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Dr Frank Mobbs (August AD2000) denies my claim in the July issue that Vatican II taught infallibly that people have a civil right to religious liberty. He argues that if the infallibility of the ordinary universal Magisterium were engaged here (as I argue) we would have to say that it was engaged in the past when the pope and bishops denied religious liberty. But contradictories can't both be true.
The first point I would make in answer to this is that Vatican II taught only a qualified right to religious liberty, saying that it applies "within due limits" ( Declaratio, on Religious Freedom, n. 2). The Council recognised that the common good can override the individual's right to propagate his opinions (Ibid, n. 7).
The historical instances Dr Mobbs gives are cases where it was judged by the Church authorities that the common good would be violated by the activities they proscribed. To determine whether the pope and bishops were right, all the relevant circumstances must be taken into account; but if they were wrong, or sometimes wrong, infallibility is not involved, for it was a matter of practical decisions, not the promulgation of doctrinal teachings.
Frank Mobbs opposes this solution by saying that "the pope and other prelates assumed to be true that the Church had a mandate to punish those opposing Catholic doctrine and practices".
In answer to this, firstly, Vatican II did not deny such a mandate in principle. Secondly, infallibility does not extend to what the pope and other prelates assume, but to what they teach definitively.
Further, the Church has always upheld the principle that the Faith must be freely accepted (see ibid., n. 10, with the historical references given there), even though in practice popes and bishops have acted inconsistently with this.
A final point. Dr Mobb's opening paragraph seriously misrepresents my position on the conditions required for a teaching to be infallible, as can be seen by referring to my article in the July issue (page 14, column 2).
Reprinted from AD2000 Vol 23 No 8 (September 2010), p. 14
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