Author’s Note: Some of this is a repeat of what I have said in the past. I am including new material at the top and bottom though, so please read the whole post 🙂
After returning to church over a decade ago (I never denied being Catholic, but as a young man my practice was lackadaisical), I was very hungry for all things Catholic. I read a book by George Weigel called “Witness to Hope” (available HERE, Kindle version HERE), which was a wonderful biography of Pope John Paul II.
In one part of the book, Mr. Weigel discusses religious freedom, and its promotion at the Second Vatican Council. As Mr. Weigel mentions Archbishop Lefebvre, I immediately sat up and took notice. As I had received First Communion at an SSPX chapel (Our Lady of the Rosary, now over three decades ago), and with a fond memory of my catechism teacher, fellow students, the Rosaries, Gregorian Chant, etc, I knew who the archbishop was. Even after we moved, my father kept up with what was going on with the society, and I was able to stay aware, from a child’s perspective, of what was going on with the SSPX.
While I have over the past 12 years come to take a different position than George Weigel on religious liberty, I still respect his opinions and his writing, even if I strongly disagree with him at times. I remember fondly attending a talk of Mr. Weigel’s in Peoria, IL in October 2002. I even threw out the first question when we got to that portion of his talk 🙂
Anyways, from Witness to Hope, I wanted to quote George Weigel as he discussed religious liberty. Then I am going to provide a link (actually a couple) to Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre’s view.
From Witness to Hope, page 163:
Karol Wojtyla also participated vigorously in the third session’s most controversial debate, on religious freedom, in one spoken and two written interventions.
Why was religious freedom so controversial at Vatican II?
Some Council Fathers took a philosophical position that, once its premises were granted, was at least logical. “Error” had “no rights.” States should recognize this so that justice would be served; therefore the optimum arrangement between Church and state was one in which the state recognized the truth of Catholicism and gave it a privileged place in society. Others, including a vocal French missionary archbishop, Marcel Lefebvre, were convinced that any Catholic endorsement of religious freedom meant endorsing the radical secularizing politics that had been let loose during the French Revolution. Still others worried that a conciliar defense of religious freedom would involve such a dramatic development of doctrine as to suggest that the Church had been gravely mistaken in the past. These concerns not infrequently overlapped in some bishops’ minds.
My concern with religious freedom (as opposed to religious tolerance) is pretty much summed up with what Mr. Weigel wrote. 1) Error does not have rights. 2) A culture is created in society that is radically secular. 3) It is a departure from the Church’s teachings of the past.
As to the secularization of society, that is happening around us now. Look at the battle the Church is in within the United States just to maintain its institutions – schools, colleges, hospitals, etc – without having to promote mortal sin, that being contraception, abortion drugs, sterilizations. So in that respect, Archbishop Lefebvre was right.
As to error having no rights, and a departure from past church teachings, there are many papal encyclicals and other documents from pre-Vatican II times that state that states SHOULD promote the Catholic faith, and that “religious indifferentism”, what religious liberty used to be called, is a bad thing. One of the ones I often point to, because it is concise, is Mirari Vos. The idea that anyone has a right to religious liberty actually clashes with this document (search my site for others as well). And since the Church is supposed to be protected from teaching error, if you have two contradicting documents teaching opposite things, you have a problem.
Now, perhaps unlike some in the SSPX and other Traditionalists, I think that as long as you interpret the Vatican II document Dignitatis Humanae, Vatican II’s document on religious freedom, that anywhere it could be interpreted as conflicting with previous Church teaching, that it is to be understood as agreeing with the previous teaching, and not the other way around, that DH can agree with Catholic Tradition.
Anything else gives us a break in Catholic Tradition, and thus the Catholic Church would not be protected from error. And then the question would arise, why be Catholic? Why trust the traditional Catholic teaching that “Outside the Church there is no salvation”? Etc.
Well, so far I’ve quote Mr. Weigel, and shared my own thoughts. But why don’t we hear from Archbishop Lefebvre himself?
THIS BLOG POST, from Angelus Press, discusses the Archbishop’s position on Religious Liberty. It quotes Archbishop Lefebvre himself, rather than paraphrasing what he had to say. Here is a portion of their post (please, go over there and read the whole thing!)
Already, before the Council even begins, there is a tension, which, as the Archbishop points out, can be seen in the titles: On Religious Liberty vs. On Religious Toleration. To the modern mind, we may not notice much of a difference, but the most important part of this debate, especially as it relates to the modern world is found in this difference. When I say something has liberty in some aspect, I am referring to a right it possesses. When I say something is tolerated, I am explicitly saying that it is not ideal, that is it not even good (in itself), but that some greater good demands that in prudence, the evil be tolerated. Keep this in mind as we continue this short look.
Concerning the schema on Ecumenism, Archbishop Lefebvre directs his actions against a false notion of the dignity of man. He says, in an intervention to the Decree on Ecumenism, and here we quote from him at length,
All the arguments of Chapter 5 on the subject of ‘religious liberty’ are based on the assertion of the ‘dignity of the human person.’ It is said, in fact, on page 4, para.3:
Thus the man who sincerely obeys his conscience intends to obey God Himself, even though sometimes in a confused way and without knowing it, and that man must be judged worthy of respect.’
My pure and simple reply to accepting such a statement as it stands is no. Considering the matter more closely, a distinction must be made: In view of his intention to obey God, yes; in view of his confusion, no.
From where, in fact, does the person derive his dignity? He draws his dignity from his perfection. Noiw the perfection of the human person consists in the knowledge of the Truth and the acquisisition of the Good. This is the beginning of eternal life, and eternal life is ‘that they may know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent’ (Jn. 17:3). Consequently, so long as he clings to error, the human person falls short of his dignity.
I have read the words of the archbishop before. His interventions within the Second Vatican Council are contained in a book sold by Angelus Press called “I Accuse the Council”. You can buy it from Angelus Press HERE. It is a relatively short read (at least compared to the books I usually read 🙂 ).
Note: DON’T buy it off Amazon. Used versions of it are selling for ridiculous prices there!
Finally, a recommendation. READ THE COUNCIL DOCUMENTS. There are so many people saying “The Council says this”, or “The Council says that”. And often they are trying to mislead you, not giving you the whole truth. All of the council documents are available HERE. Every one of them! In a lot of languages! A lot of Catholics have never read them!
Also, read what Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre had to say. A couple of good books are HERE (I Accuse the Council, already linked above) and HERE (Open Letter to Confused Catholics). The Kindle version of the second book is HERE. His positions are very well thought-out.
And then come to your own conclusions. One of the great tragedies of our time is that, when so much of what we need to know is available at the click of a mouse, so many people do not take the time to do the research, but instead depend on ABC, NBC, CNN, Fox News, etc, all of which have agendas.