ROME, JUNE 30, 2005 (Zenit.org).- Has the Catholic Church contradicted itself in the last centuries by first condemning and then defending religious freedom?
Cardinal Renato Martino answered this question in the negative during a presentation of the “2005 Report on Religious Freedom in the World.” The report was written by the Catholic organization Aid to the Church in Need.
Speaking today in the Italian Chamber of Deputies, in the presence of lawmakers and journalists, the president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace recalled a statement in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church.
That statement clarifies that “the distinction between religion and politics and the principle of religious freedom constitute a specific acquisition of Christianity, of great relevance at the historical and cultural level.”
Religious freedom, Cardinal Martino explained, “was decidedly condemned by Pius IX in 1864, in the ‘Syllabus’; but it had already been condemned earlier by Gregory XVI in the encyclical ‘Mirari Vos’ of 1832, while it was recognized a century later by the Second Vatican Council in the declaration ‘Dignitatis Humanae.'”
The cardinal then asked: “Is the papal magisterium of the 19th-century Popes in the matter of religious freedom, in contradiction with the deliberations of Vatican II?
“Not at all. In ‘Mirari Vos’ and in the ‘Syllabus,’ in fact, religious freedom was not condemned, but rather a certain philosophical conception of religious freedom, which prevailed at the time. This conception entailed relativism, syncretism and even indifference in religious matters, with an equating in essence of truth and error.”
“It is totally obvious that these positions are incompatible with the nature of the Church, which has the certainty of truth,” Cardinal Martino said.
In the declaration “Dignitatis Humanae” the Council stated explicitly that, at the moral level, every man has the obligation to seek the truth and to follow it, he added.
“Truth and error are not on the same level, either from the philosophical or the theological point of view,” the cardinal said.
This conciliar declaration regards religious freedom as “a natural right, based on the very dignity of the human person, which is defined as the right not to be subjected to external coercions in religious matters.”
Demands of truth
The president of the pontifical council said all people “must adhere to the known truth and to order their lives according to the exigencies of truth.”
“But people are not capable of responding to this obligation according to their nature, if they don’t enjoy psychological freedom and at the same time immunity from external coercion,” added Cardinal Martino.
The right to this “immunity,” he said, "endures even among those who do not comply with the obligation to seek the truth and to adhere to it; and its exercise cannot be impeded, so long as it respects the just public order.”