John Courtney Murray Defends Religious Liberty Draft

At the U.S. bishops’ press panel Father John Courtney Murray, S.J., of Woodstock College, Maryland, parried charges made in the council chamber that the schema on religious liberty twists Scripture to its own ends.

Father Murray singled out the council speech of Bishop Luigi Carli of Segni, Italy. “He seems to think the schema tries to prove religious liberty from Scripture,” he said. But, Father Murray said, even Protestant theologians agree that religious liberty cannot be proved from Scripture.

“He charges us with not proving what we never intended to prove,” Father Murray asserted, adding that Bishop Carli’s speech was “pointless and irrelevant.”

Father Murray explained that when the schema says that religious liberty has deep roots in Holy Scripture, it is echoing the Scriptural doctrine that man, like God, is intelligent and free. He added that the schema simply adduces “a few of the many texts” which show Christ’s respect for human freedom.

“What we are saying is that the modern doctrine on religious freedom is in harmony with the Gospel.”

Turning to another aspect of the schema which has been criticized in the council hall — its statement that religious freedom can be limited if required by the need to maintain public order — the Jesuit theologian said this criterion is open to abuse, especially by a tyrannical government.

“This in my opinion is where some amendment is called for,” he said. He suggested that it be emphasized that peace is the work of justice, and not of violence.

(In this he seemed to echo the speech given by Archbishop Juan Aramburu of Tucuman, Argentina, in the name of several Argentinian bishops.)

However, Father Murray defended the schema’s avoidance of the concept of the common good as a limitation on the free exercise of religion.

He said that to put the common good into such a role would be to contradict the teaching of Pope Pius XII, who taught that a duty of a constitutional government toward the common good is to allow the free exercise of civil rights, of which religious liberty is one. The common good cannot be a limitation on the exercise of one of its parts, Father Murray asserted.

The American Protestant author, Paul Blanshard, asked Father Murray why the schema does not mention internal censorship in the Catholic Church. Father Murray replied that this question should be settled on its own merits, and not interjected into a document on the free exercise of religion in society in general. He said the principle of censorship in the Church will remain, although its method will be examined.

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