130th General Congregation
September 17, 1965
The concept that man has a right to religious freedom because of his dignity as a human person was a point of controversy during the third day of debate on the ecumenical council’s new document on religious liberty.
Eighteen speakers, including six cardinals, took the floor to air their views before the 2,214 council Fathers attending the council’s 130th general meeting.
As on the preceding day, the debate revealed wide disagreement over the contents of the new draft and confirmed the wisdom of the decision at last year’s session to postpone voting on the document and bring it up for discussion again at the fourth session.
Those opposing the document as it now stands gave a variety of reasons. But chiefly they feared that it would compromise the Catholic Church’s claim to be the one true Church. Others objected to basing man’s right to religious freedom on the dignity of man.
Among the day’s speakers were two Americans: Archbishop Paul J. Hallinan of Atlanta, Ga., and Auxiliary Bishop Charles Garrett Maloney of Louisville, Ky.
Archbishop Hallinan declared that the document as it stands is a solid piece of work and said that the state should protect religious liberty and not religion. Yet in fact, he added, when the state protects religious liberty it promotes religion.
Bishop Maloney said he had spoken to many of the auditors who said they wished he would express their satisfaction with the document and urge its approval and promulgation.
The bishop noted that during the debate on the present subject many contradictory and even erroneous ideas had been expressed. The right of the speakers to propose these ideas comes not from the truth of the ideas but from the dignity of the persons proposing them. In the same way, he said, when the council approves the declaration on religious freedom it is not accepting other persons’ errors or sins, since man’s free will must respond to the dictates of his conscience.
Two other speakers who warmly favored passage of the document were William Cardinal Conway of Armagh, Northern Ireland, and John Cardinal Heenan of Westminster, England.
Cardinal Conway pointed out that Ireland suffered religious persecution for 200 years. When Ireland at last achieved political freedom it inserted the right to religious freedom in its national constitution.
Cardinal Heenan declared: “The religion of the brethren of Christ is a religion of love. With a clear and unanimous voice let this council boldly declare that the Catholic Church upholds now and for all time full freedom and tolerance throughout the world.”
The first speaker of the day was Thomas Cardinal Cooray of Colombo, Ceylon. He generally approved the document but suggested that a statement be inserted to the effect that every limitation on religious freedom should be based on objective truth.
Ermenegildo Cardinal Florit of Florence, Italy, was the first to touch on the point of human dignity. He praised the document for basing the right of religious freedom on the dignity of the human person. But he said he wanted more stress laid on the truth of the Catholic Church and on the Catholic Church’s objective rights which it obtains from the truth which has been entrusted to it.
Taking an opposite view was Archbishop Pedro Cantero Cuadrado of Saragossa, Spain, who maintained that man’s right to worship God stems not from the human person’s dignity but from the nature of faith and the transcendence of religious truth. He also maintained that the right of religious freedom is not a natural right but one granted by civil law.
Archbishop Antonin Baraniak of Poznan, Poland, agreed with Cardinal Florit and said the document is an improvement over the previous one because it relates the right of freedom of religion to man’s dignity. Archbishop Baraniak, speaking in the name of the bishops of Poland, also said he wanted to be sure the document would pay attention to the truth of religion itself and not leave room for indifferentism and relativism.
On the other hand, Bishop Jean Sauvage of Annecy, France, while praising the text, said the document should be concerned not only with the human dignity of the individual but also with the social aspect of the matter, since man is a social being and capable of forming social structures in relations with others.
Bishop Abilio del Campo y de la Barcena of Calahorra and La Calzada-Logrono, Spain, also objected to linking religious liberty to personal dignity. He said the document smacks of humanism and naturalism and that it is wrong to speak only of simple human dignity on the natural plane as a norm since man has been elevated by grace.
Persons in the council hall reported that Bishop Del Campo was very warm in delivering his points and declared with fire that man has no choice in dealing with God but must obey. He concluded that the document encourages subjectivism, relativism, and situation ethics and contradicts the traditional Church teaching.
Archbishop Hallinan, defending the document, said it is well adapted to the needs of modern times. Like Bishop Sauvage, Archbishop Hallinan spoke of the issue in social terms.
Religious liberty is for social life the subject, foundation and the end, he said. Where religious liberty is in force, it is sanctioned in the constitution. Religion is a social value of the first order, he stated.
Bishop Jean Rupp of Monaco said the document is entirely too long. It would have more meaning if it were dynamic and brief, he added, and suggested eliminating various parts; particularly part three which deals with Scripture and which has raised many objections so far.
Bishop Rupp also suggested the council Fathers adopt completely the seven points on religious liberty recently voted on by the World Council of Churches in Geneva, Switzerland. He also said the present text is not sufficiently clear on the teaching authority of the Church.
The secretary of the Congregation of the Holy Office, Alfredo Cardinal Ottaviani, was particularly critical of the Scriptural citations used in the document. He said the citations had been chosen to show only favorable references to the subject. He noted that nothing is said of Christ’s frequent threats of eternal damnation nor is there any reference made to numerous passages against those who resist the truth.
At the outset of his speech Cardinal Ottaviani declared it should be stated at the start of the declaration that the Catholic Church has a true, natural and objective right to liberty, because of her divine origin and her divine mission. He also objected to the introduction of controversial themes, declaring that “we have in this text many ideas which are contrary to the common doctrine of the Church.”
Franjo Cardinal Seper of Zagreb, Yugoslavia, declared that religious liberty is necessary for the living of religion and for the Church’s mission. There is no question of just putting different religions on the same level and making the state the judge between them, he said.
Probably reflecting the hazards of his See under a communist regime, Cardinal Seper said the declaration should deny absolutely any right of the state to intervene in specifically religious matters. All discrimination on a religious basis, he said, should be condemned forthrightly. The state can assist the Church in many fields and allowance should be made for this. He added that there must be no restriction of the religious liberty of others and said the foundation of religious liberty is to be found in justice and is not a mere juridical concession.
Cardinal Florit agreed with Cardinal Ottaviani in saying there should be more emphasis placed on the special right of the Catholic Church to liberty because of her possession of the revealed truth. There is a danger of confusing the objective right of the Catholic Church with the merely subjective right of other religious groups, he stated.
Cardinal Florit said religious liberty is not being presented in order to bring advantages to the Church but rather in order to forestall disadvantages. The natural right of the Catholic Church is not to be confused with the positive right of other religious groups which consists of immunity from repression.
Cardinal Heenan noted that many accuse the Catholic Church of having two attitudes toward the subject: against religious freedom when it is in the majority and for it when it is in the minority. He recalled the lack of tolerance on all religious fronts in the past but said that today no Christian would put up with such intolerance. “It is every man’s inviolable right to profess the faith dictated by his conscience,” he declared.
Cardinal Conway asked that the declaration state clearly that it is unjust for the state to discriminate against schools because they are religious.
He also objected to the passage saying that the state should confine itself to the things of this world as if God and religion should be excluded from public life. He cited the U.S. President’s inaugural oath on the Bible and England’s Queen being crowned amid religious ceremonies as examples of points at which the state and religion merge. “We must indeed accept the principle of religious liberty but not confuse it with the complete exclusion of God from civil life,” he stated.
Archbishop Salvatore Baldassari of Ravenna, Italy, speaking in the name of 20 Italian bishops, said the declaration on religious liberty is both possible and necessary.
It is possible from a theological standpoint, he said, because God demands a free act of faith. It is necessary because of the present-day attacks on religion and also to prevent the Church from being regarded as an enemy of liberty. However, he said, the declaration’s arguments from reason are not profound or mature and those from the Bible obscure rather than enlighten the subject.
Coadjutor Archbishop Leo Elchinger of Strasbourg, France, disagreed with those who felt the declaration denies the divine rights of truth and encourages relativism. He said it should be stated clearly that the strict obligation of following one’s conscience is rooted in an internal and evangelical law of the Church.
Archbishop Custudio Alvim Pereira of Lourenco Marques, Mozambique, said he had handed in his remarks and wanted to make only a brief statement: “If all men are given the right to a public profession of any religion, this will be an insult to the Catholic Church. It will be equivalent to proclaiming to the world that the Catholic Church is only one among many.”
Bishop Primo Gasbarri, apostolic administrator of Grosseto, Italy, made a litany of what he called the declaration’s faults. He declared it favors subjectivism, relativism, existentialism, situational ethics, indifferentism, etc.,” and said the text should be completely revised.
The day’s Mass was celebrated by Archbishop John Aggey of Lagos, Nigeria. The Gospel was enthroned by Archbishop Casimiro Morcillo Gonzalez of Madrid.
Before debate began, Archbishop Pericle Felici, council secretary general, announced that the day was the 60th anniversary of the ordination of Melkite-rite Patriarch Maximos IV Saigh of Antioch. The 86-year-old patriarch, who was named a cardinal in February, was given enthusiastic applause.
James C. O’Neill
NCWC Rome bureau chief