Council Lacks Agreement on Revised Religious Liberty Text

129th General Congregation
September 16, 1965

Bishops from all parts of the world showed themselves in wide disagreement over the theological basis of religious liberty on the ecumenical council’s second day of debate on the revised text of the proposed council declaration on the subject.

Opinions voiced by the 17 cardinals and bishops who spoke during the council’s 129th general meeting ranged from the unqualified support given by Joseph Cardinal Ritter of St. Louis to the angry demand by Spanish-born Bishop John Velasco of Amoy, China, that the text be rewritten in accordance with the objections of those who claim it ignores the Church’s traditional teaching.

Between these opposing views many notes of concern were voiced on the theological foundation which should underlie man’s right to religious freedom. Several speakers made particular criticism of the citation of passages in the Bible supporting this right.

Cardinal Ritter was the first of five cardinals to take the floor. Like his fellow Americans the day before — Francis Cardinal Spellman of New York and Richard Cardinal Cushing of Boston — the St. Louis cardinal gave full support to the revised text.

He declared that the new draft should be a cause for rejoicing and that nothing is left but to approve and promulgate it. He told the 2,252 council Fathers present in the hall that “the eyes of the world are on Rome” as they discuss this important subject.

Cardinal Ritter said approval of the document is demanded in charity, justice and consistency.

It is demanded by charity, he said, because it is necessary to do something for those who are suffering from religious persecution. It is demanded by justice to make reparation for past acts, among which there can be found actions against the freedom of others which have had an almost official approval.

Lastly, said Cardinal Ritter, consistency demands passage of the document because certain passages found in the council’s Decree on Ecumenism and the Constitution on the Church will be left unsupported unless approval is voted.

Cardinal Ritter concluded by warning that if the council fails to approve the religious liberty document, “we run the risk of being numbered among the enemies of the Gospel.”

The Gospel was enthroned at the start of the day by Melkite-rite Archbishop Philippe Nabaa of Beirut, Lebanon. Mass was celebrated by Archbishop Michel Callens of Tunis.

Before debate opened, the council secretary general, Archbishop Pericle Felici, read the order of the council agenda with the documents on religious liberty, the Church in the modern world, the missions and priestly life and ministry scheduled for discussion one after the other.

Meanwhile voting was scheduled to begin on Sept. 20 on other documents that have already passed the discussion state. Voting was to start with the documents on divine revelation and on the lay apostolate. Later, voting will be held on five other documents which have already been amended. These are the ones on bishops and pastoral care, Religious, Christian education, seminaries and non-Christians. Council fathers received revised amendments for the documents on bishops and pastoral care and on Religious. Others are to be distributed gradually as discussions continue.

Archbishop Felici lifted the curtain a bit on how historically conscious his office is concerning council matters. He noted that from now on when bishops want to submit suggestions or demands for revisions — technically known as modi — they can obtain a standard form on which to write their ideas.

Up to now Bishops have submitted their modi on any kind of paper at hand — some of it quite poor, Archbishop Felici added. So that future historians consulting the archives of the council will not be scandalized by these, new forms are now to be used.

Archbishop Felici’s remarks were about the only light moment of the day as the Fathers earnestly debated the religious liberty declaration.

In contrast to Cardinal Ritter’s strong support for the new document, Bishop Velasco found it to be the same as the earlier one sent back for revision during the third session last year.

He charged that as it stands, the declaration opens the door for pragmatism and indifferentism toward religion. He said the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity, which was charged with revising the document, completely ignored many of the observations sent to it.

A council official present at the session said Bishop Velasco was visibly angry as he warmed to his subject, charging that the right of the minority — the bishop called it “this glorious minority” — had been ignored. He called for a complete revision of the document to take into account the minority view.

To those who might say he did not understand the text, Bishop Velasco replied that he was not entirely an ignoramus, although he was the least of the council Fathers, and if he did not understand it correctly, what hope was there for men outside the council hall.

He charged the minority had been ignored because the men of the minority were upholding the traditional teaching of the Church on religious liberty, which was counter to the spirit of the new declaration.

The second cardinal to speak was Raul Cardinal Silva Henriquez of Santiago, Chile, who declared he found the document quite satisfactory and was pleased with its pastoral tone.

He said he did not feel it would lead to relativism and warned that non-spiritual means, such as economic or social measures, should never be used in persuading man of religious truth. He added that the council should be more concerned with assuring the good use of liberty than with preventing its abuse.

Paul Cardinal Meouchi, Maronite-rite Patriarch of Antioch, objected to the philosophical and theological approach to the problem. He said he would rather it be treated in a concrete and practical manner. He called for an existential and phenomenological approach of man’s relation with God in faith.

The patriarch declared that religious liberty is a universal fact arising from the inner conscience of man and that faith must necessarily be free. He was about to continue but the day’s moderator, Gregorio Pietro Cardinal Agagianian, informed him that his time was up. Cardinal Meouchi declared he really had little more to say and left the rostrum.

Another Eastern-rite prelate, Josyf Cardinal Slipyi of Lvov, speaking for several patriarchs and the bishops of the Ukrainian rite, said he thought it would be good to point out the opportuneness of the document in the light of present-day persecutions. Cardinal Slipyi, who spent years in Siberia because of his religion, said religious freedom is necessary for both the Church and the welfare of the state.

He called for one modification in the document. He wanted a note inserted stressing the need for a sense of nobility which should condition conversation about religious liberty. All liberty, he said, can wander from the right path unless conditioned by nobility.

Cardinal Agagianian interrupted to say his time was up, but unlike Cardinal Meouchi, Cardinal Slipyi continued his remarks to the end.

The last cardinal to speak was Germany’s Lorenz Cardinal Jaeger of Paderborn, who spoke in the name of 150 bishops.

He touched on the problem of privileged status for a religion in a country, noting, for instance, that in Italy and Spain Catholicism is the state religion, as is Anglicanism in England and Lutheranism in the Scandinavian countries.

Cardinal Jaeger said the situation existing in the Middle Ages has disappeared, but there are still some countries with a state religion. In such cases, he said, citizens can ask that national life be inspired by this religion. However, this cannot interfere with equal rights for others, he said.

Speaking on the same subject, Coadjutor Archbishop Duraisamy Lourdusamy of Bangalore, India, said it would be advisable to omit what is said on the recognition of a particular religion because such recognition can be a source of danger for Catholics.

Archbishop Enrico Nicodemo of Bari, Italy, said he found the declaration to be good and even necessary, but added that the text should explain principles more clearly and should avoid being too absolute in order to prevent serious harm to Catholic states. He added that the principles at stake should be affirmed with greater conciseness and should be in harmony with the teaching and practice of the Church.

Archbishop Casimiro Morcillo Gonzalez of Madrid confessed that he found himself in an unusual position. He noted he was rising to make a vigorous defense of religious liberty while at the same time vigorously attacking the declaration under discussion.

He took issue with the declaration as it stands because, he said, the schema tries to strengthen a transitory situation with philosophical and Scriptural arguments not based on truth.

If a man has a right to act according to the norm of his conscience, the Spanish prelate said, he has a prior and higher right to the objective truth and the moral means in which he is to be instructed. Archbishop Morcillo also declared that the Biblical arguments invoked in the text prove nothing and pay no attention to Scriptural texts which prove the opposite. He also charged that the text ignores the teaching authority of the Church from Pope Leo XIII on. He said the document is necessary but had to be revised.

Also challenging Scriptural texts cited by the declaration was Bishop Luigi Carli of Segni, Italy, who said the teaching in the declaration is not proved by the texts chosen to prove it. In a sharply worded criticism of the document, Bishop Carli said it is a question of either adapting the modern concept of religious liberty to the mind of Sacred Scripture or of twisting Scripture to fit the modern idea. The last alternative seems to have been the chosen one, he said.

Bishop Carli furthermore declared that the argument is based on Scripture while Tradition is ignored, perhaps because it was sensed that the doctrine proposed is contrary to Tradition.

Chinese Bishop Stanislaus Lokuang of Tainan, Formosa, said the text is obscure and proceeds too negatively in dealing with religious liberty for all and with the right of the Church to declare herself the only true Church. He also asked for a clear statement that a Catholic state is better than an indifferent or neutral one.

Another Father to contest the Scriptural proof for religious liberty as contained in the declaration was Archbishop Gregorio Modrego y Casaus of Barcelona, Spain, who said the doctrine in the text has to be corrected because it does not express adequately the natural law and is proved or confirmed by Scripture. He also said that in various parts of the text there are either explicit or implicit contradictions of the teachings of the popes.

Archbishop Juan Aramburu of Tucuman, Argentina, speaking for several of his country’s bishops, objected to the expression “public peace” as found in the text where it discusses the conditions under which religion can be freely exercised. He suggested it should be expressed as “lawful and public peace” because otherwise enemies could halt the preaching of the Gospel on the grounds that it disturbs public peace. The same applies to the Church’s whole missionary activity and it is possible that a country could oppose the abolition of racial discrimination on the grounds of public peace, he said.

A bishop who has been exiled from the Sudan by its predominantly Moslem government, Bishop Edoardo Mason for El Obeid, asked for practical means for promotion of religious liberty, such as educating and training youth in what is called civil tolerance. With some modifications, the declaration can he approved, he declared.

Bishop Guiseppe Marafini of Veroli-Frosinone, Italy, warned that steps must be taken to prevent the declaration from seeming to favor an areligious or neutral state. Because of the close connection between moral law and religion, he said, a state can be non-confessional but not atheistic, indifferent or amoral.

Maronite-rite Archbishop Ignace Ziade of Beirut called for the omission of the section dealing with the privileged status of a religion.

The day’s last speaker was Bishop Emilio Tagle Covarrubias of Valparaiso, Chile, speaking in the name of 45 Latin American bishops. He said the text shows an undue kindness to false religions and should be revised so as to grant to the one true Church religious liberty in the absolute sense, reserving to other faiths religious tolerance according to circumstances and places.

James C. O’Neill
NCWC News Rome correspondent

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