ORGAN OF THE ROMAN THEOLOGICAL FORUM
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Living Tradition, Oblates of Wisdom, P.O. Box 13230, St. Louis, MO 63157, USA
|No. 16||Roman Theological Forum | Article Index | Study Program||March 1988|
Grenada: Our Lady Defeats the "Errors of Russia" - Brian W. Harrison
Religious Liberty: "Rights" versus "Tolerance" - Brian W. Harrison
IN THIS ISSUE: Fr. Brian Harrison presents the true story about Grenada and then, in a second article, adds some further considerations to his earlier discussion of religious liberty.
by Brian W. Harrison
This is a revolution, we live in a revolutionary Grenada ... and there is a revolutionary legality. ... When the revolution speaks, it must be heard, listened to. Whatever the revolution commands, it must be carried out; when the revolution talks, no parasites must bark in their corner. The voice of the masses must be listened to, their rule must be obeyed!Today: The Revolution Down, But Not Out. Parasites. That was a word that chilled me when I heard it on the lips of a young Grenadian during my recent visit. I happened to recall to him how the Bishop regime jailed hundreds without trial. "So what," he replied, "they were only parasites!" He then launched into a tirade against the present government of Herbert Blaize.
by Brian W. Harrison
The following article is an adaptation of a chapter in Father Harrison's book, Religious Liberty and Contraception, published in Australia by the John XXIII Fellowship Cooperative.In an earlier issue of Living Tradition (No. 9, January 1987), I argued that Vatican Council II's Declaration on Religious Liberty (Dignitatis Humanae) does not contradict the traditional doctrinal statements of the Catholic Magisterium - in particular, Pius IX's encyclical Quanta Cura - on the question of state coercion in matters touching religion and morals.
One constant point of disagreement ran through the entire debate on all the various texts and showed itself in the final vote which approved the Declaration. This was the dispute over whether religious liberty was to be simply tolerated or whether it was to be affirmed in principle as a right of each human being.1And Bishop Emil de Smedt, the official relator for the conciliar schema on religious liberty, made the following remarks in presenting one of the earlier drafts to the assembled Fathers of Vatican II:
For, in regard to the modern institution of religious liberty, it cannot be said that, while being something evil in itself, it may be tolerated as a lesser evil or in order to secure a greater good. On the contrary, this institution is to be affirmed as good in itself, since it is solidly founded in human dignity, both personal and civil.2In spite of the apparent incompatibility of the two approaches referred to by Wolf and de Smedt, we believe there is no true contradiction. The appearance of contradiction derives from a lack of precision in thought, which has led to a confusion between two distinct (though closely related) ideas.
In the relationes of Mons. de Smedt regarding the right to religious liberty, not the tolerance of it, an appeal was made to the fact that the laws guaranteeing religious liberty in many countries could not be seen as an evil to be tolerated, but as something good and just. This argumentation displayed a dreadful quid pro quo: the fact that the tolerance of an evil is something good does not mean that the evil tolerated is itself good!3Another way of making the same basic point is to distinguish between the two following propositions:
immunity from coercion and not the content of this or that religion. Nowhere is it affirmed - nor could it be truly affirmed, as is evident - that there is any right to propagate error (Nullibi affirmatur nec affirmare licet [quod evidens est] dari ius ad errorem diffundendum). If people propagate error, this is not the exercise of a right, but the abuse of a right, which can and should be restrained if it seriously harms public order, as is affirmed a number of times in the text and explained in article 7. If these fundamental elements are kept clearly in mind, many proposed amendments to the text can be seen as unacceptable: if a right of this sort were to be denied, such an amendment would be opposed to the substance of the text which has been approved by the Fathers. This cannot be admitted.5As Rodriguez comments, the foundation of this right to immunity from coercion in spreading even a false religion (whenever this activity does not seriously harm the common good)
is simply that the control of this activity is not within the competence of the public authorities. Someone who commits an offence against justly constituted authority in Italy has the right not to be tried for it in Indonesia: not because a criminal action is the foundation of any right, but because the criminal is socially responsible only before the competent tribunal of his country.6Rodriguez perhaps overstates his case by the use of that sort of analogy, but at least it brings out the crucial distinction clearly.
is not fully in accord with the substance of the text. It is indeed true that religious liberty is, or should be, a positive civil right; but this should be precisely as a recognition of a right which pertains to the person. Moreover, if it were said to be nothing more than a positive civil right, this could be used against the Church herself.8Thus, the Council insisted that religious liberty is a right in the strict sense of the word, not merely a currently opportune provision of positive civil law. However, this did not involve contradicting the traditional doctrine that the propagation of false religions was something that the civil power might "tolerate." What it amounted to was a genuinely new doctrinal development which posited something which at first sight seems paradoxical: a right to be tolerated. That expression was not used by the Council - doubtless in order to avoid confusion, and to give added emphasis to what was new in the doctrine (the part that the modern world wanted to hear) rather than what was traditional. But this is nonetheless what the teaching of Dignitatis Humanae amounts to. The "right to be tolerated" is not a self-contradictory expression, because the idea of "tolerance" towards a certain activity does not necessarily imply that the authority tolerating it has the right to suppress it; it need imply no more than that the authority regards the activity as evil (at least in some respects) and has the physical power to suppress it.