’s call and His will.

The Bishop said the text holds that men must try to learn God’s will and, in the case of believing Catholics, they must not act as if the Church has not received its authority from God and must inquire into what the Church teaches. Turning to the part of the text dealing with the restriction of religious liberty, the Bishop pointed out that it does not appeal to the notion of the common good but goes more deeply to the end established by God for society. He added, however, that it is impossible to find any formula which cannot be distorted by abuse in the hands of ill-intentioned public authority.

Lastly, the Bishop reported that the text notes that public authority is not expected to be neutral, but must indirectly favor the religious life of its citizens. But the state does not have the power to pass a judgment on the religious life of its citizens or subordinate the life of religious groups to its own political ends, he continued. This means that the government is to have a lay character but is not to accept a secularism which would be offensive to religion and which is forbidden by the natural law.

The first Father to speak on the declaration was Cardinal Ruffini. He called for a change in its title, suggesting it be called “Freedom to Profess Religion” or “Free Exercise of Religion.” He warned against confusing freedom with tolerance. Freedom is proper to truth, he said, and only truth has rights.  Tolerance must be patient and kindly, he said.

He objected to the section dealing with public officials. He declared that these officials cannot be forbidden to accept a state religion which they believe to be true, although without prejudice to the religions of others. He said limiting this would mean repudiating concordats signed by the Holy See and other countries.

Fernando Cardinal Quiroga y Palacios of Santiago de Compostela, Spain, called for complete revision of the declaration. His objection was that while it furthers union with separated Christians, it ignores grave dangers to the faith and charity of Catholics. He said it seems to have been written for Protestant countries with no thought to the situation in Catholic countries.

Charging that the text deals more with new elements than traditional ones and does not maintain a balance between continuity and progress, he asked that it be rejected and a new declaration be drawn up by a new mixed commission of experts.

Jose Cardinal Bueno y Monreal of Seville, Spain, said the declaration was generally correct doctrinally but that one weakness was that it descended from the doctrinal level to the juridical or political level. He also stated that sometimes it is lawful to prohibit the spread of error when it can do harm to those who want to profess the faith they have received from Christ.

Raul Cardinal Silva Henriquez of Santiago, Chile, speaking for 58 Latin American bishops, said he liked the text and that it was better than the one of the 1963 session. He said the declaration will have special impact on the work of evangelization, particularly in Latin America. He stated that the Latin American people need a new Christianization and that this declaration will be a spur to purer apostolic activity and not stop at simple proselytism.

Cardinal Ottaviani was the last cardinal to speak. He said he found some exaggerations in the text. He took exception to the statement that man, even in error, is worthy of honor. He said that man in error is deserving of charity and kindness but it is not clear that he is entitled to honor.

Cardinal Ottaviani said the declaration contains elements beyond ecumenism and does not pay sufficient attention to non-Christian religions. He declared that attention must be paid not only to natural rights but also to supernatural rights, and added that those professing a revealed religion have rights over and above those coming from natural law.

Father Robert Trisco of Chicago, expert on Church history, told the U.S. bishops’ press panel that Cardinal Ottaviani was making the point that those who have a religion revealed by God have both an objective and subjective right to religious freedom, while those professing a non-revealed religion have a subjective right only.

Cardinal Ottaviani said that Catholics must profess their faith no matter what the consequences. Like Cardinal Ruffini, he took issue with the section dealing with the establishment of state religions and cited the effect this would have on concordats. Many benefits have come from these agreements, he said, such as the protection of marriage and religious education in the concordat with Italy.

The Cardinal further declared that it is not lawful to admit the freedom to spread a religion when this may harm the unity of a Catholic nation and culminate in weakening it. He also wanted all sections of the declaration dealing with proselytism omitted, warning that it could be used against the Church to oust it from mission territories. Let us take care not to arm our adversaries, he warned.

The last speaker of the day was the Yugoslav bishop, who said that no matter what the reasons given in the text, it is imperative to have a declaration on religious liberty. He noted that Marxism always strikes at religious freedom when it is in a position to do so and allows such freedom only when it is not opportune to suppress it.

Bishop Cekada called on the council Fathers to send an appeal to the United Nations to issue a declaration proclaiming solemnly the obligation of respecting religious freedom in any land or nation, including all forms of religious activity. He asked that a special commission of Fathers be appointed to draw up an appeal and told them it would not be beneath the council’s dignity to do so.

Before the opening of debate on the declaration, the council business included the special Mass, voting on six amendments to the schema on bishops and two statements concluding debate on that schema.

In addition to the passage of amendment 13, which is regarded by many as the key amendment touching on the doctrine of collegiality, five others were passed by large majorities.

The text of amendment 13 said that the order of bishops, succeeding the College of Apostles in the teaching authority and pastoral government, in union with its head, the Roman pontiff, and never without this head, is likewise a subject of supreme and full power over the universal Church, but this power may never be exercised independently of the Roman pontiff.

The other five amendments and the results of the voting are:

Fourteenth — That the power of binding and loosing given to St. Peter personally was also given to the College of Apostles in union with its head. “Yes,” 1,943; “no,” 307.

Fifteenth — That with due respect for the primacy and authority of its head, bishops exercise their own power for the welfare of the faithful and even of the whole Church through the help of the Holy Spirit. “Yes,” 2,096; “no,” 152.

Sixteenth — That this supreme power is exercised in ecumenical councils. Only the Roman pontiff can invoke, preside over and confirm the councils. There can be no ecumenical council not confirmed or at least accepted by a successor of St. Peter. “Yes,” 2,114; “no,” 127.

Seventeenth — That this same collegial power in union with the pope can be exercised by bishops throughout the world provided that the head of the college calls them to collegial action or at least approves of their unified action freely. “Yes,” 2,006; “no,” 204.

Eighteenth — That the collegial union of the bishops is reflected in their relationships with their particular churches and with the Church universal. Individual bishops represent their churches and all of them together with the pope represent the entire Church in the bond of peace, love and unity. “Yes,” 2,163; “no,” 56.

In addition to Bishop Greco’s statement on behalf of the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Auxiliary Bishop Rafael Gonzales Moralejo of Valencia, Spain, spoke on the schema on bishops. He spoke of the need for a clear statement on the Church’s freedom in naming bishops.

He called on the council to formulate concrete principles on episcopal appointments. He said it must be stated clearly what the competent authority is, what aids this authority can count on and what is the role of apostolic nuncios in bringing about these appointments. He suggested that nominations should be left in the hands of national bishops’ conferences after consulting with priests of the interested dioceses and taking into account the opinion of the laity.

James C. O’Neill
NCWC News Rome correspondent

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