The SSPX has made no secret of its opposition to the teachings about religious liberty both espoused at Vatican II and in the recent USCCB campaign against government intrusion.
We have faced many challenges to our religious liberty. At one time Catholics were forbidden entry into certain colleges like William and Mary. Catholic churches were burned and our worship was curtailed. Later there was the issue of public education and the reading of Protestant bibles. Catholic schools emerged to insure the faith of generations of children.
In more recent times there has been the issue of prayer in schools, the celebration of religious holidays and public symbols, and the status of the Sabbath or Sunday blue laws. The emphasis has shifted from a preference given to the Protestant faith over the Catholic, to an atheistic secular humanism that is hostile to all faith. Today, there is a concerted effort to force the Church to compromise on matters like homosexuality, artificial contraception, and abortion. Will the Church face charges of hate-speech for opposing same-sex unions and homosexual acts? Will the Church be forced to pay for contraceptives, abortifacients and sterilization in healthcare plans? How far will this fight go and how strong and courageous will we find Catholic churchmen. And will the Catholic people stand with their shepherds or with an anti-Catholic modernity? We would expect that traditionalists would be of one mind with conservatives on such matters; but such is not always the case.
The Church would not argue that religious liberty is absolute or that it “necessarily” applies to all creeds equally. However, the principle of religious liberty and freedom of conscience are critical to the Church’s understanding of human dignity. The more a religion reflects the objective order and spiritual truth, the more that faith must remain free from coercion. Mormons once taught polygamy and were rightfully corrected by the federal government. Satanism is restricted on military bases because occult services in the nude conflict with the military code of conduct. Sometimes peculiar things are tolerated in other religions so that the Church herself might benefit from non-interference, matters like the pacifism of Quakers and rigid alcoholic temperance. Then there are acts that cause quite a bit of debate, matters like snake-handling, the prohibition of blood transfusions (Jehovah Witnesses) and interdictions toward inter-racial dating. However, there are also clear limits as with ritual euthanasia, human sacrifice, bondage or trafficking, and the abuse of children.
Furthermore, society has the right to defend itself against possible abuses committed on the pretext of freedom of religion. It is the special duty of government to provide this protection. However, government is not to act in an arbitrary fashion or in an unfair spirit of partisanship. Its action is to be controlled by juridical norms which are in conformity with the objective moral order. These norms arise out of the need for the effective safeguard of the rights of all citizens and for the peaceful settlement of conflicts of rights, also out of the need for an adequate care of genuine public peace, which comes about when men live together in good order and in true justice, and finally out of the need for a proper guardianship of public morality.
These matters constitute the basic component of the common welfare: they are what is meant by public order. For the rest, the usages of society are to be the usages of freedom in their full range: that is, the freedom of man is to be respected as far as possible and is not to be curtailed except when and insofar as necessary. (Dignitatis Humanae #7)
Given the persecution of the Church in England, the separation of the Church and state was interpreted as a way to protect our interests. While an ideal state is one where the Church and state are in harmony, history has proven that such unity is hard to achieve and even harder to maintain. There was also the unpleasant side-effect that with the Reformation, the creed of the land followed the local prince. While such was legally tolerated in Europe to prevent bloodshed, this arrangement was very unfair to Catholics who felt abandoned by Rome and a Catholic Europe. Religious liberty in the United States permitted the Church to expand at a rate that surprised even the Holy See. Marylanders rejoiced to be liberated from the penal laws. Our Catholic school system grew to be second to none. It must be added that the separation of Church and state never meant a disavowal of traditional religious values or culture. Such is the extreme that we see today from organizations like the ACLU and the liberal People for the American Way. The American state was viewed by many of our founders as a Christian one, not atheistic as some contend today.
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.(2) 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. (Dignitatis Humanae #2)
If everyone were Catholic, we might presume that the public values and laws would reflect this fact. But states that are largely Catholic do not always remain sympathetic to the Church. Mexico in the 1920’s would be a case in point. The rupture of the Reformation took place in what were formerly Catholic nations. Never underestimate original sin and the hunger of men for power.
While we might hope and work for the day when earthly realms would recognize Christ and his Church, we leave such eventualities to divine providence. Anything else would be a pelagian nod to earthly utopias. Our emphasis is always upon the kingdom of Christ which is ushered in by God’s grace.
Some critics, particularly within the SSPX, would criticize the model of religious liberty taught by the late Fr. John Courtney Murray. They go so far as to fault its promulgation at Vatican II as the source for global apostasy and secularization. However, Father Murray simply gave voice to what he saw as the American experiment. I would argue that it was not an ingredient in the subsequent conflict with modernity, Vatican II or no Vatican II.
It is simplistic to demonize the council or to give a heightened importance to the pre-conciliar Church that it did not possess. The council was an attempt by the Church to respond to a changing world. Not everything worked out and many purposely distorted the meaning and purpose of the gathering. However, the world’s bishops did gather, it was a legitimate council, and the Pope ratified it. Those who utterly reject it will find themselves in opposition to a crucial Church teaching— that the universal Magisterium so gathered is safeguarded by the Holy Spirit. It is no wonder that those who oppose the council are neither united to the majority of the world’s bishops nor in juridical union with the Holy See. There are only two options open to critics of the council. Either there was a misapplication of the council by those who invented a “spirit of Vatican II” or there is no supernatural agency protecting ecumenical councils, the Magisterium and the Pope. It is for this reason that castigating the council is a very dangerous thing for a “faithful” Catholic to do. It leads either to a Catholicized variation of Protestantism or to atheism.
It is true that Cardinal Ottaviani shared a number of concerns about the council and his view regarding Church/state relations. It is no secret that this holy prelate was unhappy, especially given that his schema for the council was brushed aside and replaced. But he was only one man and in the end he was obedient. The fact remains that the majority of the world’s bishops and the Pope signed off on the council documents. The issue here is clearly one of ecclesiology. Pope Benedict XVI was at the council and yet critics would try and tell him what was what. The arrogance in all this is insufferable.
Church social teaching cannot be merely theoretical but must reflect the pragmatic reality of the world where we find ourselves. While there are stable elements, the political teaching reacts to the world around us: the disappearance of monarchies, the rise of democracies, capitalism and the world economy, the threat of communism, and increased secularism. Today, we would also add the effect of technology and communication, as well as the rise of fundamentalist Islam and their lack of tolerance toward the Church. The Church is seeking for ways to grow and arguing for its right to exist, no matter how societies might change.
Some critics contend that the “post-Vatican II Church” is apparently afraid to sanction those teaching heresy or promoting immorality; however, it is quick to enforce “disciplinary rules.” They resent that Archbishop Lefebvre was disciplined for consecrating bishops without a papal mandate while heretical priests remain in “good standing” to teach heresy and to actively dissent. I would argue that it is no less scandalous for traditionalists to dismiss the guidance of the Holy See. More than discipline is at stake but a fundamental view regarding ecclesiology and divinely appointed authority. The scandal is worse for those who feign fidelity to the Holy See while failing truly to obey the successor of St. Peter. No one expects fidelity from the liberal dissenters. Their only deceit is that they might still claim to be Catholic; but that is a shallow lie through which all but the most ignorant can penetrate. I would also argue for a heavier hand by the Church but I am neither a bishop nor the pope. I am sure the shepherds have their reasons for what they do. I suspect that the most liberal dissenters just do not respond to sanctions. The issue is not whether leftist dissenters have been properly punished; but, rather have breakaway traditionalists displayed sufficient contrition to have the last of their sanctions removed? I would place the highest gravity or wrong with the SSPX. They should have known better. Who knows what good their presence within the Church would have merited these past forty years? Instead, they abandoned her and circled the wagons. The consecration of bishops against the will of the Holy See threatened a parallel church. It is no minor crime. It deserves penance prior to absolution. I think this is the ultimate holdup. They can quickly find fault in Rome but wrongly imagine that they are immaculate and had no other recourse. What they did was wrong. It was a grievous sin. The Pope removed their excommunication, not out of justice but from charity. Pope Benedict XVI is a gentle man where I would have given them ultimatums. I am not convinced that the SSPX will ever return to juridical unity. That is my opinion and I hope I am wrong. Those who too closely align themselves with them, even if just for an anachronistic love of the old liturgy, may find themselves ultimately outside the lawful Catholic Church. They will join the Orthodox churches of the East in their schism from Peter, the ROCK of the Church and Vicar of Christ.
Certainly the license to teach theology has been stripped from numerous liberal theologians. Many have faced discipline and censure, such as: Fr. Leonardo Boff, Fr. Charles Curran, Fr. Matthew Fox, Fr. Hans Kung, Sister Margaret Farley, and Sister Elizabeth Johnson. The latter two were quite recent and Sister Johnson was my academic advisor many years ago in seminary. I have read all her books and concur with the evaluation of the U.S. bishops about the improper use of metaphor. It is so peculiar that liberal dissenters grieve about their treatment from the “right-wing” Holy See and yet certain arrogant traditionalists cry like babies that they are the only ones getting rough treatment. I would give them all a swift kick in the pants!
While there is much talk about a silent schism and a liberal fifth column of bishops who oppose Rome while weak bishops look on passively, I would include all four of the SSPX bishops as still another column opposed to the Magisterial teaching office and the living Pope. Those who castigate the council and Rome will become sedevacantists, mark my words. Liberal bishops are dying off and yet many of them would still bend the knee to Rome. The SSPX bishops have made themselves autonomous and the arbiters of all things Catholic. They want Rome to bend to them! Only the Magisterium under the Pope has the authority to interpret past Magisterial documents. The wolves are coming from every side; yes even some of the so-called sheep-dogs may revert to their wolfish ancestry. Defenders of the SSPX are wrong to say that four bishops (who are even fighting among themselves) can trump the Pope and 5,000 bishops who teach and minister in union with him! Sorry, but they are very much mistaken.
Addressing traditionalists, the Pope has given you the freedom to worship with the Tridentine Mass. You should be satisfied with that, say your prayers, raise your families, and steer clear of critiquing a lawful council of Holy Mother Church and the Holy See. Do not join the renegades, no matter what pretense to holiness or devotion they might exhibit.
I love our traditions. I see continuity in our faith. There is no pre-Vatican II Church. There is no post-Vatican II Church. There are various disciplines and rites, but old or new, there is only the Mass— the sacrifice of Calvary from which we receive the “bread of life” and the chalice of salvation”— the real presence of the risen Lord.
But I have no stomach for trouble-makers on the left or right. Pope Benedict XVI is the Pope. He is Peter. He is the Vicar of Christ. If you want to be saved, be subject to him and to those bishops in union with him— period.