Texts of Archbishop Heenan on Religious Liberty, Jews

These are the texts of addresses delivered by Archbishop John Heenan of Westminster, England, at the ecumenical council on its draft declarations on religious liberty and the Jews. The former address was made on Sept. 28 in the name of the English bishops. The latter address was delivered on Sept. 29.

  1. On Religious Freedom

I dare to make a short intervention because the hierarchy of England and Wales, many Bishops in Scotland, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand, as well as some of our neighbors in France and Belgium, think it opportune for me to tell the Fathers of the council how the principles laid down in the Declaration on Religious Liberty have already been reduced to practice in our country.

It is well known that in England during the 16th century a bitter fight was joined between Protestants and Catholics. Religious liberty was soon banished from the land. The Blessed Martyrs of England and Wales by their death are witnesses to the ferocity of this persecution. To be honest we must also confess that when the Catholic Queen Mary was on the throne, Protestants suffered a similar fate. By the end of the century the Protestants had triumphed and the Church of our forefathers had almost ceased to exist in Britain. The few who remained faithful to the Holy See were harassed and penalized. But persecution gradually relaxed and in the year 1828 Parliament passed the Catholic Emancipation Act freeing Catholics from most if not quite all of their civil disabilities.

Great Britain today can in no sense be described as Catholic. The Church of England is the Established Church and our Queen is its head. It is true that many of our fellow-citizens do not actively practice any religion. Most Englishmen would nevertheless call themselves Christians. Infants born in England are usually baptized, couples generally prefer to be married in church and almost all who die are given Christian burial. There are also, of course, many who profess no religion of any kind.

There is a picture of a pluralist society in which, nevertheless, religion is honored both publicly and in private. Although the Church of England is the Established Church, full religious liberty is granted to citizens of other faiths. Thus, for example, the state makes a substantial contribution for the provision of Church schools and pays full salaries to their teachers, even to those who are priests, brothers or nuns. But — and this is the real point — precisely the same rights and privileges are granted to Catholic schools as to those belonging to the Church of England. It is clear to both Protestants and Catholics in England that liberty and equality of treatment for all is the only way of promoting peaceful relations among citizens.

That is why we praise and unreservedly approve the proposals in this Schema on Religious Freedom. Pope Pius XII once said that the common good might impose a moral obligation in what are described as Catholic countries to respect the freedom of other religions. Today the world is small. What happens in one state can have consequences all over the world. For the sake of the common good freedom of religion must flourish in every nation in the world.

Some fear the danger of allowing unrestricted scope to the propagation of error. These fears are real and not to be despised. No one can feel happy at the prospect of allowing the young or ignorant to be led into error. One of the great dangers of our time is contempt for all restraint. Liberty all too easily degenerates into lawlessness. Liberty nevertheless is precious. Despite all dangers it must be boldly defended.

If restrictions are to be applied, who is going to apply them? Only the state has the physical power to do so and all man’s experience shows that the less the state interferes in religious matters the better. We are persuaded that the external practice of religion should be subject only to those restrictions which are absolutely necessary to safeguard public order.

The authors of this schema are to be praised for attempting to base it on something more positive than tolerance and the common good.

To bring this about, patience, charity and firmness are needed in the practice of the Faith. Otherwise there is a danger of indifference.

It has been said in this debate that only the principles need be set down and that no attempt should be made to explain the underlying Catholic doctrine. This argument to me seems faulty. In a pastoral document of this kind it is necessary to give some indication of the methods by which we have reached our conclusions. This at least is certain that many outside the Church hold that Catholics do not sincerely believe in religious freedom. Let us declare to the whole world, once and for all, our heartfelt belief as Catholics in the full liberty of all the sons of God.

  1. On the Jews

It is not surprising that the Jews have received the new version of the declaration “De Judaeis” without marked pleasure. The earlier pronouncement about the Jews in the schema on ecumenism was made public during the second session of the council and in consequence its terms are well known to the Jews. It is natural that they should now be asking why certain changes have been made. It is impossible not to notice a subtle difference in the tone and spirit of the new version. In its present form the declaration seems less forthcoming and less friendly. We of the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity prepared our text keeping in mind the hundreds of comments made between sessions by the Fathers of the council. The wording of the document now in your hands is not precisely ours.

I have no idea which theologians were charged with drawing up the final draft of this declaration. Let me say quite plainly that I have no suspicion of any kind that they set out to make our words less warm or our approach less generous. It is quite possible that these theologians have had little experience in ecumenical affairs. Such delicate material has to be handled with great care and even subtlety. This is especially true when dealing with the Jews, whom frequent persecution has made particularly sensitive.

This sensitivity may well be the reason why the Jewish newspapers have complained so bitterly about the quotation from the Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans: “I would not have you ignorant, brethren, of this mystery… blindness has fallen upon a part of Israel but only until the tale of the gentile nations is complete; then the whole of Israel will find salvation.…” The Apostle of the Gentiles is here using what we call eschatological language. He is referring, in other words, to the end of the world when, it is hoped, all men, including the Jews, will return to the unity of the true people of God. I have no doubt in my own mind that this quotation was deliberately chosen as a proof of our brotherly love and desire for union with all the other sons of God. It is my view that the Jews are mistaken in regarding this text as a summons forthwith to give up their religion.

I must add, however, that the question of conversion, whether of individuals or of whole communities, really has no place in the context of ecumenism. The object of the ecumenical movement is to lead people of different religions to examine each other’s beliefs. Neither party in the dialogue has any ambition to score victories. Its object is for all to grow in mutual understanding and esteem. That is why in discussing Christian unity, the schema made no mention of conversion either of the Orthodox in the East or of non-Catholics in the West. Our hope, nevertheless, of the return of all the brethren of Christ to the one fold remains strong. Our separated brethren pray no less earnestly than ourselves that led by the Holy Spirit all will eventually be united in one Church.

However good the intentions of those who inserted this quotation from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, the fact is that it has been taken badly by the Jews. For me this is a sufficient reason for removing the quotation from the declaration. Notice that in the same declaration when talking about other non-Christian believers — such as the Moslems —no word is said about converting them. Here are the exact words of the text: “Although their opinions and doctrines differ from ours in many ways, nevertheless in many things they show a ray of that Truth which enlightens every man coming into this world.” But surely if these other non-Christian religions possess a ray of truth, the Jewish religion has much more since it is in a way the root of our own Faith. Pope Pius XI once said: “We are all Semites.”

I want to end with a word about the famous question of deicide. In the earlier version of our document the Jewish people was absolved from the crime of deicide. We must never forget that the text was published to the whole world. If, therefore, this absolution is deleted the interpretation will be made that the Fathers of the council, having had a year to think it over, now solemnly judge that the whole Jewish people — at least those alive at the time of Christ’s death — are, in fact, guilty of the crime of deicide.

The Jews during this century have suffered grave and, indeed, inhuman injuries. In the name of Jesus Christ Our Lord Who from the cross forgave His executioners, I humbly plead that this declaration of ours shall openly proclaim that the Jewish people as such is not guilty of the death of Our Lord. It would certainly be unjust in our own day if all the Christians of Europe were judged guilty of the death of millions of Jews in Germany and Poland. I maintain that it is no less unjust to condemn the whole Jewish people for the death of Christ.

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