Pastoral Authority of Peter II

Rorate Caeli has given a translation of an excerpt of yesterday’s  address of the Holy Father to the Italian episcopal conference:

[M]ay the 50th anniversary of its beginning [of Vatican II], which we will celebrate in the fall, be an occasion to deepen the study of its texts, the condition for a dynamic and faithful reception. “That which above all concerns the Council is that the sacred deposit of the Christian faith be kept and taught in a more efficacious way,” Pope Blessed John XXIII affirmed in his opening address. And it is worthwhile to meditate and read these words.

The Pope charged the Fathers to deepen and present such a perennial doctrine in continuity with the millennial Tradition of the Church: “to pass on the doctrine, pure and whole, without attenuations or distortions,” but in a new way, “according to what is required by our times.” (Address of solemn opening of the Ecumenical Council of the Vatican II, October 11, 1962). With this key for its reading and application – according to a view, certainly not of an unacceptable hermeneutic of discontinuity and of rupture, but of a hermeneutic of continuity and of reform -, listening to the Council and making ours the authoritative indications are the path to ascertaining the ways with which the Church may offer a significant response to the great social and cultural transformations of our time, which have visible consequences also on the religious sphere.

That last sentence underscores the importance of the “supreme, effective, and authoritative pastoral office of Peter” as the only adequate principle of unity for the Church.  Pope Benedict speaks of “authoritative indications” pointing the way toward discernment in matters pertaining to the “great social and cultural transformations of our time.”  The pope is not simply arguing for the doctrinal continuity of the Council with Tradition, but also that the pastoral discernment of the Council and its correct interpretation by the papal magisterium is the work, not of man but of God.

Applying the principles of the faith to the problems of the modern world has been a complicated process.  Progressives used the liberty granted by the Council as a pretext for a modernist revolution.  It was a risk all the postconciliar popes have been to say was necessary to take, and while we can continue to argue to the end of the world about what hypothetically would have happened had there been no Council, Peter, to whom Christ entrusted his Church, has settled the matter.  This is abundantly clear, but, of course, not clear enough to those who really “know” what is good for the Church.  Take a look at the comments on Rorate Caeli.  This one, fairly moderate as they go, is a succinct summary:

Father B said…
More and more I look at Vatican II as an event of unnecessary surgery.
24 May, 2012 16:50

It is a bit disconcerting that Cardinal Brandmüller refers to Dignitatis humanae and Nostra aetate as “non-binding,” because of a lack of “binding doctrinal content.”  Is he suggesting that “pastoral authority” is no authority?  It seems that Pope Benedict’s argument regarding the “hermeneutic of reform,” which includes both a measure of discontinuity of application within the continuity of doctrine, is not an attempt at all to declare that the Council must be followed because it is infallible, or always doctrinally binding.  Rather, it is the affirmation of the magisterium’s pastoral authority to interpret doctrine and apply it according to circumstances. Furthermore, such applications are not always merely pastoral, as is the case in regard to religious liberty.  They constitute a development of doctrine.

I find it remarkable that Pope Benedict patiently reaffirms this at every turn in spite of the unvarying responses of traditionalists.

10 thoughts on “Pastoral Authority of Peter II

  1. Fr. Geiger,

    Although this article that you posted is already two months old now, I’d like to make a comment.

    However, my comment is not on the major premise of the article, but rather on your concluding and tangential premise that “…such applications are not always merely pastoral, as is the case in regard to religious liberty. They constitute a development of doctrine.”

    With the issue of “religious liberty” being a red-hot one for American Catholics since the passing of the Obama Administration’s HHS Mandate, I’ve started to study the issue myself. To be frank, I’m not so convinced that Dignitatus Humanae (DH) truly was a “development of doctrine”. In fact, I’m convinced that DH truly expressed a fallible innovation in promoting that persons have rights to not be impeded in public from acting upon their consciences in matters of religious liberty.

    Here is an excerpt (see below) from pages 234-235 of Chapter XXIII, “The Dignity of the Human Person”, in Michael Davies’ (may he rest in peace) book “The Second Vatican Council and Religious Liberty”, which I think clearly and succinctly clarifies this issue:

    (start of quote)

    In Gaudium et spec the Second Vatican Council teaches us that a man who cares but little for truth and goodness can lose his dignity. It also taught in Gaudium et spes that: “Man has in his heart a law written by God. To obey it is the very dignity of man; according to it he will be judged” (Para. 13). But the same Council teaches us in Dignitatis humanae that a man who does not live up to his obligation to seek and adhere to the truth nonetheless possess a right not to be prevented from propagating falsehood in public, and that this right “has its foundation in the very dignity of the human person, as this dignity is known through the revealed word of God and by reason itself” (Article 2). It would be interesting to obtain an explanaion of how the revealed word of God or reason proved that man’s ontological nature, as a being redeemed by the Blood of Our Lord and an heir to eternal glory, gives him a true right to undermine the truth. He cannot, of course, be coerced into embracing truth, but the claim that he has a true right not to be prevented from propagating falsehood seems to be unsupported by a single text from the revealed word of God, to be unreasonable, and to be totally incompatible with the papal teaching cited in Chapter XXII, such as this statement from Immortale Dei: “Whatever, therefore, is opposted to virtue and truth, may not rightly be brought temptingly before the eye of man, much less sanctioned by the favour and protection of the law.” Pope Pius XII, as Father Connell pointed out, taught precisely the same doctrine in Ci riese in 1953: “That which does not correspond to truth or to the norm of morality objectively has no right to exist, to be spread, or to be activated.”

    How, then, can a right to spread what does not correspond to truth be derived from the dignity of the human person? One final reference must be made to the distinction between “a right to act” and “a right not to be prevented from acting”. This distinction is valid in the internal forum of the home because, as St. Thomas taught, parents have a natural right to educate their children (even here the State sometimes has an obligation to intervene to protect children from moral or physical danger). But the claim in Dignitatis humanae that there is a natural right not to be prevented from propagating error in the public forum appears to be no more that a gratuitous assertion, and a gratuitous assertion is certainly not an adequate basis for repudiating consistently reiterated and evidently doctrinal papal teaching.

    (end of quote)

    Perhaps the biggest ramification of DH concerns whether or not Catholics themselves have this “right” to not be impeded in public from expressing their religious beliefs. This matter attains critical mass especially when Catholics publicly dissent from official Church teaching, which I’m sure we agree is far too frequently the case today.

    I realize that DH was a Declaration directed towards non-Catholics. However, it would be hypocritical to the highest degree for the Church to claim such a “right” for a non-Catholic, and then turn around and deny it to Her very own members.

    Thus, if one truly sees what DH taught as a “development of doctrine”, it raises a serious conundrum for those in Church authority – e.g. how can they definitively assert such a “right” to exist for all human persons in the exercise of their religious liberty, and then turn around and impose restrictions (and even sanctions) upon the LCWR Sisters when they assert that they are merely “following their consciences” (as malformed as we both know they are) in publicly dissenting from the doctrinal teachings of the Catholic Church?

    Perhaps you can elaborate on this matter in a future article post on your blog? I’d be most interested in your response to my and Michael Davies’ understanding of DH and the Church’s true stance on the matter of “religious liberty”.

    Pax et benedictions tibi, per Christum Dominum nostrum,

    Steve B.
    Plano, TX

  2. Steve B.

    I would first say that Michael Davies’ interpretation of DH is decidedly prejudiced, precisely because he repeatedly asserts that DH teaches that man has an inherent right to propagate falsehood. To wit he writes, quoting DH:

    But the same Council teaches us in Dignitatis humanae that a man who does not live up to his obligation to seek and adhere to the truth nonetheless possess a right not to be prevented from propagating falsehood in public, and that this right “has its foundation in the very dignity of the human person, as this dignity is known through the revealed word of God and by reason itself” (Article 2).

    But what DH actually says, quoting completely and in context the sentence in which the fragment above occurs, is the following:

    This Vatican Council declares that the human person has a right to religious freedom. This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits.

    The council further declares that the right to religious freedom has its foundation in the very dignity of the human person as this dignity is known through the revealed word of God and by reason itself. This right of the human person to religious freedom is to be recognized in the constitutional law whereby society is governed and thus it is to become a civil right.

    Nowhere does DH claim that man has an inherent right to propagate falsehood. The proclamation of error is not the object of right in question, but, as DH says explicitly over and over again, the right to be free from coercion in religious matters. There is a fundamental difference, even if the effect is the same. One may be said to be free to propagate error, because error is considered on a par with truth, or one may said to be be free to propagate error because the human person has a right to be free from coercion. The first is to deny the faith. The second is to apply principles of the faith to a society that is not homogenously Catholic. Hence Pope Benedict writes in his December 22, 2005 address to the Roman Curia:

    Basic decisions, therefore, continue to be well-grounded, whereas the way they are applied to new contexts can change. Thus, for example, if religious freedom were to be considered an expression of the human inability to discover the truth and thus become a canonization of relativism, then this social and historical necessity is raised inappropriately to the metaphysical level and thus stripped of its true meaning. Consequently, it cannot be accepted by those who believe that the human person is capable of knowing the truth about God and, on the basis of the inner dignity of the truth, is bound to this knowledge.

    It is quite different, on the other hand, to perceive religious freedom as a need that derives from human coexistence, or indeed, as an intrinsic consequence of the truth that cannot be externally imposed but that the person must adopt only through the process of conviction.

    All this being said DH does also affirm that the individual practice of religion can be regulated in the interests of the common good (DH 7). This issue is obviously complex, and however anyone assesses DH as a development of doctrine, there can be no facile generalizations or universally valid applications. The question of religious liberty does not get solved in some airtight fashion, nor does the Church secure its freedom, nor is the faith surely protected simply by stating that the Church has the right to use the force of the state to coerce in religious matters. As Pope Benedict has written in his non-magisterial book Jesus of Nazareth (2007):

    The Christian empire attempted at an early stage to use faith in order to cement political unity. The Kingdom of Christ was not expected to take the form of a political kingdom and its splendour. The powerlessness of faith, the early powerlessness of Jesus Christ, was to be given the helping hand of political and military might. The temptation to use power to secure the faith has arisen again and again in varied forms throughout the centuries, and again and again faith has risked being suffocated in the embrace of power. The struggle for the freedom of the Church, the struggle to avoid identifying Jesus’ Kingdom with any political structure, is one that has to be fought century after century. For the fusion of faith and political power comes at a price: faith becomes the servant of power and must bend to its criteria.

    Thus to say that DH claims that man has an intrinsic right to propagate falsehood is a rupturist interpretation of the Council, and certainly not one held by the popes who have had a responsibility for the Council’s interpretation.

    In regard to the issue with the LCWR Sisters, I see no inconsistency in the Church’s affirming, on the one hand, the right of men to be free from coercion in religious matters and the her insistence, on the other, of religious women to be obedient to their own profession of the Catholic Creed and their religious vows. Indeed Marian’s quote from Archbishop Müller (in a comment on the other “Pastoral Authority” post) is exactly pertinent:

    This is why there are no negotiations on the Word of God and one cannot believe and not believe at the same time. One cannot pronounce the three religious vows and then not take them seriously. I cannot make reference to the tradition of the Church and then accept it only in some of its parts.

    In the end, the Church does not coerce anyone to believe anything. No one is forced to believe what the Church believes. The Church only insists that those who profess to believe and have ostensibly acted on that belief by choosing to be subject to the laws of the Church, be held accountable. Per even greater force, those who have chosen to make a vow of obedience in so doing have exercised their religious freedom to profess and defend the faith of the Church. They could have done otherwise. They chose not to. Now if their choice is to no longer believe in the Catholic faith, they are also free to act accordingly.

  3. Hi Father,

    Thank you very much for your detailed reply.

    One thing that I have found quite interesting whenever Article 2 of DH is quoted, as you have done, is that nary a reference is EVER made about how the English translation – even the official one available from the Vatican – is a VERY POOR one in some respects.

    Take, for instance, this snippet of Latin text from the middle of Article 2:

    “… et ita quidem ut in re religiosa neque aliquis cogatur ad agendum contra suam conscientiam neque impediatur, quominus iuxta suam conscientiam agat privatim et publice

    Now, I’m not a Latin linguist (I had only 2 years of Latin over 30 years ago in High School), but it’s blatantly obvious to anyone who knows even a cursory amount of Latin that “impediatur” must be translated as “shall be impeded” – i.e. the official Latin text states that persons may neither be coerced nor be impeded/restrained in religious matters, and the last part of the above Latin phrase indicates that both apply to the exercise of one’s conscience in BOTH public and private.

    The “official” English translation sweeps the “shall not be impeded … in public” part completely under the rug, would you not agree?

    So, contrary to your assertion, I do not believe that Michael Davies’ interpretation is the least bit “prejudiced” – in fact, by taking the FULL Latin text into account, it appears that Davies is the one who is NOT being prejudiced….

    In support of the above point, Article 3 from the English translation also explicitly states:

    “It follows that he is not to be forced to act in manner contrary to his conscience. Nor, on the other hand, is he to be restrained from acting in accordance with his conscience, especially in matters religious.”

    And, to drive the point home, the Council Fathers again reiterated the very same point in Article 13:

    “… the Christian faithful, in common with all other men, possess the civil right not to be hindered in leading their lives in accordance with their consciences.”

    *************************************************

    Coersion vs. restraint

    You are right, and Michael Davies & I both agree with you, that no one can be coerced against their conscience. Coersion is not the matter over which anyone takes serious issue with DH.

    The issue that Davies does focus upon is that “public order” is stated by DH as the only limitation for the public exercise of one’s conscience. In other words, DH clearly infers that – so long a public order is maintained – a person has the civil right and CAN publicly profess and promote whatever religious beliefs they maintain, which would include the promulgation of religious falsehoods.

    Again, Article 3 in DH clearly affirms this:

    “Injury therefore is done to the human person and to the very order established by God for human life, if the free exercise of religion is denied in society, provided just public order is observed.”

    ***********************************************

    We both know that a civil right is legitimate only if it does not abrogate the Truth of Divine Law – i.e. it must be consistent with our moral rights & obligations.

    What Michael Davies’ asserts most emphatically is that no one has a moral nor a civil “right” to publicly profess and promote one’s false religious beliefs – since the promotion of falsehood is certainly contrary to the common good, not to mention contrary to Divine Law.

    I have no idea how you can state that “error is considered on a par with truth, or one may said to be be free to propagate error because the human person has a right to be free from coercion”. Really, Father? Again coersion is NOT the same thing as restraint….

    The matter at hand wrt DH over which our grappling occurs has absolutely nothing to do with coersion. The Vatican is not trying to coerce the LCWR Sisters; the Vatican is legitimately and rightfully trying to restrain them from publicly promoting their utterly false beliefs, leading others astray, and causing scandal to the Catholic faithful. Such restraint is perfectly in-tune with the Church’s teaching prior to DH.

    It is utterly sad and even pathetic that the LCWR Sisters have allowed their consciences to be formed so badly wrt Church teaching, and to boot have violated their religious vows of obedience. We should all pray, do penance, and make reparations on their behalf, so that they experience a radical conversion to re-embrace the Church and Her infallible teachings.

    Nonetheless, DH seems to clearly support the LCWR Sisters’ position, and utterly compromises the authority of our Church Leadership – if one utilizes an accurate English rendering of the Latin text in Articles 2, 3, & 13, and if one acknowledges that the Sisters’ public dissent wrt Church doctrine has certainly not disrupted the “public order” (i.e. their scandalous behavior isn’t causing any riots or bloodshed anywhere that I’m aware of).

    Please, if you’d be so kind, elaborate on the issue of “restraint”, and how DH has been a “development of doctrine”. I just don’t see the continuity wrt pre-Conciliar Church teaching (as Michael Davies points out), despite your attempts to do so in your reply above….

    Pax et benedictiones tibi, per Christum Dominum nostrum,

    Steve B.
    Plano, TX

  4. Hi Father,

    No problem. I realize that you have much more important responsibilities than addressing comments & questions posed on your blog.

    I’ll do my best to patiently await your next response.

    Please know that I’m most grateful for your willingness to continue this important discussion, especially given its serious ramifications in our day & age, sadly even within the Catholic Church….

    Pax et benedictiones tibi, per Christum Dominum nostrum,

    Steve B.
    Plano, TX

  5. Steve B.

    Thanks for your patience.

    Pope Benedict, as I note in the comment above, makes a distinction between a false form of religious liberty “as a canonization of relativism,” and true religious liberty, affirmed by DH, which is “a need that derives from human coexistence, or indeed, as an intrinsic consequence of the truth that cannot be externally imposed but that the person must adopt only through the process of conviction.” Religious liberty is, then, is an intrinsic right to be free from coercion and restraint (both are implied in my comment above), but that does not mean that men have an intrinsic right to propagate falsehood. The two are not the same.

    I believe the difficulties in reconciling the differences between pre-conciliar teaching, and DH hinges on this distinction of Pope Benedict. Is there really an intrinsic right to religious freedom, or may the state only tolerate the public practice of false religion? If one has a right to be free from coercion and restraint in matters of religion, does that not also mean that he also has a right to propagate falsehood? These are legitimate questions. But it seems that there really is an intrinsic right to religious freedom if it is viewed from the point of view human coexistence and the free process of conviction within the individual. And on that basis there seems also be a real disjunction between the right to be free from coercion (and restraint) and a presumed right to propagate error.

    In interpreting DH in the light of Tradition the Catechism states:

    The right to religious liberty is neither a moral license to adhere to error, nor a supposed right to error, but rather a natural right of the human person to civil liberty, i.e., immunity, within just limits, from external constraint in religious matters by political authorities. This natural right ought to be acknowledged in the juridical order of society in such a way that it constitutes a civil right (2108).

    Pope Benedict points out in the 2005 address that Pope Pius IX’s defense of the faith against liberalism was directed against the false notion of religious liberty mentioned above, “the canonization of relativism,” while on the basis of the exigencies of dealing with the effects of modernity, the Church through Vatican II affirmed the need for the true religious liberty that is “derived from human coexistence” and the need to come to the truth “through a process of conviction.” He admits a measure of discontinuity had arisen as a result but that “after the various distinctions between concrete historical situations and their requirements had been made, the continuity of principles proved not to have been abandoned.”

    Yes, I believe that this is a development of doctrine, even if pastorally motivated by changing society, and it highlights a fact that becomes ever more important in the light of two millennia of Christian history, the need to affirm and defend the dignity of every human person, and the acknowledgment that this is a fundamental means chosen by Christ to bring men to the fullness of the truth. Again, the development consists in distinguishing false religious liberty as a necessity of relativism from true religious liberty as proceeding from the internal need to be free in the process of conviction and from the need of human coexistence.

    The use of the sword to regulate the practice of religion guarantees no resolution to the fundamental problem, namely, that the defects of human association can only be solved when consciences are fully formed by the truth. It is one thing for the state to defend itself and the Church from the excesses of religious zealotry and fanaticism; it is another to use the state a means to control the process of conviction. He who lives by the sword will die by the sword.

    In fact, the use of the coercive power of the state to control and regulate belief and/or practice comes at a steep price, and the line between what you distinguish as “coercion” and “restraint” is thin indeed. Furthermore, in maintaining that the Church cannot be identified with any political structure, the Holy Father not only guarantees that men will be free of coercion and restraint in religious matters, he also provides the surest means to obtain the liberty of the Church. As he says:

    For the fusion of faith and political power comes at a price: faith becomes the servant of power and must bend to its criteria.

    The two main parts of DH dealing with and coordinating religious freedom based on 1) human dignity and 2) the liberty of the Church as the divinely appointed means of salvation represents one of the finest expositions of the mind of Christ on this theme. Our Blessed Lord broke with the common practice, both of Jews and Gentiles, to ensure religious conformity via the coercive power of the state. To the objection that the approach of DH constitutes an imprudent risk of religious chaos and the triumph of falsehood we may say: no more so than the creation of man as a free agent, whose obedience to God must be based primarily on personal conviction, not on political or physical compulsion. We may also reply that respect for the liberty of the Church as willed by its Founder and exercise of her mission is the system best calculated not only to maintain the transcendence of the Church over secular society, but to integrate human dignity and freedom with unconditional obedience and service of the Savior of all, whom to serve is to reign.

    Hence, the defense of true religious liberty is also a defense of the liberty of the Church. The two are integrally related and Council had to address this issue in the face of the atrocities of the twentieth century.

    You say:

    We both know that a civil right is legitimate only if it does not abrogate the Truth of Divine Law – i.e. it must be consistent with our moral rights & obligations.

    And

    What Michael Davies’ asserts most emphatically is that no one has a moral nor a civil “right” to publicly profess and promote one’s false religious beliefs – since the promotion of falsehood is certainly contrary to the common good, not to mention contrary to Divine Law.

    Agreed. But the right does not pertain the freedom “to publicly profess and promote one’s false religious beliefs,” but the freedom from coercion and restraint in matters that pertain to religious conviction and practice. That freedom is not contrary to Divine Law or to the common good. It cannot be equated with “a moral license to adhere to error, nor a supposed right to error.”

    Again, on this basis I see no contrast between the teaching of DH on religious liberty and the Church’s insistence that her own members, who are so voluntarily, and especially members with a vow of obedience, which they contracted voluntarily, be subject to the public discipline of the Church, an obligation of which they were aware before they exercised their liberty to be adult members of the Church and professed religious. They are still free to do something else if they have lost their faith, which is not to say that they have a right to do so.

    I do not claim any special expertise in this matter. Nor do I hold in contempt sincere academic inquiry into the question, as long as it is subject ultimately to the Holy Father. I appreciate the difficulties many have with reconciling DH with preconciliar teaching. And while I respect the sincere consciences of others in the matter, I do not believe such difficulties can justify the rejection of conciliar teaching, especially since it has been upheld by fifty years of papal teaching. As late as January of last year Pope Benedict wrote:

    Religious freedom is, in this sense, also an achievement of a sound political and juridical culture. It is an essential good: each person must be able freely to exercise the right to profess and manifest, individually or in community, his or her own religion or faith, in public and in private, in teaching, in practice, in publications, in worship and in ritual observances. There should be no obstacles should he or she eventually wish to belong to another religion or profess none at all.

    I simply believe as a Catholic who knows that Christ entrusted his Church to Peter. And whether he acts as Teacher (in a manner guaranteed by his charism of infallibility or not) or as Pastor, whose mandate is to lead Christ’s sheep in the here and now amidst the concrete dangers of history, he is to be trusted. Unlike the opinions of you and me, the Holy Father’s teaching is never merely an opinion, nor are answers relative to difficult doctrines to be solved in a merely scientific matter. Revelation is always the object of faith, and the defense of that faith has been entrusted to Peter, and ultimately to him alone.

  6. Hi Father,

    Thank you again for your further comments.

    Before I reply again in detail, I have one question that I wish you could briefly clarify. Namely, it has to do with this section of your most recent reply:

    Again, on this basis I see no contrast between the teaching of DH on religious liberty and the Church’s insistence that her own members, who are so voluntarily, and especially members with a vow of obedience, which they contracted voluntarily, be subject to the public discipline of the Church, an obligation of which they were aware before they exercised their liberty to be adult members of the Church and professed religious. They are still free to do something else if they have lost their faith, which is not to say that they have a right to do so.

    Are you asserting that, if a Catholic wishes to remain a member of the Church, his/her obligation to “be subject to the public discipline of the Church” must have precedence over their own religious liberty?

    Thanks in advance for your clarification.

    Pax et benedictiones tibi, per Christum Dominum nostrum,

    Steve B
    Plano, TX

  7. Steve B.,

    The answer is no. If you see a contradiction between religious liberty as Pope Benedict understands it and the voluntary acceptance of membership in the Church and its concomitant obligations you will have to explain it to me. Do you believe that the discipline of the Church is identical with political and civil power?

  8. Hi Father,

    Thank you for the clarification.

    Do you believe that the discipline of the Church is identical with political and civil power?

    No. Luke 10:16 & John 20:22-23 reveal that the Church’s authority comes directly from Christ. Since the discipline of the Church stems directly from that authority, it certainly and immensely transcends all political and civil power.

    I wholeheartedly concur that our “voluntary acceptance of membership in the Church and its concomitant obligations” go hand-in-hand; as Catholics, we certainly are to do our very best to “think with the mind of the Church.” I’m just having a really hard time wrapping my brain around Pope Benedict’s understanding of religious liberty in lieu of our duties as members of the Church. Some of his thoughts are nearly as difficult as St. Thomas Aquinas’ complex teachings on Predestination & sufficient/efficacious grace….

    Differing perspectives on “restraint”

    It is very unsettling to me to read your quote from Pope Benedict’s perspectives on religious liberty when he said in Jan. 2011:

    “There should be no obstacles should he or she eventually wish to belong to another religion or profess none at all.

    “no obstacles” – not even to respectfully & charitably impede a person from rejecting God completely, and from becoming an atheist???

    I would say that we, as Catholics, and the Church Herself, are obligated to perform one or two of the Spiritual Works of Mercy (i.e. admonishing the sinner, and/or instructing the ignorant) to prevent such persons from sliding into the abyss of faithlessness, as well as the inherent danger of embracing a false religion.

    But, why are “restraints” seen is such wholly negative terms wrt human dignity? With the primary mission of the Church being the salvation of souls (although that seems to be a low priority for far too many of our Priests & Bishops today – since far too many wrongly believe that mortal sin is extremely rare anymore), having obstacles/restraints in place to impede (or at least slow down) the slide of souls into Hell seems like it would be a very good and generous act for upholding the dignity of the human person this day in age, when religious falsehoods abound and grow like a cancer amongst humanity.

    I think of restraints/obstacles to religious liberty in this analogous way, especially for Catholics:

    We are on the barque of Peter, which Our Lord assured is the surest means by which salvation can be attained (i.e. “no salvation outside the Church”). So, why is it not seen as a great act of charity towards Her members for the Church to have in place protective restraints/obstacles around the perimeter of the barque to keep foolish and wayward souls from falling off into the dangerous and stormy seas?

    Father Angelo, I pray almost daily for the Holy Father. I deeply respect his authority as the Vicar of Christ, and I will always try my best to defer to his authority and judgment in order to remain a faithful and holy Catholic.

    However, his and your insistence that having no restraints nor obstacles whatsoever toward the exercise of religious liberty, “constitutes an imprudent risk of religious chaos”, as you said earlier. I would go even further, and say that it virtually guarantees religious chaos – and, the state of religious affairs in the Western world, even within the Catholic Church, certainly attests to my point of view.

    There may be a small majority of folks who “finally come to their senses” as they exercise their unencumbered religious liberty, but overall the odds are poor (the harmful effects of falsehood and sin is most powerful upon the human mind and will!), and the objective statistics indicate that it has caused more harm than good (see Kenneth C. Jones’ “Index of Leading Catholic Indicators” report).

    Satan must be rejoicing immensely over two things, which in my opinion the lack of public restraint wrt religious liberty has been a catalyst:

    1) the dissent-fest and lack of faith rampant amongst modern-day Catholics, and

    2) the widespread and scandalous lack of courage on the part of too many leaders within our Church to:

    a) actually teach the fullness of the faith (how few of our Bishops & Priests have even bothered to use the HHS mandate situation as a golden opportunity to teach the fullness of our faith on Contraception – the REAL reason why the mandate is an act of coersion by the Obama administration!), and

    b) exact punitive discipline upon prominent “catholic-in-name-only” politicians who so frequently scandalize and lead astray the faithful.

    We’ll just have to agree to disagree on the matter of religious liberty Father, albeit only on the “restraint in public” aspect of it. I do not subscribe at all to the idea that human nature has changed in modern times, for it to be a prudent decision for the Church to promote and implement the idea that the public restraint of religious expression is an affront to the dignity of the human person.

    Chaos will ravage the Church Militant when there are no restraints for its spiritual soldiers to go AWOL….

    Nonetheless, thank you very kindly for your time and effort, Fr. Angelo, in continuing our discussion this far, and as well for your charity and generosity in allowing my discussion with you of this difficult and complex subject to take place via the comment box on your blog.

    Please pray for me, as I will continue to do so for you (I pray for you almost daily, and have done so for several years now).

    Pax et benedictiones tibi, per Christum Dominum nostrum,

    Steve B.
    Plano, TX

  9. Steve B.

    You are welcome and thank you also for this respectful discussion. I will certainly pray for you, and am grateful also for your offering of prayers. I very much need them.

    I would like to say briefly that I am not so sure we disagree as much as you imply. I certainly believe we have an obligation in charity to “admonish the sinner” and “instruct the ignorant.” I also agree that such works of mercy do constitute a kind of “restraint,” when it comes in the form of admonitions and exhortations from the faithful and especially from priests, the latter who do so not only under the title of charity but also of justice. Moreover, bishops, with the fulness of the priesthood, exercise this responsibility with the force of canon law behind them, and I fully concur that punitive measures are sometimes in order, as they are with respect to the LCWR sisters.

    Again, I do not believe that the exercise of religious liberty is contrary to the voluntarily assumed obligations (and penalties when such obligations are notoriously refused) of those who profess the Catholic Creed or the vows of religious life in the Catholic Church.

    All that being said, what Pope Benedict refers to when he says that there should be no obstacles to religious liberty, even to atheism and its practice, is immunity from civil and political coercion and restraint, namely, from penal sanctions, criminal prosecution, monetary fines, imprisonment, physical compulsion and the like. The immunities in regard to religious freedom pertain to state and political entities, not to the discipline of the Church as it ought to be applied to her members who exercise their religious freedom by choosing to be subject to her laws. But even in respect to the state such immunities are not absolute. Both DH and the Catechism admit that such immunities have just limits in the interests of the public order and the common good.

    None of this is posited on a presumed change of human nature, but on a fuller recognition of human dignity and a wide-eyed assessment of human history and our current predicament.

    Again, I thank you also for this opportunity to discuss this matter with you.

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