Religious freedom

Religious freedom

Fr Brian Harrison OS

I appreciate Cardinal Pell's reported remarks wherein he supported the Holy Father's initiatives upholding the traditional Latin liturgy and trying to facilitate the full reconciliation of the Society of St. Pius X (AD2000, June 2009, p. 3).

However, His Eminence is incorrect in saying SSPX members don't accept Vatican II's teaching 'that the state can't coerce belief, even when it happens to be a Catholic state'. The Society has never maintained that Catholic states may 'coerce belief', i.e., force non-Catholics to embrace our faith - something the pre-conciliar Church herself never approved.

No, what the SSPX principally objects to is that since Vatican II's Declaration on Religious Liberty the Church no longer recognises the right of such states - and there are still a few in Latin America - to restrain religious minorities from publicly propagating their errors among a Catholic populace.

Now, at least one other formerly dissident traditionalist group, the Society of St Vincent Ferrer in France, has already been fully reconciled with Rome on the mutual understanding that this change can be seen as manifesting the Church's new prudential judgment as to what the natural right to religious freedom requires under modern circumstances.

That is, the Vatican is not demanding that the said Declaration be read as an implied judgment that the earlier and more severe papal teaching was false and unjust in its original historical context, namely, the relatively self-contained world of Christendom.

In earlier centuries, nearly everyone accepted it as 'par for the course' for governments to be undemocratic and paternalistic in regard to many things, including religion; whereas we now live in a world of increasing religious pluralism, instant communication, global inter-connectedness, and a greater general awareness that the claims of objective truth need to be weighed against the counter-claims of a sincere, though erroneous, conscience.

Hopefully the SSPX will also see its way to full reconciliation with Rome on the basis of this understanding.

Cardinal Pell also mentions anti-semitism. This indeed remains a problem in some SSPX circles, as the Williamson affair made clear. But Bishop Williamson certainly does not speak for the whole Society. Moreover, while Vatican II condemned 'anti-semitism', it gave hardly any guidelines as to what precise attitudes and expressions deserve being stigmatised by that term.

Perhaps His Eminence could use his influence in Rome to press for a much-needed clarification as to where that line between legitimate opinion and bigotry is crossed.

St Louis, Missouri, USA

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