This is an English translation of the speech on the religious liberty declaration given at the ecumenical council by Francis Cardinal Spellman of New York on Sept. 16.
Since especially today the greatest possible consideration must be given to the dignity, rights and duties of the human person divinely created and redeemed, the schema of the Declaration on Religious Liberty as revised according to the wishes of the council Fathers is most praiseworthy.
At least at times, a number of non-Catholics and even some Catholics have only a partial idea — or even an erroneous idea — of the Church’s view of the human person’s right of religious liberty. For this reason, it seems particularly appropriate now to have a clear and rather systematic elaboration of the Church’s stand on religious liberty. The statements in the declaration on the dignity of the human person and the exclusion of all external coercion in matters pertaining to religion meet a real need. It is clearly pointed out also that the right to the outward exercise of religion ought to be recognized as something that is possessed always and everywhere.
The special merit of this declaration is that its teaching is based and founded in the dignity of the human person and that ambiguous words and statements are carefully avoided. For example, even the expression “freedom of conscience” has been misunderstood by some to mean that human freedom is never to be limited by any norms whatever. In the present declaration there is excellent harmony between true freedom and the corresponding obligation of each person to form his own conscience rightly.
The statements in the declaration on cooperation of Catholics with non-Catholics and on the relationships between the Church and civil society are very helpful. As has already been stated and as I had opportunity to say in the previous session of the council, many people today still do not realize that the Catholic Church approves modern societies when they establish religious liberty and political equality in affairs of civil life for the followers of every religion.
Actually, according to the mind of the Church it is wrong for the civil power to impose on its citizens the profession of one determinate religion as a condition for full and perfect participation in civil and national life. In religious matters, the Church wishes the state to be impartially benevolent toward all.
The propositions in the present declaration are helpful to true ecumenism and will greatly assist those believers and their pastors who live among peoples of different cultures and religions. I feel that any major emendation or change of the present text of the declaration will cause people to doubt the sincerity of the Church when she speaks of religious liberty. The declaration ought to stand in its present form.