Saturday, May 11, 2013

“The Tradition of the Roman Catholic Church is to deny religious liberty”

Paul Bassett has published an exceptional study of the recent history of Roman Catholicism with respect to “religious liberty”:

Here are a few items. He begins by describing a speech given by...

the Most Reverend Charles Chaput, Archbishop of Philadelphia to a group in Greensburg, PA. What I found fascinating about the Archbishop’s address is that he while he admonishes his audience to remain true to their Catholic heritage he does so on a Protestant foundation. In other words, he had to abandon Catholic teaching and Tradition on the issue of religious liberty and build his case on the work of the Protestant Founders of America.

His Excellency encouraged his audience not to “dilute our zeal as Catholics” and reminded them that they cannot “achieve good ends with impure means”...

Official “Church Teaching” on Religious Liberty: 1776-1958
At the time of the American Revolution of 1776 and through the period where the U.S. Constitution was drafted, ratified and implemented, the pope of Rome was Pius VI. Here is an example of Pius VI’s idea of “religious liberty” in the Papal States over which he presided:

…at the time of Pius VI came to St. Peter’s throne in 1775 and issued his order reinstating all the old restrictions, Jews lived in eight ghettoes, locked in each night behind high walls and heavy gates. Everyone was able to tell who was a Jew, because, in another sixteenth-century papal provision reiterated in the 1775 edict, Jews were required to wear a special badge on their clothes…Jews were not allowed to keep shops or warehouses outside the ghetto and their social isolation was to be strictly enforced.

If you were a Jew living in Rome at the time of the American Revolution, “religious liberty” meant being imprisoned, giving up your possessions and being harassed by the Catholic Church.

The pontificate of the next pope, Pius VII was marked by the struggle with Napoleon. It is interesting that Napoleon freed the Jews imprisoned by the Catholic Church after he invaded Rome at the beginning of the 19th century. Unfortunately the Jews were re-imprisoned by the next pope, Leo XII in 1826. One notable Catholic historian describes Leo this way:

Leo XII’s pontificate was an extremely conservative one: he condemned religious toleration, reinforced the Index of Forbidden Books and the Holy Office (formerly the Inquisition), reestablished the feudal aristocracy in the Papal States, and confined the Jews once again to ghettos.

Leo was followed by Pius VIII who lasted only twenty months who was in turn followed by Gregory XVI. And Gregory was no fan of “religious liberty”. Fr. McBrien once again:

Gregory XVI was as rigid in dealing with theological issues as he was in dealing with political ones. In his encyclical “Mirari vos” (August 15, 1832)…he denounced the concepts of freedom of conscience, freedom of the press, and separation of Church and state, particularly the liberal views associate with the French priest Félicité Robert de Lamennais…(Lamennais favored religious liberty and the separation of Church and state….

You see, according to the Pope, the type of system the Archbishop thinks is fundamental to defend the religious liberty of Catholics is actually heretical. If the Archbishop were true to his own dictate to remain true to “Church teaching” he would give up this talk of liberty.

And the next pontiff – the “pastoral” Pius X – was no different. It seems that this pope was so set against “religious liberty” that he refused to see the American President Teddy Roosevelt simply because the President was scheduled to speak at a Methodist Church in Rome. I have a hard time finding the “liberty” in that story, don’t you?

Benedict XV’s pontificate seems to have been preoccupied with internecine quarrels as well as with the events of the First World War. But his successor, Pius XI renewed Rome’s march against religious liberty with the encyclical “Martalium animos” which “forbade any Catholic involvement in ecumenical conferences.”[ix]

The last pope that I will mention brings us past the mid-point of the twentieth century; Pius XII. And I have to note him with a truly great sense of irony. You see, Pius XII instigated a “persecution” of leading Catholic scholars of the day including Henri de Lubac, who Archbishop Chaput quotes from to begin [this blog post]! And while it is true that John Paul II later raised de Lubac to the episcopate, the fact remains that he was first an example of the sort of religious intolerance which is the true legacy of Rome.

Read the whole article for fuller quotes and citations.


  1. I once read (in the London "Tablet", I think) that when French theologian Yves Congar received his letter inviting him to attend the Second Vatican Council, his initial assumption was that he was going to face a heresy trial! Congar was pleasantly surprised to learn that the bishops actually wanted to learn more about this "religious liberty" thing he had been urging...

    1. The 1950 encyclical letter Humani Generis pretty roundly condemned what was then being called "the nouvelle theologie" (without actually using the word):

      Now if these only aimed at adapting ecclesiastical teaching and methods to modern conditions and requirements, through the introduction of some new explanations, there would be scarcely any reason for alarm. But some through enthusiasm for an imprudent "eirenism" seem to consider as an obstacle to the restoration of fraternal union, things founded on the laws and principles given by Christ and likewise on institutions founded by Him, or which are the defense and support of the integrity of the faith, and the removal of which would bring about the union of all, but only to their destruction.

      Congar was one of those. So you might understand why he would think that.

    2. Hi Tom,

      I hadn't heard that story but it doesn't surprise me. Similarly, Archbishop Chaput had a time when he couldn't give a speech without singing the praises of John Courtney Murray. The irony is that JCM's superiors, under guidance from the Vatican, forced him to stop writing and lecturing on the precise points for which the archbishop now praises him! And I guess that is my concern. For an organization that constantly vocalizes about "Tradition" the modern Roman Church seems entirely detached from it.

      Thanks for stopping by!