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|No. 34||Roman Theological Forum | Article Index | Study Program||March 1991|
John Courtney Murray: A Reliable Interpreter of Dignitatis Humanae? (Part II) by Brian W. Harrison
Wanted and Unwanted Children by Edward P. Atzert
by Brian W. Harrison
The principle of the liberty of the Church is fundamental in her relations with the public authorities and with the whole civil order.This translation maintains the ambiguity, which, owing to the absence of definite and indefinite articles in Latin, is found in the original text (Libertas Ecclesiae est principium fundamentale ...). Murray, in the Abbott edition, translates this as "The freedom of the Church is the fundamental principle ...,"54 although official Vatican translations into Spanish and Italian maintain the same ambiguity.55 Nevertheless, even if we were to concede to Murray that the Council means to say that this liberty is the fundamental principle in Church-State relations, not just a fundamental principle, this would by no means justify his footnote comment that "freedom, nothing more" is the only claim which the Church can make on the State as "a matter of right or of divine law." This inference is no more logical than arguing that, if it is "the fundamental" duty of the public authorities (in purely temporal matters) to protect the lives, property, and freedom of citizens from violent attack, it follows that they are not bound by any other temporal duties. We can say that, in any kind of human enterprise, guarding against what is destructive or evil is more "fundamental" than the positive promotion of what is good, in the sense that warding off serious damage or destruction has a logical and temporal priority over proceeding with the further construction or perfection of what already exists.56 If I am half-way through building my house and floods start to undermine the foundations, it will be foolish to neglect them in that moment in order to start putting on the roof. And if my little daughter is ill with hepatitis, sending her to hospital takes priority over sending her to school. But this does not imply that the house needs no roof, or that my daughter needs no schooling. Nor does Dignitatis Humanae 13 in any way imply that there is no obligation in divine law for civic authorities to recognize the unique truth of Catholicism.
And what is it that this Church asks of you, after nearly two thousand years of all sorts of vicissitudes in her relations with you, the powers of the earth? What does the Church ask of you today? In one of the major texts of the Council she has told you: she asks of you nothing but freedom - the freedom to believe and to preach her faith, the freedom to love God and to serve Him, the freedom to live and to bring to men her message of life.57But once again, it is vain to look for any stated or implied conclusions about divine law in this passage. Indeed, the first two interrogatory sentences, emphasising the constantly changing nature of the Church's de facto relationships with civil rulers throughout history, support a merely prudential and pastoral interpretation of this message, in keeping with the Council's overall goals. It simply answers the question as to what the Church deems appropriate "today" as a realistic request to modern political powers in general, not the question of what rights pertain to the Church in strict doctrinal principle. Given the fact that the populations of very few nations today are more or less united in the profession of Catholicism, it might only lead to harmful confusion to present the entire community of national governments with a direct request for the immediate fulfilment of divine law in all its fullness - that is, national, communal recognition of the unique truth of Catholicism. Such a request would be analogous in its imprudence to standing on a street corner in modern London or New York and handing out leaflets to all passers-by telling them that, as a matter of divine law, all men and women are required to receive valid Holy Communion, in the Catholic Church. This would of course be true: "Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man ... you will not have life in you" (John 6:53). But the obligation to receive Holy Communion is an aspect of divine law the fulfilment of which presupposes the prior fulfilment of other more basic aspects - faith, baptism, and if necessary, sacramental confession. Likewise with the obligation of governments to recognize the truth of Catholicism. Civil rulers whose task is the representative government of largely or predominantly non-Catholic populations cannot reasonably be expected to enact laws recognizing Catholicism as the true religion under those existing conditions.
In human society and before all civil authorities whatever (coram quavis potestate publica) the Church claims liberty for herself in her character as the spiritual authority (utpote auctoritas spiritualis), founded by Christ the Lord, which by divine mandate has received the task of going out to the whole world and preaching the Gospel to every creature.58By stressing that this "divine mandate" is presented to "all civil authorities whatever" as a reason for the Church's title to liberty, the Council clearly implies that in principle all civil authorities ought to accept it as a good reason. Nobody makes an argued appeal to another person or authority unless he believes that this other person or authority, at least in principle, should be capable of perceiving the argument's validity. But for any government to recognize this argument's validity would be for it ipso facto to recognize the unique truth of Catholicism, since the Catholic Church certainly does not claim - before civil governments or anyone else - to be merely one of a number of "spiritual authorities" bearing a divine mandate to evangelize the world.59 Thus, both the doctrinal and the pastoral aspects of Vatican II's teaching on the Church's freedom become clear. For modern prudential and pastoral purposes the Church today has decided, in dealing with civil governments, to insist explicitly only on her right to freedom. But the very grounds given for that right to freedom implicitly assert the other right affirmed by traditional doctrine: the Church's divinely guaranteed right to be recognized by all human authorities and powers as the true religion.
Moreover this treatment of religious liberty leaves intact the Catholic doctrine concerning the one true religion and the one Church of Christ.60Many Fathers complained that this was too cursory, so in the next draft (the textus recognitus of October 1965) this was expanded so as to affirm that the Council's teaching on religious liberty
leaves intact the Catholic doctrine concerning the one true religion, the one Church of Christ, and the moral duty of men towards that Church.61This draft still left a good many Fathers unsatisfied, and during the Council's final month conservative objections were taken more seriously than ever before by the drafting commission. In presenting the final text to the assembled Fathers, the commission's spokesman, Bishop Emil de Smedt, acknowledged that "some Fathers" had still expressed concern that previous drafts did "not sufficiently show how our doctrine is not opposed to ecclesiastical documents up till the time of the Supreme Pontiff Leo XIII."62 In fact, an influential group of conservative Fathers had expressed their problems of conscience in regard to article 6, which spoke of "special recognition" being given by the State to one particular religion only "in the light of historical circumstances." That seemed to suggest that State neutrality towards the different religions was now to be seen as doctrinally normative, in contradiction of the 19th-century Encyclicals.63 In his final relatio de Smedt explained the Commission's response:
As regards the substance of the problem, the point should be made that, while the papal documents up to Leo XIII insisted more on the moral duty of public authorities toward the true religion, the recent Supreme Pontiffs, while retaining this doctrine, complement it by highlighting another duty of the same authorities, namely, that of observing the exigencies of the dignity of the human person in religious matters, as a necessary element of the common good. The text presented to you today recalls more clearly (see nos. 1 and 3) the duties of the public authority towards the true religion (officia potestatis publicae erga veram religionem); from which it is manifest that this part of the doctrine has not been overlooked (ex quo patet hanc doctrinae partem non praetermitti).64This explanation is of supreme importance, as it constitutes the only official commentary on the final and definitive version of the vital passage in the preamble whose textual evolution we have been considering. This final text (in which we have emphasised the words added) asserts that the Council's doctrine of religious liberty
leaves intact the traditional Catholic doctrine on the moral duty of men and societies towards the true religion and the one Church of Christ.As we have just seen, the Council Fathers were officially informed that, in casting their votes for or against this final draft of the religious liberty schema, they were to understand it as reaffirming the doctrine of earlier Popes such as Leo XIII on the duties of the "public authority" towards the true religion. And as we have seen, these duties of "society" as such, acting through its public authority, were always said by those Popes to include, as a matter of divine law, not only respect for the freedom of the Church but also theoretical and practical recognition of her unique authority as bearer of the true religion.
Therefore the civil power, whose characteristic purpose is to care for the common temporal good, must recognize and favour the religious life of citizens; but it must be seen as exceeding its limits if it presumes either to take charge of or to hinder (dirigere vel impedire) religious activity.72It is fair to conclude that, notwithstanding the very substantial contribution of John Courtney Murray's thought to the Declaration on Religious Liberty, the document finally promulgated by the Council, understood correctly in the light of its textual history and the official explanations given to the Fathers by the relator, did not adopt Murray's novel opinion - an opinion contrary to all Catholic tradition and to weighty pronouncements of the Church's magisterium - that society's public authorities in principle need not, and indeed may not, recognize the unique truth of Catholicism, and express that recognition appropriately in their official acts. Unfortunately Murray and many other commentators in the twenty-five years since the Declaration was promulgated have presented Dignitatis Humanae to the world as though it had endorsed this unapproved opinion, even though in fact the document ended up by reaffirming (albeit in muted tones) the traditional contrary thesis.
The State, out of regard for the traditional Catholic sentiment of the Colombian nation, considers the Catholic, Apostolic and Roman religion as a fundamental element of the common good, and of the integral development of the national community.74The current concordat between the Holy See and the Dominican Republic is more emphatic. It dates from a decade before the Council, but because it was already in harmony with the subsequent teaching of Dignitatis Humanae regarding the religious liberty of non-Catholics as well as Catholics, it has continued in force till the present day. The document begins "In the name of the Most Holy Trinity,"75 thereby making the kind of "judgment of theological truth" which John Courtney Murray says political authority is incompetent to make. This judgment is repeated in the first article of the concordat:
The Catholic, Apostolic, Roman religion continues to be the religion of the Dominican Nation and will enjoy the rights and prerogatives which pertain to it in conformity with Divine Law and Canon Law.76This clearly goes much further than the kind of mere sociological "statement of fact" which is the most Murray will allow in the constitutional documents of a Catholic people.77 And in the case of both Colombia and the Dominican Republic this national recognition of Catholicism further contravenes the norms advocated by Murray, in that it certainly has "juridical consequences": Catholicism is to enjoy a favoured legal status in regard to marriage legislation, public education, the designation of public holidays, the civil status of clergy, and other areas of the national life.78 Perhaps more importantly, this recognition is a strong constitutional barrier against the legalization of neo-pagan barbarities which outrage natural law: abortion, homosexual "marriages," euthanasia, etc. An officially Catholic nation, one supposes, will accept the Catholic Church's role as authentic interpreter of the natural moral law, rather than entrust its interpretation to the fickle whims of majority opinion.
by Edward P. Atzert
Potential life is no less potential in the first weeks of pregnancy than it is at viability or afterwards ... The choice of viability as the point at which the state interest in potential life becomes compelling is no less arbitrary than choosing any point before viability or any point afterward. Accordingly, I believe that the state's interest in protecting potential human life exists throughout the pregnancy.Since Roe vs. Wade, medical science has moved the point of viability up two weeks, and it will move it up still further as the survival rate of prematurely born infants increases.