Living Tradition
Editor: Msgr. John F. McCarthy, J.C.D., S.T.D.Distributed several times a year to interested members.
Associate Editor: Rev. Brian W. Harrison, O.S., M.A., S.T.D.  Not to be republished without permission.
Please address all correspondence    e-mail:
Living Tradition, Oblates of Wisdom, P.O. Box 13230, St. Louis, MO 63157, USA

No. 44 Roman Theological Forum | Article Index | Study Program January 1993

The Center is Holding
Michael Davies, The Second Vatican Council and Religious Liberty, reviewed by Brian W. Harrison.

by Brian W. Harrison

        Given the extent of the explosion of dissent, confusion and disobedience which has devastated the Catholic Church in the stormy years since Vatican Council II, there is often a temptation to pessimism amongst those who are committed in the struggle to defend and promote the authentic faith, morals, and holy traditions of the Church. Many will have found their own sentiments resonating with those of Anne Roche Muggeridge (author of The Desolate City), who in a recent essay remarked how, even during a visit to Rome, the centre of the Church, the "cheerfulness" she experienced there in the abiding presence of Peter, the Rock, was tempered by the chilling thought of the abuses which continue unabated throughout the Catholic world. She writes:

I try to practise the virtue of hope, but the Irish aren't congenitally designed for it. I hope for the Church in the long run, but the dismal short run, where we are now, is exasperating and discouraging to all but the holy and the fantasists. The disaster has been so great that it is hard to believe in any extensive survival of the Church on earth, let alone a glorious recovery. (Catholic Eye, December 19, 1992).

        Nevertheless, the Church has now struck a blow against confusion and unbelief which should put new heart into even the most pessimistic of orthodox Catholics. I am referring, of course, to the promulgation by Pope John Paul II of The Catechism of the Catholic Church at the end of last year, a historic event which is still being brought into effect at this moment by the preparation of the vernacular translations from the French original, and of what will become the definitive Latin version. Simply because it demonstrates unequivocally that the faith of the Church today is still that of the much-despised "pre-conciliar" Church - more correctly, the Church of all the ages. Here are a few examples:

        We could go on citing further similar instances of commonly disputed doctrines which are unequivocally reaffirmed in this new compendium of the Church's teaching, promulgated after years of consultation with the worldwide Catholic episcopate. However, many faithful Catholics, on looking around at the formidably entrenched dissent which continues to operate in many middle-order power structures, will be tempted to lapse back into that spirit of dejection, or disgruntled resignation, which has too often weighed heavily upon them in recent decades. Is it not naive, they may ask, to think that the Catechism, for all its merits, will be able to rectify things in any important way? Will it not suffer the same fate as other fine magisterial documents of the post-conciliar period - Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul's Credo, the General Catechetical Directory, and others which have been first attacked, and then simply ignored, by the dissidents, who, regardless, somehow always manage to carry on with their own "business as usual"? Perhaps the answer to that question depends to a large extent on the response to the Catechism of us rank-and-file clergy, religious and laity. Certainly, the primary formal responsibility for implementing the Catechism lies with the hierarchy. However, with this document, the universal Church has placed a new and sharp sword in the hands of every reasonably intelligent member of the faithful. Because of the wide consultation and years of preparation that went into its making; because of its copious quotes from Vatican II (which dissenters have so long been manipulating in their own interests); because of its great length and comprehensiveness; because of its solemn promulgation by the most authoritative kind of papal document, an Apostolic Constitution - for all these reasons the Catechism should prove to be much more difficult to ignore than the more usual kinds of Vatican documents.

        As the old maxim says, scripta manent: what is written remains. And nowhere is this truth more relevant than when the Catholic Church publishes a universal catechism. That of the Council of Trent remained as a source of life-giving truth for four centuries, and that of Vatican II will certainly not be here today and gone tomorrow. Dissidents have been trying to assure us of the "inevitable" - and indeed, more or less imminent - triumph of their plans for the Church, because after all, "history" (meaning in fact decadent western culture), is heading in that direction. As Hans Küng has been fond of saying, "Pope John XXIV could turn this all around overnight". But if any further nails were needed for the coffin of this kind of vain speculation, they are provided by the new Catechism, which demonstrates that, in reality, the Catholic Church remains light years -and more - away from giving her approval to women's ordination, contraception, divorce and remarriage, sodomy, or any of the other radical innovations on the dissident agenda. True, the Catechism alone will not win the present war for the soul of the Church. However, this monumental document must be seen as a strategic, long-range weapon of great potential power and a further manifestation of the might of Christ's promises to His Church. She has been battered in this titanic struggle to pervert her faith and corrupt her holiness. Nevertheless, in the thick of battle, her citadel remains unbreached and, high above it, her colours are now flying more proudly than ever. The centre is holding. "In the world you shall have distress: but have confidence, I have overcome the world" (John 16:33).


Michael Davies, The Second Vatican Council and Religious Liberty
(The Neumann Press: Long Prairie, MN, 1992),
pp. 326, $14.00 (paperback), $20.00 (hardback).

Reviewed by Brian Harrison

        The English speaker and writer Michael Davies is now established solidly as the most influential apologist for traditionalist Catholicism in the English-speaking world. (By "traditionalist" I mean that wing of the Church which is generally critical not only of the manifold violations of official Catholic doctrine, worship and discipline which have plagued the Church since Vatican Council II, but also of the officially introduced changes themselves.) Davies has the kind of literary merits which also characterize a good lawyer: a clear and forceful style which laymen can readily understand; the ability to be polemical without lapsing into fanaticism; diligence in digging out recognized authorities who support his positions and adversaries who concede them; and the absence of that ambiguity and fuzziness, that dependence on emotive buzz-words, which so often mars the effusions of liberal dissidents.

        Nevertheless, I think he has a tendency to draw exaggerated conclusions from the data which he compiles and expounds so lucidly and persuasively. I have read - and enjoyed - most of his books, but often end up with serious reservations about his final positions. One feels a strong underlying sympathy with Davies' controlled anger as he documents the sorry tale of desolation which is the essence of much recent Church history; but mentally one often has to withhold assent from his rather sweeping conclusions. If I may be pardoned for the seeming contradiction, Davies is a straight shooter who does not always shoot quite straight. And it is precisely his shots which go slightly astray which tend to be snapped up and recycled by followers of the Society of St Pius X and other hard-line traditionalists who live and worship in a state of disobedience to the Pope and hostility to the main body of the Church.

        Davies' newest work seems to me to present once again the aforesaid strengths and weaknesses. It is an important book about an even more important (but much neglected) subject: the question as to whether (and, if so, how) the doctrine of Vatican II's Declaration on Religious Liberty Dignitatis Humanae, can be reconciled with that of pre-conciliar Popes regarding Church-State relations and religious tolerance. If it cannot (as is claimed by many of its liberal supporters as well as its traditionalist opponents), then we are faced with a disaster unprecedented in two thousand years of Church history. If an Ecumenical Council can reverse the doctrine of weighty papal encyclicals, then none of the Catholic doctrines most hotly disputed today - regarding contraception, homosexuality, euthanasia, women's ordination, etc. - is secure. All of them will appear to be equally open to subsequent reversal by some future Pope or Council. And this alleged precedent for radical change is now being wielded as a very dangerous-looking weapon by liberal dissenters.

        The importance of this book consists not only in what it says, but in who says it. I know (and like) Michael Davies, and I think he is too modest a fellow to accept this fact; but the truth is there are thousands of traditionalist Catholics out there who quite literally set more store by the judgments of Davies than by those of the Supreme Pontiff. Traditionalists, it must be remembered, are by definition those who have to a large extent lost confidence in the post-conciliar papacy, because of what they see as its aberrations from Sacred Tradition. And Davies is widely seen in such circles as the most eloquent and reliable exponent of that Tradition at the present time. This means that whatever he says will have significant ramifications - for good or for ill - in regard to one of the most pressing pastoral problems in today's Church: the centrifugal and even schismatic tendencies which prompted the Pope to set up a new arm of the Vatican to help safeguard the unity of the Church - the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei.

        The bottom line of Davies' new book is that there remains an "apparent contradiction between the traditional papal teaching and the teaching of Dignitatis Humanae" (p. 227). Unlike schismatic traditionalists, Davies remains docile and respectful to the Holy See. He writes, "I shall not claim that a contradiction exists. All that I wish to do is to state that I do not see how the traditional teaching and that of Dignitatis humanae can be reconciled, which is a fact, and to ask the Magisterium to clarify the matter" (ibid).

        In my own book Religious Liberty and Contraception (Melbourne, John XXIII Fellowship Cooperative, 1988), I have argued that in fact there is no such contradiction. After studying Davies' book I am still of that opinion. Davies is familiar with my work and refers copiously to it in his own. Indeed, he kindly gives me a generous mention in his acknowledgements, recommending Religious Liberty and Contraception to his readers and calling it "the most important defence of Dignitatis humanae against the accusation of contradiction" (p. 164). He himself took the initiative in inviting me to review his own work, and I welcome the opportunity of doing so. Hopefully, I may be able to clarify some of the issues in regard to which Michael still finds my position unconvincing.

        DIGNITATIS HUMANAE'S CORE TEACHING.   The crucial fact in this dispute is that Dignitatis Humanae teaches the following thesis (not explicitly, but by undeniable implication): non-Catholics (like all human beings) have a natural right to immunity from government coercion in publicly expressing their beliefs, in circumstances where this does not violate public morality, public peace, or the rights of other citizens. (These three factors constitute the Council's definition of that "just public order" by which religious liberty is said to be limited [cf. DH: §7]). Davies and I agree that no Pope before Vatican II ever actually taught this thesis. He, however, goes further and maintains (pp. 220 and 224) that the pre-conciliar Popes actually condemned it; and it is here that we part company. I would say that it is not only not condemned, but is hinted at in certain statements of the twentieth-century Popes prior to Paul VI. It is evident that a contradiction of the above thesis affirmed by Vatican II would affirm or imply the following: no violation of a natural right of non-Catholics is ever committed by a government which represses the public expression of their beliefs, not even in circumstances where such expression does not violate public morality, nor public peace, nor any rights of other citizens. This amounts to the doctrine that public religious error may always and everywhere be repressed without injustice, simply because it is erroneous; that is, without any regard for the social consequences of either repression or non-repression. (Such social considerations, according to this doctrine, could be relevant only to whether repression is prudent or imprudent, not just or unjust.)

        Now I am unaware of any pre-conciliar Pope who taught this doctrine. Certainly Davies cites no papal teaching to this effect. Indeed, when nineteenth century Popes urged the repression of religious error, they certainly did not have in mind circumstances in which that error would not violate the "rights of other citizens"; on the contrary, they were thinking of circumstances wherein they thought it certainly would do so. Davies recognizes as a good summary of pre-conciliar teaching the preparatory schema on these matters which was subsequently thrown out by the conciliar Fathers, and prints it as Appendix V to his book. Article 5 of the schema asserts that, when a Catholic State imposes legitimate restrictions on "public manifestations of other cults", this is to be seen precisely as a measure to protect the rights of others: it aims to "defend [Catholic] citizens against the spreading of false doctrines which, in the judgment of the Church, put their eternal salvation at risk" (Davies, p. 300).

        HINTS OF THIS TEACHING IN EARLIER PAPAL STATEMENTS.   If it were true that there is never any injustice in suppressing public non-Catholic manifestations, then this would remove the stigma of injustice from certain instances of repression which some pre-conciliar Popes in fact seemed to regard as unjust. In regions where Protestant or Eastern Orthodox Christians are the overwhelming majority, for instance, the public expression of their beliefs does not violate public morality, public peace, or the rights of other citizens. On the contrary, where most people are invincibly ignorant of Catholic truth, the propagation of other religions, in opposition to outright irreligion and immorality, will in practice enhance rather than jeopardize their chances of eternal salvation. Given this fact, it would follow, on the basis of Vatican II's doctrine, that Protestants under Hitler and Russian Orthodox under Stalin, for instance (not to mention Jews under both), suffered true injustice when the public exercise of their cults was seriously interfered with by those dictators. And Popes Pius XI and Pius XII seem to have agreed with that proposition. This is the basis for the affirmation in Dignitatis Humanae, §1, that Vatican II intends to "develop the doctrine of recent Popes" in regard to these matters. In his celebrated relatio of 19 November 1963 introducing the first draft of the religious liberty schema (reproduced by Davies as Appendix IV), Bishop Emil de Smedt cited statements of these 20th-century pontiffs which at least insinuated a right to liberty for non-Catholics as well as Catholics. Davies charges De Smedt with misrepresenting these Popes, claiming that he "cites papal declarations demanding religious freedom for Catholics as if they had been intended to demand it for all Christians" (p. 123).

        The truth is that, in the declarations in question, the Popes do not clearly specify "Catholics" rather than "all Christians", as they could very well have done had they wished to adopt the position attributed to them by Davies. Confronting the situation in Nazi Germany, where Catholics, Protestants and Jews alike were being severely harassed in their religious practice, Pius XI in Mit brennender sorge (1937) used an ambiguous expression - "the believer" rather than "the Catholic" or "the Catholic believer" - to designate the subject of "an inalienable right" to freedom from state interference, by virtue of "natural law" (cited in Davies, p. 292). This choice of words was surely deliberate: if the Pope had specified only Catholics in that context, he would naturally have been taken to mean that Jews and Protestants suffered no injustice when Hitler suppressed or interfered with their public worship. Clearly, Pius XI did not want to say that; so Bishop De Smedt's inference that his declaration also refers to non-Catholic "believers" seems quite reasonable to me. So does the similar inference De Smedt draws from Pius XII's affirmation in 1942 that the "fundamental rights of the person" include "the right to the private and public worship of God" (cited, Davies, p. 293).

        Davies also thinks that De Smedt gives an unduly liberal interpretation to a statement in Pius XII's 1953 allocution Ci riesce (reproduced in Appendix VI of the book); but here it is unquestionably Davies who misinterprets the Pope. The statement in question is that "in certain circumstances...[God does] not even communicate the right to impede or repress what is erroneous or false" (cited p. 311, emphasis in original). Now, Davies maintains that the absence of such a right - in other words, the obligation of the state to tolerate error - could only ever result from the state's having "entered freely into [an international] agreement" to permit the free exercise of different religions (ibid., p. 305). He thereby reduces Pius XII's statement to a mere reminder of the moral duty of keeping one's own promises: that is, a government that has freely undertaken to tolerate other religions is obliged to fulfil that undertaking. But this cannot possibly be the Pope's meaning. In the first place, it is ruled out by the context. Pius XII is at this point in his discourse presenting factors which can justify a state's decision to enter into such an agreement in the first place. Clearly, an obligation which would exist only after having entered into it could provide no such justification. Secondly, the Pope supports his statement by reference to the fact that God Himself operates in the world by reprobating, yet permitting, the occurrence of error and sin (ibid., p. 311). If Pius XII had been thinking along Davies' lines, we would expect him to refer to God's example of fidelity in keeping His promises. He does not do so. Finally, if the Pope had meant that the state's obligation to tolerate certain errors in some circumstances arises exclusively from its own freely-given undertaking to do so, then it would have been rather an exaggeration to say that it has "no right" to repress those errors. What is freely given can be freely withdrawn. States seldom make commitments in which they explicitly bind themselves forever to a certain policy. And unless such an extraordinary commitment to "eternal" toleration was given, a state which had the right to repress those errors before the commitment was made would also retain the right to withdraw the commitment (and hence, to resume repression) whenever it thought the national welfare required this.

        RELIGIOUS LIBERTY IN NON-CATHOLIC SOCIETIES.   To sum up our argument so far: the novel element in Dignitatis Humanae's doctrinal teaching is that under some circumstances non-Catholics can have a natural right to immunity from coercion in the public manifestation of their religion. Davies has not succeeded in showing that this proposition was condemned by pre-conciliar Popes; and (contrary to what he thinks) it had been at least implied or insinuated by some of the more recent Popes, especially Pius XII in Ci riesce: if at times the state has no God-given right to repress certain errors, that seems to imply that those who propagate them do have a God-given right, under those circumstances, to be immune from such repression. It would be interesting to know Davies' answer to the following question: in countries where Catholics are a minority, do the non-Catholic citizens have a natural right to immunity from coercion in publicly practising their religion (at least insofar as they remain within the bounds of natural law)? After all, article 7 of the preparatory schema for Vatican II (praised by Davies as a good summary of pre-conciliar doctrine) asserts that the state "should concede" that sort of immunity under those circumstances (ibid., p. 301); and there seems only a short distance between saying that these non-Catholics "should" be given this immunity and saying they have a right to be given it. Davies could not consistently use the mere fact that pre-conciliar documents spoke only of "tolerating" non-Catholic cults to justify a negative answer to the above question, because he already concedes to me (pp. 46 and 216) that a right to immunity from coercion for non-Catholics (if it exists at all) can also be called, without any contradiction in terms, a "right to be tolerated". (To "tolerate" merely means to permit some evil, and does not necessarily imply that the repression of it would also be a just and legitimate option. If it did, then of course the notion of a "right to be tolerated" would indeed be a contradiction in terms.)

        Hence, if Davies answers negatively to my question, he would logically have to adopt the position which I have already argued is more severe than anything taught by traditional doctrine: that is, the view that in the case of non-Catholic religions, their false or erroneous elements as such (that is, considered in the abstract and in isolation from all questions of the overall effect of these religions on society) are sufficient to ensure that those who would practise such religions in public absolutely never have any natural right to immunity from coercion. I would say that this view, while it may have been quite common before Vatican II, was always implicitly opposed to orthodox doctrine, which always recognized (at least implicitly) that the state's coercive power is at the service of society as a whole, and cannot justly be exercised against individual citizens unless the welfare of society requires this. If, on the other hand, Davies is willing to answer "yes" to my question (that is, if he agrees that, in non-Catholic societies, non-Catholics have a natural right to immunity from coercion within the bounds of natural law), then I would say he has already conceded the central doctrinal development of Dignitatis Humanae, as spelt out in the first paragraph of article 2. Taken just as it stands, this core affirmation of Dignitatis Humanae does not say anything one way or another about the treatment of public non-Catholic manifestations in Catholic states. (That issue, of course, is Davies' main bone of contention, and I shall deal with it shortly.) Article 2 just embodies the thesis that there is a limited natural right (the limits are not in any way specified) of the human person - and therefore of non-Catholics as well as Catholics - to immunity from coercion in the public as well as private practice of religion. And Davies could not answer "yes" to my question, logically, without assenting to that thesis.

        Furthermore, Davies could not answer affirmatively to my question without retracting his opinion that the distinction (emphasized by Murray, De Smedt and myself) between affirming a right to spread a false religion and affirming a right not to be prevented from spreading it "is no more than a semantic quibble" (ibid., p. 230). If (as I hold, and I hope Davies holds), Orthodox Christians in central Russia today have a natural right not to be prevented from publicly practising their religion, this by no means implies that they have a natural right to practice it. As Pius XII makes clear in Ci riesce, nobody has a natural right even to believe - much less to propagate - any false doctrine, including, therefore, the false Eastern Orthodox doctrine that submission to the Roman Pontiff's supreme jurisdiction is not required by divine law.

        Davies asks rhetorically, "If there is no right to propagate error in public, how can there possibly be a right not to be prevented from propagating it?" (ibid., p. 218). And he thinks he demonstrates the specious (or merely "semantic") nature of this distinction merely by ridiculing it: he writes, "It is almost as if one said that no one has a right to rob banks, only the right not to be prevented from committing such robberies" (ibid., p. 230). Now, this will not do at all. This kind of flippant rejoinder would be pertinent only if I (and the other writers Davies is criticizing) had made the preposterous assertion that there is always a right to immunity from coercion in doing things which one has no right to do. There are two good reasons why the treatment due to non-Catholic religious activists cannot simply be equated with the treatment due to bank robbers. In the first place, good conscience cannot be presumed in the case of bank robbers, while it usually can be presumed in the case of those dedicated to spreading their religion. The occasional and highly-publicized scandals involving corrupt or hypocritical television evangelists should not make us forget that the great majority of activist and missionary-type believers in most religions are sincere folk, animated mainly by a zeal for God and souls, whose non-Catholicism (and even anti-Catholicism) is due mainly to ignorance, ingrained prejudice, or, all too often, the bad example of professing Catholics. In short, public non-Catholic religious activity can usually be presumed to be good and pleasing to God at the inner, subjective level. It therefore demands far more respectful treatment than bank robbery, which is normally motivated by sheer greed and contempt for God and neighbour.

        Secondly, at the objective, external level, bank robbery is a simple and unilaterally evil activity. It does nothing but harm to others in society. Non-Catholic religions, on the other hand, are complex sets of activities involving both objectively good and evil elements in greater or lesser proportions. In regions where their influence is practically the only available alternative to sheer irreligion, they obviously improve rather than diminish the inhabitants' chances of salvation, as we have already remarked. Even in historically Catholic lands the influence of non-Catholics is not so unilaterally harmful in practice as many Anglo-Saxon traditionalists suppose: they often bring about a moral reformation (and possibly the recovery of sanctifying grace) amongst people who had been living irreligious, violent, dishonest, drunken or licentious lives as professing Catholics.

        I hope that by now the answer to Davies' rhetorical question is clear. There can indeed be a right, sometimes, not to be prevented from doing (in private or in public) something which one has no right to do. To say that there is no right to do something simply means that it violates the law of God (or some just human law) in some respect. However, if, in a given situation, the good aspects and effects of some such objectively illicit behaviour outweigh its bad aspects and effects, then it makes perfect sense to say that people have a right not to be prevented from doing it. Or in other words, a right to be tolerated in doing it.

        At this point Davies might object that (to quote his own words on p. 219): "Dignitatis humanae does not make the right to religious liberty dependent upon the conscientious adherence to mistaken beliefs, to which Father Harrison refers, but...states explicitly that `the right to this immunity continues to exist even in those who do not live up to their obligation of seeking the truth and adhering to it' (Article 2)". I would reply that this passage cannot be taken in isolation, in such a way as to nullify the core doctrinal affirmation of the whole Declaration in the first paragraph of article 2, wherein the human person's "conscience" (conscientia in the Latin original) - is specified as the thing which needs to be respected and protected in civil society. Again, in article 4, Dignitatis Humanae affirms that what it seeks to protect are "the private and public acts of religion by which men direct themselves to God according to their convictions"; and that clearly does not include insincere or hypocritical expressions of religion. I believe that the passage cited by Davies, and indeed the Declaration's statement that "human dignity", rather than "subjective disposition", is the basis of the right to civil liberty, were included mainly with an eye to possible practical complications in legal proceedings. It was pointed out that, if the right were said to be based only on the "good conscience" of the believer, unfriendly governments could easily exploit this in order to harass religious activists, hauling them into court and requiring them to prove their subjective sincerity to the court's satisfaction (something which could easily be turned into a quite difficult task) or else be thrown into jail. In order to provide no pretext for that sort of harassment, it was decided to say that the right does not formally depend on sincerity or good conscience, but just on the status of being human - something no court could possibly pretend to call into question. In short, the primary intention of Dignitatis Humanae is to protect the right to freedom of those believers (probably the great majority) who are in good conscience; but in order to do that effectively, the natural right has to be recognized as extending to those who might be in bad conscience as well. The weeds must be protected for the sake of the good seed (cf. Matt. 13:24-30). Even so, it should be recalled that Dignitatis Humanae does not base the right of non-Catholics to freedom of propaganda solely on their human dignity, but also on the fulfillment of the condition that what they actually do and say has relatively positive, or at least not seriously negative, effects on society as a whole, in accordance with the limits spelt out in article 7.

        Before going on to discuss what for Davies is the central problem with Dignitatis Humanae, another parenthetical comment is in order. Commenting on the section of my book Religious Liberty and Contraception, Chapter 8, where I explain the concept of a "right to be tolerated", Davies says, "What Father Harrison has done here is to claim that a development of doctrine has taken place without demonstrating how it has taken place" (p. 219). This seems to be unfair. Indeed, I do not offer any such demonstration in Chapter 8; but I dedicate to that topic the whole of Chapter 10 - about which Davies has virtually nothing to say in his own book. I refer him, and the reader of this article, to my Chapter 10 for further arguments against his claim that the distinctive teaching of Dignitatis Humanae has no roots at all in the previous tradition of the Church.

        RELIGIOUS LIBERTY IN A CATHOLIC SOCIETY.   Even if my arguments so far have been both valid and convincing, Davies will certainly insist that I have not yet come to grips with his central objection to Dignitatis Humanae, namely, his contention that: (a) traditional doctrine excludes the possibility that, in a predominantly Catholic society, there can be any natural right of non-Catholics to be tolerated in the public profession of their religion; (b) Dignitatis Humanae affirms (or at least implies) such a right; and that in consequence an ineluctable doctrinal contradiction exists between Vatican II and the pre-conciliar Magisterium. My short answer to this objection is that while (a) is true, (b) is false, so that there is no contradiction.

        Before explaining this, however, a subsidiary issue needs to be clarified. I am very glad that my work has helped Davies (as he says on pp. 272-273) to see that there is no formal contradiction between Pius IX's 1864 encyclical Quanta Cura and the doctrine of Dignitatis Humanae. This encyclical (whose teaching, I agree, is ex cathedra and irreformable) is often a major stumbling-block for traditionalists who find genuine difficulty in accepting the Vatican II teaching. I hope that Davies' influence amongst such Catholics will be a significant factor in laying this unnecessary scruple to rest. Nevertheless, in referring to the Syllabus which accompanied Quanta Cura, Davies states (pp. 273-274):

One instance in which it appears impossible to deny the existence of a formal contradiction is that of Proposition 78 of the Syllabus, which has already been cited in this appendix:

Hence it has been wisely decided by law, in some Catholic countries, that persons coming to reside therein shall enjoy the public exercise of their own peculiar worship.

Dignitatis humanae most certainly appears to contradict [the Papal condemnation of] this proposition by teaching that non-Catholics shall enjoy the public exercise of their own peculiar worship in every Catholic country, hence the changes in the Spanish Constitution documented in Appendix III.

        I have already dealt with this objection on page 55 of Religious Liberty and Contraception, where I state:

Pius IX's disapproval of the liberties granted to non-Catholic immigrants in Catholic countries is also clearly a policy matter, involving not only questions of religious freedom as such, but matters of changeable civil law, such as immigration policies and the rights of non-citizens within a given State.

        Thus, all we are obliged to hold by virtue of Proposition 78 is that these liberal concessions in favour of non-Catholic immigrants were indeed "unwise" under the socio-political and cultural conditions prevailing 130 years ago. Even if the Syllabus obliged us to believe that such legislation is always and everywhere "unwise" in Catholic countries (which I do not concede), it could still quite easily be reconciled with Dignitatis Humanae. The Declaration says in article 6 that in states where one religion enjoys special recognition, religious liberty must also be granted to "citizens" of other religions. Since nobody has a natural right even to enter (much less to be given citizenship in) a determined nation other than his own, a Catholic nation could, without contravening Dignitatis Humanae, withhold permanent residence rights, citizenship, and full religious liberty from non-Catholic "persons coming to reside therein". (Cf. also Religious Liberty and Contraception, page 143, note 1.)

        Let us turn now to the heart of Michael Davies' case against the compatibility of traditional doctrine with that of Dignitatis Humanae. Unlike those many traditionalists who find Pius IX's teaching the main obstacle to acceptance of Dignitatis Humanae, Davies' chief stumbling block in this regard is the teaching of Leo XIII in the encyclicals Immortale Dei (1885) and Libertas (1888). He emphasizes especially (pp. 215, 223) that Pontiff's insistence that "lying opinions should be diligently repressed by the public authority"; that "the more a state is driven to tolerate evil, the farther it is from perfection"; that "the tolerance of evil which is dictated by political prudence should be strictly confined to the limits which its justifying cause, the public welfare, requires"; and that "whatever is opposed 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". Davies says he cannot see how such statements can be reconciled with the idea of a natural right "not to be prevented" from publicly propagating a false religious doctrine. Even if I have been convincing in arguing that such a right is not necessarily excluded by the earlier Popes in the case of a non-Catholic society, Davies will certainly still ask how it could be said to exist in a Catholic society without contradicting Leo XIII.

        Once again, I think I have already dealt with these objections, for the most part (cf. Religious Liberty and Contraception, pp. 18, 27, 53-55, 87-89). I am a little puzzled as to why Davies, in spite of the generous and extensive attention he has given to my book, seems to show no awareness of my arguments on this issue. The statement that "lying opinions should be diligently repressed by the public authority" is a policy statement about a means toward a certain end (the good of the state and of souls), and does not have anything like the precision and clarity that would be required of an immutable doctrinal truth: taken just as it stands, it seems to "absolutize" the state's duty to repress error wherever possible, as if toleration were something bad in itself. So does the statement denying that error may rightly be "sanctioned by the favour and protection of the law". But such a position would be contrary to the teaching of Pius XII in Ci riesce, and of Leo XIII himself in other passages where he speaks of toleration. To shape the above Leonine statements into truly doctrinal affirmations, we would have to formulate a new proposition including the provisos which the Pontiff himself adds elsewhere. For instance: the propagation of religious error may not be permitted and protected by law except in order to avoid some greater social evil or to attain some greater social good. And that proposition is by no means contradicted by Vatican II. Davies appears to find a contradiction between two injunctions such as: (a) "Do not tolerate error unless the public welfare requires it", and (b) "Do not repress error unless the public welfare requires it". In reality, there is no more a formal contradiction between (a) and (b) than there is between saying, "This glass is half-full" and "This glass is half-empty". The differing formulae express two contrasting attitudes or emphases, but their non-contradiction is evident from the fact that both (a) and (b) can be combined in one coherent proposition: "Both the toleration and the repression of error should be limited by the needs of the public welfare". Likewise, one can accept Dignitatis Humanae fully and still assent to Pope Leo's statement that "the more a state is driven to tolerate evil, the farther it is from perfection". The fact that some non-Catholics may at times have a right to be tolerated in propagating their religion does not stop its false elements from being, as such, an evil - and hence, an "imperfection" within the state.

        Having said all this, it must be acknowledged that Leo XIII and the other earlier Popes certainly did frequently urge (in concordats and other lesser documents) the repression of all public non-Catholic manifestations in Catholic states or societies. This policy was such a firm and unanimous norm of public ecclesiastical law - universally applied throughout centuries of Christendom - that I believe (as I am sure Davies does) that the Holy Spirit could not have permitted it if it were, per se and intrinsically, a violation of natural law. Indeed, all traditional theologians (and thus, the Popes and Bishops who approved their works) have taught it as theologically certain - a conclusion inseparable from revelation itself and therefore part of the infallible Ordinary Magisterium - that the Church's sanctity and indefectibility exclude the possibility that any general disciplinary norm of the universal Church (as distinct from a merely local norm) could be intrinsically (per se) contrary to divine law, whether natural or positive. It follows that if Dignitatis Humanae affirmed a natural right not to be prevented from publicly propagating non-Catholic religions in Catholic societies, then indeed the Declaration would implicitly contradict the aforesaid doctrine of the Ordinary Magisterium. However (as I said in my "short answer" above), I do not believe Dignitatis Humanae teaches this, and I am surprised that Davies has paid so little attention to what I say in my book about the vital distinction between natural law (which is a branch of divine law) and public ecclesiastical law (cf. Religious Liberty and Contraception, pp. 57-60, 87-89, 141-143).

        Perhaps I should elaborate a little further on this distinction. Natural human rights and duties can often be formulated only in rather general terms. Once we get too specific in describing certain forms of behaviour it can become difficult or misleading to give a clear "yes" or "no" answer to the question as to whether they are objects of a natural right. It is clear in Christian doctrine, for instance, that for normal persons there is a natural right to eat meat, and a natural right to marry on attaining the age of due discretion. But is there a natural right to eat meat on Fridays? A simple "yes" would imply the silly claim that the Church "violated human rights" for centuries by prohibiting this; but a simple "no" would leave the equally false impression that there is some mysterious "natural" quality (either in human nature or in the "nature" of Fridays) which makes that day less suitable than other days of the week for eating meat. And does a normal 15-year-old have a natural right to marry? Who could ever say with certainty exactly when sufficient discretion is attained for contracting a valid marriage? Even "normal" teenagers can vary considerably in their level of "discretion". Church and civil laws have shown some variation over the centuries, in accordance with varying social and cultural conditions, in regard to the minimum age for a valid marriage. And such variation is both legitimate and inevitable. To use an analogy, both sharp and blunt instruments have their proper place in carrying out useful tasks. Natural law is sometimes too "blunt" in itself, and so has to be supplemented or perfected by the "sharper" instrument of human positive law, both ecclesiastical and civil.

        Applying this principle to the question at hand, we must ask what in Dignitatis Humanae is proposed as being of natural law (this will be permanently valid, doctrinal truth by definition, despite Davies' inexplicable comment on page 167 that nothing in the Declaration, according to my criteria, can be considered doctrinal), and what should be considered as changeable (non-infallible) ecclesiastical law. Now, the core doctrinal development to be gleaned or deduced from Dignitatis Humanae (§2 and §7) - that is, the main doctrinal thesis which had never previously been made explicit by the Magisterium -has been set out at the beginning of this review article, and can be repeated here in a slightly more succinct form: all human persons as such (including, therefore, non-Catholics) have a right to immunity from human coercion in the public practice of their own religion, to the extent that this does not violate the rights of other citizens. (The other two limits mentioned in §7 are really rather redundant, since it is plain that those who violate "public peace" and/or "public morality" are thereby also violating "the rights of other citizens". In focusing on this essential, general limit I believe I am cutting the Gordian knot regarding the complex and confusing dispute over "common good" versus "public order" as the appropriate limiting criterion on religious activity. As is explained on pp. 89-95 of Religious Liberty and Contraception, I consider this a basically semantic question, and hence, less important than Davies seems to think. In any case, he should be as pleased as I am to note that the new Catechism of the Catholic Church, in dealing with this point, restores the traditional term common good, and indeed gives it priority over public order, the novel term preferred by Dignitatis Humanae. §1738 of the Catechism says that the civil power should protect the exercise of religious liberty "within the limits of the common good and the public order" [dans les limites du bien commun et de l'ordre public].)

        The above proposition is certainly affirmed as a natural right by Dignitatis Humanae ("founded on the dignity of the human person"), and therefore as a permanently and universally valid doctrinal teaching. However, it needs to be noted that there is nothing in this doctrinal proposition about the situation in specifically Catholic states; so it leaves open the question as to whether, in such states, all public non-Catholic manifestations might legitimately be judged as violations of the rights of the Catholic majority, and therefore subject to repression. Now as Davies points out (pp. 275 and 279), I have already conceded that I do not see how a Catholic government could prohibit all public non-Catholic propaganda "without infringing the norms laid down by Vatican II" (Religious Liberty and Contraception, page 86). But I want to distinguish between "norms" and "doctrine". Formally speaking, §6 of Dignitatis Humanae contains no new doctrinal affirmations over and above what have been affirmed in §2. It simply states that, if one religion is given special state recognition, "the right to religious liberty of all other citizens and religious communities" must be respected as well. But since this right has already been defined as an intrinsically limited one, §6, taken just as it stands and from a strictly logical viewpoint, leaves just as open as §2 does the question as to whether, in predominantly Catholic societies, the public manifestation of non-Catholic cults might, as such, be considered a transgression of the "due limits", and hence subject to legitimate repression.

        Nevertheless, various other factors lead to the conclusion that such repression would be incompatible with the spirit of Dignitatis Humanae §6, even if it is not explicitly ruled out by its letter. First, there is the general tenor of §6, which conspicuously does not single out Catholic states or societies for special consideration. Secondly, we must take into account the historical context of the Declaration, in which many of its leading proponents (including the official relator) were openly stressing their desire to facilitate ecumenical progress by abolishing what was seen as the Catholic "double standard" and granting complete freedom to Protestants and others in nations like Spain. Finally, there is the fact that this freedom was very quickly granted in such nations after the Council (and in its name), at the insistence of the Holy See itself in its Concordat revisions with the governments concerned. Such revisions surely constitute an authentic interpretation or application of the conciliar Declaration.

        What needs to be stressed, however, is that, when we are faced with an authentic interpretation of a magisterial (doctrinal) document which is not rigorously implied by the letter of that document, it is correct to see this interpretation as a norm of ecclesiastical law; that is, as a changeable human application of divine law rather than an immutable requirement of divine law itself. Moreover, the burden of proof must surely lie with those who claim that the Church, in presenting us with some specific prohibition or permission, proposes it as coming directly from God. It is especially necessary to keep these points in mind in the present case, because of the general hermeneutical principle (affirmed by the Popes, by the Extraordinary Synod of 1985, and specifically emphasised in Dignitatis Humanae: §1) that Vatican II must be interpreted in harmony with, and not contrary to, the traditional doctrine of the Church. In accordance with these hermeneutical principles, we can summarize the new developments implied by Dignitatis Humanae in doctrine and ecclesiastical law respectively as follows:

        I Natural Law (unchangeable doctrine): all human persons as such (including, therefore, non-Catholics) have a right to immunity from coercion in the public practice of their own religion, to the extent that this does not violate the rights of other citizens.

        II Ecclesiastical Public Law (changeable legislation which applies, but never in itself transgresses, the divine law):

        (a) before Vatican II: in a Catholic society, the public practice of non-Catholic cults may, as such, be judged a sufficiently serious threat to the rights of other citizens as to justify legal repression;

        (b) after Vatican II: even in a Catholic society, the public practice of non-Catholic cults may not, as such, be judged a sufficiently serious threat to the rights of other citizens as to justify legal repression.

        The change in legislation should be seen as due to a change in the Church's practical judgment as to the relative weight of the social goods and evils involved in repression or non-repression respectively. The positions taken by the Vatican II documents on Ecumenism and Non-Christian Religions, as well as Lumen Gentium: §15-§16, have certainly been powerful catalysts for this change insofar as they express that milder interpretation of the doctrine "outside the Church, no salvation" which had come to prevail in the century or so leading up to Vatican II. As I have also pointed out (cf. Religious Liberty and Contraception, page 89), the official relator, Bishop De Smedt, gave implicit support to my thesis regarding Dignitatis Humanae (that is, doctrinal continuity and merely legislative discontinuity) by telling the Council Fathers that the concept of the "common good" is to be understood as "something relative: it is linked to the cultural evolution of peoples and has to be judged according to that development". In other words, the fact that the Church does not judge non-Catholic propaganda as such to be a punishable violation of others' rights in today's Catholic countries does not imply that she acted unjustly by making (and acting upon) the opposite judgments in former times.

        In short, a correct understanding of Dignitatis Humanae leads us to see the "right" to immunity from coercion which non-Catholics now enjoy in predominantly Catholic states, not as a natural right, but an acquired right granted by the Church, rather analogous to the right which we now have to eat meat on Fridays (except in Lent). Such a right has a composite origin, just as a marble statue is produced by a combination of blunt instruments (for quarrying and cracking the stone into manageable blocks) and sharp ones (those used by the sculptor). Natural law provides the general principle of a limited religious liberty for all persons; and God Himself has left to the changeable discretion of His Church, under her power of "binding and loosing" (Matt. 16:19, 18:18) the judgment of what those limits should be in different times and circumstances. By virtue of the universal kingship of Christ, and the Church's concomitant indirect power over the whole temporal order, this ecclesiastical jurisdiction can extend in some respects even over non-Catholics, especially in their interaction with the Church's own children.

        Thus, the promulgation of Dignitatis Humanae on December 7, 1965, should not be seen as the Church's act of belatedly recognizing an "injustice" she had inflicted for centuries, and was still officially endorsing in Spain at the time; rather, the Protestants, Jews, etc., in Spain and other Catholic lands were on that day granted a new right, in the sight of the Church (and therefore of God, in accordance with the promises of Matt. 16:19, and 18:18). This acquired right to immunity from coercion in such lands was then introduced, where necessary, into civil legislation, by the kinds of changes documented in Davies' appendix on Spain.

        One more area in which Michael Davies thinks he finds a doctrinal contradiction is in relation to Leo XIII's teaching that "it is contrary to reason that error and truth should have equal rights". The words "contrary to reason" make it clear that this is indeed proposed as a universally valid, and hence truly doctrinal, affirmation. And Davies asserts that Dignitatis Humanae "definitely teaches that truth and error should have equal civil rights" (page 227). This I deny categorically. Truth and error would have "equal (civil) rights" only under an avowedly "neutral" regime with a juridical separation of Church and State. But Dignitatis Humanae, far from asserting that such a regime "should" be established, teaches in §6 that in general, the state "establishment" of a majority religion can be legitimate, and in §1 that in the ideal situation Catholicism should be established. That is clearly implied in §1's statement that Dignitatis Humanae intends to leave "untouched" the "traditional Catholic doctrine" regarding the "moral duty" of "societies" towards "the true religion and the one Church of Christ". (Once again, all of us who revere Catholic tradition should be pleased to note that the very minimal reference in Dignitatis Humanae to the social kingship of Christ - the two words "and societies" inserted at the last minute into §1 - has been amplified in the new universal Catechism [cf. §2104 and §2105, on "The Social Duty of Religion"]. Pius XI's encyclical on Christ the King, Quas Primas (1925), omitted from the references in Dignitatis Humanae, is included in note 13, §2105. This article affirms that when the Church evangelizes all men unceasingly, and strives "to penetrate the mentality, customs, laws and structures" of society with a "Christian spirit", she "thereby manifests the kingship of Christ over the whole creation and in particular over human societies").

        Davies acknowledges a point which I have stressed: that the 1973 Concordat between the Holy See and Colombia, revised specifically in the light of Dignitatis Humanae, grants "a privileged status to the Catholic Church" (Davies, page 278). Indeed, I sent him a complete copy of the Concordat so that he could see directly the markedly unequal statuses accorded to Catholicism and the other religions respectively. In saying that Dignitatis Humanae requires "equal civil rights" for truth and error, Davies appears to be mistaking the part for the whole: equality in one respect for equality in general. He is referring to the statement in Dignitatis Humanae: §6 that where one religion has special recognition, members of other religions must also be granted religious liberty. This means they must be equally immune from coercion in practising their faith. But this immunity from coercion is the only right amongst many. As the Colombian Concordat makes clear (and even more so, as I have recently discovered, that of the Dominican Republic), Dignitatis Humanae by no means insists that "error" should have "equal civil rights" in regard to public education, marriage legislation, chaplaincy to state institutions, civil religious ceremonies, the designation of public holidays (Our Lady's feast days, for instance), clerical immunity from civil prosecution, and other important aspects of civic life which reflect Catholicism's uniquely-recognized status as "a fundamental element of the common good" (Colombia) or "the religion of the Dominican Nation" (Dominican Republic).

        VALUABLE FEATURES OF DAVIES' BOOK.   The length at which I have criticized what I must describe as the serious flaws in Michael Davies' argument should not be interpreted as a wholly negative evaluation of his book The Second Vatican Council and Religious Liberty. The work contains several very useful appendices, including one which treats of the different levels of authority in magisterial pronouncements, and most of the others provide important documentary sources not otherwise easily available in English (although they come with commentary by the author with which I would sometimes disagree). But there are many chapters with which I am in complete (or almost complete) agreement. The first eighteen chapters (pages 1-175) - in which the author clearly defines the key terms, systematically sets out the traditional doctrine with copious quotations from the Popes, gives background information about the famous pre-conciliar debates between John Courtney Murray, S.J., and the American Ecclesiastical Review, and presents the history of the Declaration's stormy passage through Vatican Council II - all this is handled very well by Michael Davies in The Second Vatican Council and Religious Liberty and in much greater detail than in my own relatively brief work. I would, therefore, recommend this book to all those interested in the great question of the Church's role in civil society - but to be studied prudently in the light of this review and of my own book on the subject: Religious Liberty and Contraception, available from Catholics United for the Faith, 50 Washington Avenue, New Rochelle, NY 10801, U.S.A. ($12.00 postpaid) and from the John XXIII Fellowship Cooperative, P.O. Box 22, Ormond, Vic. 3204, Australia ($14.00 Australian postpaid).

Go to: Roman Theological Forum | Living Tradition Index | Previous Issue | Next Issue