Don’t Forget Lack of Religious Freedom Behind Iron Curtain, Argues Cardinal

87th General Congregation
September 24, 1964

An Austrian cardinal has urged the ecumenical council to speak in the name of all men to seek freedom of religion behind the Iron Curtain.

Franziskus Cardinal Koenig of Vienna appealed to the council during debate on the proposed declaration on religious liberty not to forget “the tragic fact” that many nations under atheistic communist rule are deprived of religious freedom and that in many such nations religious education is either impeded or punished.

Meanwhile, an American priest told the same meeting that unless the ecumenical council defends religious freedom, the Catholic Church can no longer be considered a champion of liberty.

Father Joseph Buckley, S.M., superior general of the Marist Fathers, said a declaration of religious liberty is necessary to complete the council’s work. He urged the council Fathers, let us not disappoint the world!

Bishop Ernest J. Primeau of Manchester, N.H., defended the draft declaration against a criticism often directed against it by council conservatives. The conservatives argue that it is wrong to coerce conscience and that it is equally wrong to allow every conscience — even an erroneous conscience — freedom to express itself outwardly.

Bishop Primeau put this in more philosophical language, distinguishing between a liberty that is internal and personal (usually called freedom of conscience), on the one hand, and a liberty that is external and social (usually called free exercise of religion), on the other hand. Basing himself on the unity and indivisibility of each man and on man’s essentially social nature, Bishop Primeau argued that to recognize freedom of conscience without recognizing the free exercise of religion is to cut man in two.

Cardinal Koenig’s speech never mentioned communism, which rules nations just across the border from his native Austria. But his talk was aimed directly at the so-called scientific atheism enthroned in communist countries.

The cardinal pointed out that it is against the principles of science to force opinions on others, but said that is precisely what these so-called scientific atheists do.

He said scientific atheists in power end up by proclaiming themselves infallible.

He concluded his speech: “I ask that the council speak in the name of all men and ask for better means of removing the anomaly under which only atheists in such countries can take part in the government and the nation’s social life.”

Objections voiced at the 87th council meeting against the religious liberty draft declaration stated:

—That it seems to give the erroneous conscience the same rights as a true conscience.

—That instead of being based on the subjective rights of the person, the schema is based on the objective rights of error.

—That it runs counter to Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical Immortale Dei and Pope Pius XII’s address Ci Riesci to the national convention of Italian Catholic jurists in December 1953, in which he discussed religious freedom.

—That it implies a denial of the right of the state to determine the requirements of the common good.

—That it fails to throw a clear light on the obligation of all to seek the truth.

Most of the day’s 18 speakers had objections to the schema in its present form. Archbishop Pietro Parente, assessor of the Congregation of the Holy Office, was exceptionally outspoken against arguments the schema used to buttress the idea of religious liberty. He espoused a suggestion Joseph Cardinal Ritter of St. Louis had offered on the previous day: to dispense with all the whys of religious liberty and merely proclaim it as a principle.

While debate on religious liberty proceeded, council Fathers continued to mark their ballots for votes on the schema on the Church.

All six votes scheduled for Sept. 24 were completed. Most of these votes were related to the concept of collegiality or stemmed directly from it.

The first vote of the day — No. 19 in the official reckoning of votes on the schema — was on the assertion that individual bishops exercise their power over that part of the people of God assigned to them, but that as members of the episcopal college they are under obligation to be interested also in the universal Church. It was explained that this is not an expression of jurisdiction, but of interest, promoting the uniting of Christ’s mission for the Church.

The vote was 2,162 “yes” and 64 “no.”

Amendment 20 asserted the obligation of individual bishops to be missionary-minded in helping to supply men and money for needy churches. The vote was 2,205 “yes” and 23 “no.”

Amendment 21 approved and encouraged formation of episcopal conferences. The vote was 2,147 “yes” and 77 “no.”

Amendment 22 insisted on the element of service in the discharge of the mission of teaching and preaching.

The vote was 2,189 “yes” and 35 “no.”

Amendment 23 said that bishops can be canonically established through customs approved by the Holy See, by local laws or by the Roman pontiff, but if in any case the pope refuses apostolic communion, the bishop in question cannot be regarded as a valid member of the episcopal body. The vote was 2,177 “yes” and 43 “no.”

Amendment 24 said the principal duty of bishops is to preach the Gospel. The vote was 2,152 “yes” and 51


The meeting opened with the votive Mass of the Holy Spirit celebrated by Archbishop Joseph Cordeiro of Karachi, Pakistan. Bishop Joannes Holterman, O.P., of Willemstad, Netherlands West Indies, enthroned the Gospel.

During the Mass and the enthronement of the Gospel, choir boys from the town of Bresseto near Parma, Italy, sang Gregorian chant.

The day’s moderator was Leo Cardinal Suenens of Malines-Brussels.

Archbishop Pericle Felici, council general secretary, explained that the Sept. 25 deadline previously fixed for the presentation of summaries of speeches to be given on the schema on Revelation referred only to the first part of the debate. The first part of the debate touches only on the introduction and chapters one and two.

The deadline for the second part (touching chapter three on the inspiration and interpretation of Holy Writ) will be Sept. 28, he said. He announced Sept. 30 as the deadline for the summaries of speeches on chapters four, five and six, dealing with the Old and New Testaments, and with Scripture in the life of the Church.

Speaking during the day’s session were Cardinal Koenig and Michael Cardinal Browne, O.P., of the Roman curia; also Archbishops Parente, Pedro Cantero Cuadrado of Zaragoza, Spain; Enrico Nicodemo of Bari, Italy; and Marcel Dubois of Besancon, France.

Other speakers were Bishops Primeau, John Abasolo y Lecue of Vijayapuram, India; Jose Lopez Ortiz of Tuy-Vigos, Spain; Antonio de Castro Mayer of Campos, Brazil; Johannes Pohlschneider of Aachen, Germany; Peter Antoon Nierman of Groningen, the Netherlands; Angel Temino Saiz of Orense, Spain; Michael Klepacz of Lodz, Poland; Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, C.S.Sp., superior general of the Holy Ghost Fathers; Bishop Giovanni Canmestri, auxiliary of the vicar general of Rome; Auxiliary Bishop Anastasio Granados of Toledo, Spain; and Father Buckley.

Cardinal Koenig called the religious freedom declaration altogether acceptable as it stood but deplored its silence regarding nations which have been deprived of religious freedom. Some modern governments are militantly atheistic, while others twist religious freedom to mean freedom from religion, he said.

In such countries, he continued, religious education is hobbled, barred from the use of any means of public communication, or even punished as a crime. This is contrary to the 1948 United Nations Declaration of Human Rights.

Cardinal Koenig said that such countries have two classes of citizens: Those who profess atheism and therefore have access to the highest offices of the land; and Christians, who are excluded from those offices. This can be easily proved, he said. Such states sin against tolerance and due respect for the human person, he declared.

They violate scientific principles since nothing is more unscientific than to force opinions on others, he continued.

They harm the society they rule since the refusal of religious freedom turns the hearts of citizens against rulers and makes them disinclined to cooperate in achieving the common purposes of the nation, he said.

The cardinal added that they offend human dignity, which is the foundation of freedom. He said freedom offends totalitarianism since it implies that the state’s authority is limited. Then he made his plea that the council speak in the name of all mankind and ask for religious freedom behind the Iron Curtain.

Cardinal Browne said the declaration cannot be approved in its present form. This form is not even necessary for the peace and unity of the world’s peoples, he said. It bases religious liberty on the rights of the conscience, but social rights of a sincere but erroneous conscience cannot be considered equal to social rights based on a conscience which is both sincere and right, he continued. He said Pope John XXIII’s encyclical Pacem in Terris did not speak of the dictates of any conscience being a norm, but only the dictates of an upright conscience. The norm of an upright conscience is divine law itself, he stated.

Cardinal Browne noted that in his allocution to the prelates of Rome in 1946, Pius XII set forth an altogether different foundation for religious liberty; not the rights of the individual conscience but rather the demands of the common good.

Archbishop Parente said that the text cannot be approved as it stands. To the rights of God, it prefers the rights of man and his liberty and the rights of his conscience, he added. The text lacks a clear distinction between objective and subjective aspects of truth and error. It also lacks a forthright statement of the Church’s mission and much of the text is liable to equivocation.

Archbishop Parente declared that it is unfortunate to ask the Church to make use of its extraordinary teaching office authority to proclaim absolute religious liberty. The text should be amended to safeguard basic principles, he said. It contains much truth and should be stripped of all argumentation, setting forth only what is uncontested. (On this last point Archbishop Parente was echoing one made the previous day by Cardinal Ritter.)

Archbishop Cantero said that the text is acceptable, but that the treatment should not descend from the juridical to the practical. The text fails to distinguish clearly between religious freedom and freedom of conscience. These differ in their subject, since the term religious liberty pertains both to the individual and to society, whereas liberty of conscience pertains to the individual alone, he stated.

Archbishop Cantero said also that the two differ in the matter they embrace — religious freedom concerning itself only with religious acts, while freedom of conscience has a broader scope. They also differ in that liberty of conscience means immunity from external coercion. But religious liberty must be conditioned by many circumstances since it must be reconciled with the rights of others, he concluded.

Bishop Abasolo said that more emphasis should be put on duty than on right when speaking of religion. Man’s rights in matters of religion, such as freedom of worship, arise from man’s duties toward God, he stated. Not all consciences have the same rights since the rights of a correct conscience are on a higher level than those of an invincibly erroneous conscience. Therefore he suggested the title of the declaration should be changed to “Duties and Rights of Individuals and Communities in Religious Matters.” There can be no right to persuade men to error, he said.

Archbishop Nicodemo said that religious liberty is not based on any objective right inherent in error but on a subjective right of the human person to follow the dictates of his conscience. Where an erroneous conscience acts against the natural law, the public authority may intervene, he said.

Bishop Lopez stated that the declaration’s passage saying that the state is incompetent to judge the truth regarding religious matters should be deleted from the text. He said it insinuates that no government can declare itself Catholic. When a government makes such a declaration, it is not passing judgment on religious truth but only manifesting its obedience to divine law, he continued. When the citizens of a nation with practical unanimity profess the true religion, then the state should act accordingly, he said.

Bishop De Castro said the declaration should be recast completely. He said it states equality of rights for all religions, true and false, whereas the public profession of religion is to be allowed only to the one true faith. Since human nature is perfected only in adherence to the good and the true, it can derive no dignity from error even when it is error in good faith, he declared. Mutual relationships in society must be based on the natural law and God’s positive law. This law of God commands that all men accept the true faith, he stated.

Bishop Canestri said the foundation of religious liberty cannot always be conscience. It is wrong to proclaim neutrality of the state, he said, noting that Pope Leo XIII declared that despite certain advantages, such neutrality is not always the best solution to the problem.

Bishop Pohlschneider said this historic document, which will promote peace on earth, needs to be filled out by a reference, however brief, to freedom of education. Our affirmation of freedom of education should be directed not merely to communist governments but to governments of all nations. Complete freedom demands freedom of education, which is the gravest of all duties for parents, he stated. It is a basic right that no state monopoly should restrict. It is the duty of the state to enable parents to make a free choice of schools without this choice bringing additional burdens on the family, he declared. These rights are in some degree violated everywhere in the world today, the bishop concluded.

Archbishop Lefebvre said that the text would be dangerous unless it is broadly revised. The text should distinguish internal acts of conscience from external acts, which can scandalize and which always involve public authority. Affirmation of full religious liberty for all groups would in some cases condone immorality, since some groups make immoral acts a part of their religion, he said. It is likewise a mistake to formulate a doctrine in view of only one set of circumstances which might prevail in a particular country, such as the United States, he declared.

Father Buckley said that among a number of improvements which seem desirable in the text, one would deal with the very foundation of personal religious liberty. The document repeatedly bases the right of a sincere conscience to liberty on the principle of a call from God, he noted. According to this principle, every sincere conscience, even if erroneous, is a call from God, he went on. While Holy Writ refers to the Christian faith, holiness and heaven as divine vocations, and also refers to the priesthood as a divine vocation, the term has been extended to the married state and even to careers such as medicine, law and engineering. He said that this tendency reaches an absurd length in the present document, which makes an upright but erroneous conscience a divine vocation. Most talk of divine vocation is false mysticism, he stated.

The text might treat the obligation of conscience as the foundation of religious liberty, he said. It would be the categorical imperative of conscience, conscience under God for those who believe in God, and the simple categorical imperative of conscience for all men, he continued.

Man as a social person has a right to social worship, Father Buckley said. The exercise of the right of an individual or association can be limited by society, but only insofar as this exercise infringes on the rights of others. But such an infringement should not be supposed too readily, he stated.

Although the world does not regard the Church generally as a champion of liberty, it would welcome any sign that the Catholic Church is on liberty’s side. The council must not disappoint the world, he concluded.

Bishop Primeau said the text should distinguish between a religious liberty which is internal and personal, and a religious liberty which is external and social. In modern parlance, the first is called liberty of conscience, while the second is known as freedom of worship, he continued. There is a commonly accepted bond between the two, he said.

He warned against the false concept of man which would make him first an individual and then a social being. Man is essentially social, he declared, and the Fathers should not allow any dichotomy in the human personality. Because of this, it is unlawful to recognize a man’s right to freedom of conscience while restricting him in his freedom of worship, he said. Both freedoms are equally essential and pertain to the integrity and dignity of the human person.

Freedom of worship is not only a logical deduction from freedom of conscience, Bishop Primeau stated. Religious freedom must be regarded as a true and strict right. In this light it constitutes a guarantee of immunity from coercion, he said.

Bishop Nierman spoke for the Dutch bishops and some Indonesian bishops. He said the declaration has great value in its description of the nature of religious liberty and in its practical implications for the life of the Church. However, certain principles should be given practical applications in the schema. Canon law today safeguards the rights of the Catholic party to a mixed marriage but not the rights of the non-Catholic party, he noted. This should be corrected in future revision of canon law, he said.

Bishop Temino said man’s first obligation is to heed God when He has spoken clearly. It would be bad to subject God publicly to individual reason, he said. The text must be revised drastically since it is based on the equality of all religions in society, he stated. At times it may be in the interests of the Church to permit broader religious liberty and the council should base its declaration of religious liberty on this fact, not on false principles smacking of humanism, he declared.

Bishop Klepacz said the text omits the important relationship between the individual on the one hand, and society, state, nation and the human race on the other hand.

Archbishop Dubois said the text is too philosophical and too juridical. He added that it should be given a tone more in keeping with Scripture and tradition. St. Augustine addressed a heretical bishop as “honorable brother,” because he respected him as an individual, he said. Christ Himself commended religious liberty, as can be seen in the passages comparing the apostles to light and salt, comparisons which exclude coercion. Many other texts could be used appropriately, he said.

Bishop Granados said it is preferable just now to overlook the text’s practical side and concentrate on its doctrinal side. He said that the principle defending the strict right of all religious groups to profess their own doctrines, whether true or false, calls for these observations:

First: This teaching is new in the Church, which traditionally has taught that error is treated with tolerance if this is demanded by the common good.

Second: This teaching is opposed to the mind of Pope Pius XII in the allocution Ci Riesce.

Third: The declaration skips unlawfully from the subjective order to the objective order.

Fourth: This principle cannot be reconciled with the principle of religious liberty as set forth in the document itself.

Patrick Riley
NCWC News Rome correspondent

* * * *

The exact point of controversy in the council on religious liberty is not whether it is rational in political and legal spheres, but whether the concept is mature enough at this point to link it up with the theological and moral spheres. The area of controversy is relatively narrow.

This assessment was made by Father John Courtney Murray, S.J., noted American author on Church-state affairs, during the U.S. bishops’ press panel discussion of the council debate.

Father Murray said: “The schema is both traditional and new, since the Catholic tradition is one of progress and new and deeper understanding, especially when new and deeper questions are asked. Bishop Emile De Smedt of Bruges, Belgium, the schema relator and chairman of the special subcommittee under the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity which drew it up, says we are confronting a new problem; the questions are not the same as those asked in the 19th century. The Church is searching her mind to find what answers to give to new questions.

“It is a large step from the ‘freedom with which Christ has made us free’ (Gal. 5, 1) and technical sense of freedom. … The council is preoccupied with linking the former with political structures and the whole problem of civil liberty.”

A variety of questions that were asked of the expert on religious liberty indicated the interest the council discussion has aroused in the world press:

One questioner asked what would happen to the classic concept of “the Catholic state” if the declaration is accepted.

“Major changes would be required,” Father Murray admitted, adding that the preoccupation of the Spanish bishops on this point is entirely legitimate. He said that “as held by these bishops, the concept involves two legal institutions: 1. Catholicism established by law; 2. Legal intolerance, by which other religions are excluded and denied the right to public worship, private property and the propagation of their faith. The latter would be severely curtailed by the document.”

What of the fate of concordats (treaties) between the Holy See and individual nations if the declaration were passed?

“I find it difficult to see where any substantial change will be necessary in this practice,” said Father Murray.

“Many nations historically have ties with a religion — England with Anglicanism, for instance, and Sweden with Lutheranism. There is no contradiction between full religious liberty and the maintenance of these ties. Nor is there anything in the notion of religious liberty preventing a nation from proclaiming that a majority of its citizens are Catholic or Moslem. This would be a declaration of fact, and the people might set a great store by it because of their traditions.

“But we are concerned only when the establishment of religion includes intolerance and thus the exclusion of other religions from public existence by the coercive power of the state. This is where the changes would come as a result of the declaration,” the American Jesuit said. He cited examples of concordats in Ecuador and Colombia.

What about concordats which for instance bar divorce by law, such as the Lateran treaty between the Holy See and Italy?

“This is an application of principle — not the principle itself,” said Father Murray. “The declaration does not descend to application and it should not. The Church officially has no opinion on what the laws of the state are. This is a matter of jurisprudence, not for the Church to decide. The common good is involved and the people are competent to decide. The question would have to be solved on this basis.”

What are the norms for the restriction of religious liberty in its external exercise?

“This is greatly debated,” Father Murray answered. “Bishop De Smedt says the commission is not sure that it has found the right formula. The present formula is only one of the many possible.

“In the United States of America the free exercise of religion is governed by the order of society — that is, the public order. This is made up of three civil goods: one, public peace; two, public morality, including the notion of public health; three, harmony in the exercise of civil rights. Religious liberty is subject to the same norms.”

Asked to assess the most difficult issues inherent in religious liberty, Father Murray listed three:

—The relation between the freedom of conscience and the free exercise of religion in the external and social realm.

—The competence of governments and the law in regard to religion.

—The criteria for restricting religious liberty.

He said the last two are so intimately related that they are impossible to separate.

Referring to the intervention of Cardinal Cushing of Boston on the opening day of the controversy, Father Murray pointed out that the cardinal made a distinction between the Church’s right of religious liberty based on the divine law (since it is the true Church), and the Church’s claim of the same right for other religions, prompted by conditions of the world today. The latter claim is not based on divine law, but on rational grounds of dignity, justice, truth, charity and civil freedom. This does not mean that the Church’s claim is based on expediency, Father Murray added.

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