Pope Benedict, the SSPX, and the dispute over Religious Freedom and Church-State Relations
And now, we have a perfectly liberal Pope, my very dear brothers. As he goes to this country [the United States] which is founded upon Masonic principles, that is, of a revolution, of a rebellion against God. And, well, he expressed his admiration, his fascination before this country which has decided to grant liberty to all religions. He goes so far as to condemn the confessional State. And he is called traditional! And this is true, this is true: he is perfectly liberal, perfectly contradictory. He has some good sides, the sides which we hail, for which we rejoice, such as what he has done for the Traditional liturgy.
What a mystery, my very dear brothers, what a mystery!
As Fr. John Zuhlsdorf (What Does The Prayer Really Say?) noted at the time, Fellay’s remarks are indicative of a point he has maintained time and again: the greater dispute between the SSPX and Rome is not so much over questions involving liturgical reform (and the ‘reform of the reform’) — on which there is a great deal of room for agreement — or even the matter of the excommunications; rather, the chief problem hinges on the Society’s objections to Vatican II’s articulation of the principle of “religious liberty” and the relationship of civil and religious authority.
This point was made recently in an article by George Weigel: “Rome’s Reconciliation: Did the Pope heal, or deepen, the Lefebvrist schism?” Newsweek January 26, 2009):
… Lefebvre was also a man formed by the bitter hatreds that defined the battle lines in French society and culture from the French Revolution to the Vichy regime. Thus his deepest animosities at the council were reserved for another of Vatican Council II’s reforms: the council’s declaration that “the human person has a right to religious freedom,” which implied that coercive state power ought not be put behind the truth—claims of the Catholic Church or any other religious body. This, to Lefebvre, bordered on heresy. For it cast into serious question (indeed, for all practical purposes it rejected) the altar-and-throne arrangements Lefebvre believed ought to prevail—as they had in France before being overthrown in 1789, with what Lefebvre regarded as disastrous consequences for both church and society.
Marcel Lefebvre’s war, in other words, was not simply, or even primarily, against modern liturgy. It was against modernity, period. For modernity, in Lefebvre’s mind, necessarily involved aggressive secularism, anti-clericalism, and the persecution of the church by godless men. That was the modernity he knew, or thought he knew (Lefebvre seems not to have read a fellow Frenchman’s reflections on a very different kind of modernity, Alexis de Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America”); it was certainly the modernity he loathed. And to treat with this modernity—by, for example, affirming the right of religious freedom and the institutional separation of church and state—was to treat with the devil.
The conviction that the Catholic Church had in fact entered into such a devil’s bargain by preemptively surrendering to the modern world at Vatican Council II became the ideological keystone of Lefebvre’s movement. And the result was dramatic: Lefebvrists came to understand themselves as the beleaguered repository of authentic Catholicism—or, as the movement is wont to put it, the Tradition (always with a capital “T”). …
As Weigel rightly notes, the scandal over Richard Williamson’s anti-semitism is but a sideshow; “what is at issue, now, is the integrity of the Church’s self-understanding, which must include the authenticity of the teaching of Vatican Council II“:
Father Federico Lombardi, SJ, the pope’s spokesman, emphasized to reporters on Jan. 24 that the lifting of the excommunications did not mean that “full communion” had been restored with the Lefebvrists. The terms of such reconciliation are, presumably, the subject of the “talks” to which Bishop Fellay referred in his letter. Those talks should be interesting indeed. For it is not easy to see how the unity of the Catholic Church will be advanced if the Lefebvrist faction does not publicly and unambiguously affirm Vatican Council II’s teaching on the nature of the church, on religious freedom, and on the sin of anti-Semitism. Absent such an affirmation, pick-and-choose cafeteria Catholicism will be reborn on the far fringes of the Catholic right, just when it was fading into insignificance on the dwindling Catholic left, its longtime home.
Holy See – “no qualms” with the SSPX’s criticism of the Council?
Taking issue with Weigel (“A bad year for the Neocon Catholics” RenewAmerica.com February 20, 2009), Brian Mershon asserts:
Maybe Weigel has not read what Cardinal Ratzinger wrote to the Bishops of Chile in his 1988 address where he said that Vatican II was a pastoral Council. And as a pastoral Council, the “Declaration on Religious Liberty” must be understood “in light of Tradition” as Cardinal Ratzinger wrote in his 1988 address. In other words, the proper and orthodox Catholic understanding of the meaning of Dignitatis Humanae in light of the traditional teaching of the Social Kingship of Christ is only still being worked out within the Church. It surely does not negated the perennial teaching of the Social Kingship of Christ the King as Weigel asserts with his typical “altar and throne” analogy.
Far from being a dogmatic document, the fact remains that there has been precious little theology done to show the connections between the Council’s teaching on religious liberty and the continuous, unbroken line of teaching from multiple Popes previous to the Council that condemned “religious liberty.” This is not to say it cannot be harmonized or reconciled, but merely that Weigel seems to posit that traditionalists must accept it as an article of Faith. It is not. And its theological implications have certainly not been defined nor well developed since the Council by theologians or the magisterium.
Weigel seems to regard DH, and its prescription for religious liberty and church-state relations, as a settled issue. He is a vigorous advocate for this view and he is vested in it. I can only note that DH was the most contested document at the Council, and stirred the greatest opposing vote (although it still passed comfortably). And that some very respectable (hardly traditionalist) scholars, such as Ernest Fortin and (Weigel’s friend) Russell Hittinger have raised real questions about the tensions between DH and previous Church teachings, and how we are to receive DH in continuity with the latter. Which is another way of saying the issue is not quite as settled as Weigel might like to think. I’m not sure SSPX has the full answer either. But I am intrigued to see how this issue might be opened up again as they try to reintegrate fully with the Church.
I think Mershon is correct in noting the contested meaning of Dignitatis Humanae. However, I think Mershon himself himself might indulge in hyperbole when he boasts: “It seems that the Holy See has no qualms with the SSPX’s Catholic understanding about Vatican II.”
We’ll address this in detail in a minute, but first — to indulge our curiousity — let’s run through some of Pope Benedict XVI’s own thought on this particular subject and see if it does in fact coincide, to some degree, with Weigel’s?
Benedict XVI on church-state relations
In Soul of the World: Notes on the Future of Public Catholicism, Weigel speaks of the Church’s encounter with democracy as a development from hostility (Gregory XVI and Pius IX) to toleration (Leo XIII and Pius XI) to admiration (Pius XII and John XXIII) to endorsement (Vatican II and John Paul II), and in the late 1990’s, to internal critique — such that
Prior to the Council, the Church was speaking to democracy from “outside”; since the council, the Church has, in a sense, spoken to democracy from within the democratic experiment as a full participant in democratic life, commited, through its own social doctrine, to the success of the democratic project.
To describe the relationship in these terms is by no means to subordinate the Church to politics; it is to note, however, that as the Church’s understanding of democracy has evolved, so has the Church’s understanding of itself vis-a-vis democracy. Because of the teaching of the Council and John Paul II, an “exterior” line of critique has given way to an “interior” critique. Far from being a neutral observer, and without compromising its distinctive social and political “location,” the Church now believes that it speaks to democracy from “within” the ongoing democratic debate about the democratic prospect.
John Paul II developed this “internal line” of analysis — which now constitutes the world’s most sophisticated moral case for, and critique of, the democratic project — in a triptych of encyclicals: Centesimus Annus (1991), Veritatis Splendour (1993) and Evangelium Vitate (1995).
If a single sentence could sum up the main thrust of this new “internal critique” of democracy in the social magisterium of John Paul II, it might be this: Culture is “prior” to politics and economics.
Chapter 6: “Catholicism and Democracy: Parsing the Twentieth-Century Revolution” pp. 99-125 charts in greater detail the development of the Church’s relationship and critique of liberal democracy described above. Weigel’s views on religious freedom (and the expansion of the Catholic understanding of such by Pope John Paul II) and democracy are also conveyed in Freedom and its Discontents: Catholicism Confronts Modernity (1991).
Let’s now consider just a few commentaries by the Pope Benedict himself on matters involving religious freedom and the jurisdictions of church and state:
- During his induction into the Académie des Sciences Morales et Politiques of the Institut de France in 1992, when he remarked that Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America has always made a strong impression on me”:
Describing Tocqueville as “ le grand penseur politique ,“ the context of these remarks was Ratzinger’s insistence that free societies cannot sustain themselves, as Tocqueville observed, without widespread adherence to ” des convictions éthiques communes. “ Ratzinger then underlined Tocqueville’s appreciation of Protestant Christianity’s role in providing these underpinnings in the United States.
(Dr. Samuel Gregg goes on to suggest a Tocquevillian influence in the Pope’s warning of the “soft-despotism” of a State which regulates and controls everything in Deus Caritas Est.
- Excerpt from Church, Ecumenism, and Politics: New Endeavors in Ecclesiology]:
Practically speaking, only in those places where the duality of state and church, of sacral and political authority, is maintained in some form or another do we find the prerequisite for freedom. Where the church itself becomes state, freedom is gone. But freedom is lacking also in places where the church is abolished as a public and publicly relevant authority, because there again the state claims to be the sole basis for morality. In the secular, post-Christian world, it does so, not by assuming the form of a sacral authority, but rather as an ideological authority. … The ideological state is totalitarian: it necessarily becomes ideological when there is no free but publicly recognized authority of conscience in opposition to it. Where such duality is lacking, totality, that is, the totalitarian system is inevitable.
With that we have defined the basic task of Church politics, as I understand it: it must maintain this balance of a dual system as the foundation for freedom. Therefore the Church must lay claim to public rights and cannot simply withdraw into the realm of private rights. For this reason, however, she must also make sure that Church and state remain separate and that membership in the Church clearl retains its voluntary character. [p. 157]
* * *
The distinction, consequent upon Christianity, between the universal religious community and the necessarily particular civil community in no way means a complete separation of the two realms so that religion would now withdraw into the merely spiritual and the state would be reduced to a purely political pragmatism without ethical orientation. It is, however, correct that the Church does not directly prescribe political orders. To find the best answer in the changing of the times is now entrusted to the freedom of reason. That this reason is instated in its full rights in the political realm and that political solutions are only to be sought in the communal exercise of practical reason is one of the aspects of Christian liberation, of the separation of the religious and civil communities. [p. 252]
- During a Vatican Radio interview in 2004, in comparing the European and American attitudes toward religion, Ratzinger commmended the United States’ model of laicism:
“I think that from many points of view the American model is the better one,” while “Europe has remained bogged down in caesaropapism.”
“People who did not want to belong to a state church, went to the United States and intentionally constituted a state that does not impose a church and which simply is not perceived as religiously neutral, but as a space within which religions can move and also enjoy organizational freedom without being simply relegated to the private sphere,” he explained.
On this point, “one can undoubtedly learn from the United States,” as it is a “process by which the state makes room for religion, which is not imposed, but which, thanks to the state, lives, exists and has a public creative force,” the cardinal said. “It certainly is a positive way.”
- Reflecting on the 40th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council in his 2005 Christmas Address to the Roman Curia, Benedict notes that one of the challenges the Council faced was “to give a new definition to the relationship between the Church and the modern State that would make room impartially for citizens of various religions and ideologies, merely assuming responsibility for an orderly and tolerant coexistence among them and for the freedom to practise their own religion.”It was also at this time that:
People came to realize that the American Revolution was offering a model of a modern State that differed from the theoretical model with radical tendencies that had emerged during the second phase of the French Revolution. …
The two parties were gradually beginning to open up to each other. In the period between the two World Wars and especially after the Second World War, Catholic statesmen demonstrated that a modern secular State could exist that was not neutral regarding values but alive, drawing from the great ethical sources opened by Christianity.
- On October 17, 2005, in a letter to the president of the Italian Senate, Marcello Pera (with whom he co-authored Without Roots: Europe, Relativism, Christianity, Islam), Pope Benedict expressed his support for a “healthy secularity of the state” — or that which guarantees “to each citizen the right to live his own religious faith with genuine freedom, including in the public realm” and includes “a commitment to guarantee to all, individuals and groups, respect for the exigencies of the common good, [and] the possibility to live and to express one own religious convictions.” (The full text of the letter can be found here).
- From Jesus of Nazareth (2007):
The Christian empire attempted at an early stage to use faith in order to cement political unity. The Kingdom of Christ was not expected to take the form of a political kingdom and its splendour. The powerlessness of faith, the early powerlessness of Jesus Christ, was to be given the helping hand of political and military might. The temptation to use power to secure the faith has arisen again and again in varied forms throughout the centuries, and again and again faith has risked being suffocated in the embrace of power. The struggle for the freedom of the Church, the struggle to avoid identifying Jesus’ Kingdom with any political structure, is one that has to be fought century after century. For the fusion of faith and political power comes at a price: faith becomes the servant of power and must bend to its criteria.
- From Benedict’s Apostolic Journey to the United States White House Welcoming Ceremony, April 16, 2008:
From the dawn of the Republic, America’s quest for freedom has been guided by the conviction that the principles governing political and social life are intimately linked to a moral order based on the dominion of God the Creator. The framers of this nation’s founding documents drew upon this conviction when they proclaimed the “self-evident truth” that all men are created equal and endowed with inalienable rights grounded in the laws of nature and of nature’s God. The course of American history demonstrates the difficulties, the struggles, and the great intellectual and moral resolve which were demanded to shape a society which faithfully embodied these noble principles. In that process, which forged the soul of the nation, religious beliefs were a constant inspiration and driving force, as for example in the struggle against slavery and in the civil rights movement. In our time too, particularly in moments of crisis, Americans continue to find their strength in a commitment to this patrimony of shared ideals and aspirations. …
Historically, not only Catholics, but all believers have found here the freedom to worship God in accordance with the dictates of their conscience, while at the same time being accepted as part of a commonwealth in which each individual and group can make its voice heard. As the nation faces the increasingly complex political and ethical issues of our time, I am confident that the American people will find in their religious beliefs a precious source of insight and an inspiration to pursue reasoned, responsible and respectful dialogue in the effort to build a more humane and free society.
Understand that this is not to brand the Pope as being identical in thought with ‘the Catholic neocons’ (George Weigel, Michael Novak and the late Fr. Richard J. Neuhaus) — but rather, to simply demonstrate that regarding the subject of religious liberty, civil and religious authority, Pope Benedict appears to have a more in common with the so-called ‘Catholic neocons’ than Brian Mershon supposes.
Benedict’s ‘hermeneutic of continuity’ and defense of Vatican II
When Mershon complains that “there has been precious little theology done to show the connections between the Council’s teaching on religious liberty and the continuous, unbroken line of teaching from multiple Popes previous to the Council that condemned ‘religious liberty'” — it seems to me that Benedict himself (following his predecessor) might be in a position to best explicate the ‘Conciliar’ understanding of this, according to a ‘hermeneutic of continuity’.
Returning to Benedict’s 2005 address to the Roman Curia, for instance, he asks the question: “Why has the implementation of the Council, in large parts of the Church, thus far been so difficult?” and answers it in terms of a battle of two hermeneutics.
The first is one of “discontinuity and rupture” between the Council and all that which preceded it — which, considering the Conciliar texts themselves compromised by concessions to past tradition, moves beyond them in pursuit of an undefined “spirit of the Council”, open to the whims of change and sentimentality.
Benedict contrasts this with a hermeneutic of reform (or ‘continuity’) – presented first by Pope John XXIII in his Speech inaugurating the Council on 11 October 1962 and later by Pope Paul VI in his Discourse for the Council’s conclusion on 7 December 1965, according to which the intent of the Council was to “to transmit the doctrine, pure and integral, without any attenuation or distortion” in faithfulness to the deposit of faith — seeking only contemporary ways of expounding and presenting it.
Later, the Pope applies this in defending the Conciliar understanding of “religious freedom”:
… if religious freedom were to be considered an expression of the human inability to discover the truth and thus become a canonization of relativism, then this social and historical necessity is raised inappropriately to the metaphysical level and thus stripped of its true meaning. Consequently, it cannot be accepted by those who believe that the human person is capable of knowing the truth about God and, on the basis of the inner dignity of the truth, is bound to this knowledge.
It is quite different, on the other hand, to perceive religious freedom as a need that derives from human coexistence, or indeed, as an intrinsic consequence of the truth that cannot be externally imposed but that the person must adopt only through the process of conviction.
The Second Vatican Council, recognizing and making its own an essential principle of the modern State with the Decree on Religious Freedom, has recovered the deepest patrimony of the Church. By so doing she can be conscious of being in full harmony with the teaching of Jesus himself (cf. Mt 22: 21), as well as with the Church of the martyrs of all time. The ancient Church naturally prayed for the emperors and political leaders out of duty (cf. I Tm 2: 2); but while she prayed for the emperors, she refused to worship them and thereby clearly rejected the religion of the State.
The martyrs of the early Church died for their faith in that God who was revealed in Jesus Christ, and for this very reason they also died for freedom of conscience and the freedom to profess one’s own faith – a profession that no State can impose but which, instead, can only be claimed with God’s grace in freedom of conscience. A missionary Church known for proclaiming her message to all peoples must necessarily work for the freedom of the faith. She desires to transmit the gift of the truth that exists for one and all.
Benedict closes his address by asserting that “today we can look with gratitude at the Second Vatican Council: if we interpret and implement it guided by a right hermeneutic, it can be and can become increasingly powerful for the ever necessary renewal of the Church.”
Will the SSPX come to terms with Benedict?
Is the SSPX amenable to such a “right hermeneutic” as proposed by Benedict? — — A sampling of commentary directly from the SSPX’s own website may instil some doubts about the possibility of them ever seeing “eye to eye” on the Council:
- From “The Post-Conciliar Church: A New Religion?” ( Featured in the Q&A section of the April 2003 issue of The Angelus):
“… the spirit of Vatican II is not just an abuse of some liberal theologians and bishops, but that it is contained in the very texts of the Council itself. If the liberals continually refer to the texts of Vatican II, it is because from these texts themselves emanates, under the sweet appearance of kindness and dialogue, the stench of naturalism, of the corruption of the Faith.”
- Two Interpretations of Vatican II: Myth or Reality? (Si Si No No August 2008):
If, in the case of the hermeneutic of rupture, the danger is loss of faith, in the case of the hermeneutic of continuity, the danger is renunciation of the principle of non-contradiction, logical rigor, correct thinking, because one must convince oneself that two things placed in a relation of contradiction are in fact the same thing, like post-conciliar ecumenism and the condemnation of ecumenism by the preceding Popes; the traditional vision of the relation between Judaism and the new heterodox conception of Judeo-Christian “dialogue”; the condemnation of religious liberty and liberalism by the Syllabus and the new Catholic-liberal conception of politics. This deterioration of thought cannot, in the long run, fail to have an effect upon the life of faith.
Moreover, the proponents of the hermeneutic of continuity renounce, or rather, avoid addressing the crisis in the Church; they minimize it, they do not speak of it for the simple reason that they have excluded a priori that the crisis might have been caused by Vatican II. between Vatican II and the previous Magisterium. The result is an impasse: either minimize or deny the crisis, or else admit it but refuse to explain it by its only likely cause, by linking it to the Council.
- From an Bishop Tissier de Mallerais, SSPX (conducted by Catholic Family News Editor, John Vennari on February 11, 2009):
Rather than read Vatican II in light of Tradition, we really should read and interpret Vatican II in light of the new philosophy. We must read and understand the Council in its real meaning, that is to say, according to the new philosophy. Because all these theologians who produced the texts of Vatican II were imbued with the new philosophy. We must read it this way, not to accept it, but to understand it as the modern theologians who drafted the documents understand it. To read Vatican II in light of Tradition is not to read it correctly. It means to bend, to twist the texts. I do not want to twist the texts.
Speaking to his general audience on January 28, 2009, Pope Benedict expressed the hope that his gesture (in lifting the excommunications) would be followed “by the hoped-for commitment on [the part of the SSPX] to take the further steps necessary to realize full communion with the church, thus witnessing true fidelity, and true recognition of the magisterium and the authority of the pope and of the Second Vatican Council.”
In an interview with the Italian national daily Corriere della Sera, Cardinal Castrillón Hoyos indicated that “in our discussions, Bishop Fellay recognized the Second Vatican Council, he recognized it theologically. Only a few difficulties remain… it involves discussing aspects such as ecumenism, liberty of conscience.”
If someone thinks that I have watered down our position, he is wrong. Our position remains exactly the same.
- Benedict’s Hermeneutic of Continuity an immensely helpful essay by Dr. Jeff Mirus (Catholic Culture). January 30, 2009.
- Pope Ratzinger Certifies the Council – The Real One, by Sandro Magister. In his pre-Christmas address to the Roman curia, Benedict XVI demolishes the myth of Vatican II as a rupture and new beginning. He gives another name “reform,” to the proper interpretation of the Council.
- Religious Freedom: Innovation and Development, by Avery Cardinal Dulles. First Things December 2001. Q: Was the Declaration a homogeneous development within the Catholic tradition, or was it a repudiation of previous Church doctrine?
- Vatican II: Myth and Reality, by Avery Cardinal Dulles. America
- Religious Freedom and Pluralism, by Avery Cardinal Dulles Journal of Markets and Morality Volume 5, Number 1 Spring 2002.