Thursday, April 24, 2008

Religious Liberty

Since the time of the Second Vatican Council, it is arguably the case that one of the most controversial documents the council produced was this one.

In light of the fact that we spend more time today talking about liturgical changes and other regrettable facts of life that have occurred since the time of the Council, it's possible for many of us Catholics today to forget that the Vatican's Declaration on Religious Liberty was ever all that big of a deal. For people who are sometimes called RadTrads or even UltraTrads, though, this document might as well have been written yesterday, and still is sometimes something of a sore point.

And on the more vile sedevacantist sites, to which I will not link, this document is one of many "proofs" that the Real True For Sure Not Kidding Catholic Church (pop. 25) is not what they slightingly call the "Novus Ordo Religion" and which has as its Pope Benedict XVI, though they won't call him by that title.

Now, because I trust Jesus when He promised to remain with His Church, I therefore tend to think that the game of "Oh, yes, He did, but He never promised that the Real True Pope wouldn't sneak off into Wisconsin, or that the Real True Church wouldn't consist of a handful of people waiting faithfully for a new Real True Pope to appear while the rest of the world failed to notice that what used to be the Catholic Church is now a den of iniquity, or that in the end times the Church wouldn't have shrunk to six people living in seclusion somewhere in Oregon, or that..." etc. really is just a game, and a not very amusing one at that. So it's not hard for me to accept the document on Religious Liberty, and further to believe that any alleged discord between it and the writings of the past will be better explained by--well, by the Pope--than by a handful of amateur theologians with internet access, an ax to grind, and way too much time on their hands.

And it's even easier to accept the wisdom of the Holy Spirit at work in the Second Vatican Council and in the Declaration on Religious Freedom in light of this story from the New York Times.

The Russian Orthodox Church is cracking down on all other churches and places of worship. They have successfully equated the mere presence of other faiths with "proselytizing" and are getting tough. And things could get ugly:

First came visits from agents of the F.S.B., a successor to the K.G.B., who evidently saw a threat in a few dozen searching souls who liked to huddle in cramped apartments to read the Bible and, perhaps, drink a little tea. Local officials then labeled the church a “sect.” Finally, last month, they shut it down. (...)

On local television last month, the city’s chief Russian Orthodox priest, who is a confidant of the region’s most powerful politicians, gave a sermon that was repeated every few hours. His theme: Protestant heretics.

“We deplore those who are led astray — those Jehovah’s Witnesses, Baptists, evangelicals, Pentecostals and many others who cut Christ’s robes like bandits, who are like the soldiers who crucified Christ, who ripped apart Christ’s holy coat,” declared the priest, the Rev. Aleksei D. Zorin. (...)

“As a Russian Orthodox believer, I am against the sects,” said Valeriya Gubareva, a retired teacher, who was asked about Protestants as she was leaving a Russian Orthodox church here. “Our Russian Orthodox religion is inviolable, and it should not be shaken.”

Like other parishioners interviewed, Ms. Gubareva said she supported freedom of religion.

In Russia's constitution there are guarantees for freedom of religion, but it appears that the Orthodox Church in Russia doesn't quite see things that way. As the article mentions, there has been some strain between the Vatican and Russia over the issue of "proselytizing," with Rome insisting she has the right to take care of Russia's tiny but still extant Catholic population, and Russia afraid that what Rome really wants is to make converts out of the Russian people.

Now, we could, if we wanted to, say that this is great, and is exactly what the Roman Catholic Church should be doing in parts of Mexico and Central America where various Protestant denominations have made inroads among the people, converting them away from Catholicism to other faiths.

In fact, if I understand the UltraTrad argument correctly, that's exactly what we should be doing. Error has no rights, so we should get to crack down and throw out the other churches anywhere where the Catholic Church has sufficient presence and political power to do so.

Of course, that would make it pretty hard to object to Russia's treatment of our priests. And it would make every nation like America where neither Orthodox nor Catholic has the ascendancy an uneasy no-man's land, with various religions lobbing rhetorical cannonballs at each other on a pretty frequent basis.

Which makes, as I said, the Holy Spirit's guidance of the Church on display in the Declaration on Religious Freedom pretty wonderful:

The protection and promotion of the inviolable rights of man ranks among the essential duties of government.(5) Therefore government is to assume the safeguard of the religious freedom of all its citizens, in an effective manner, by just laws and by other appropriate means.

Government is also to help create conditions favorable to the fostering of religious life, in order that the people may be truly enabled to exercise their religious rights and to fulfill their religious duties, and also in order that society itself may profit by the moral qualities of justice and peace which have their origin in men's faithfulness to God and to His holy will. (6)

If, in view of peculiar circumstances obtaining among peoples, special civil recognition is given to one religious community in the constitutional order of society, it is at the same time imperative that the right of all citizens and religious communities to religious freedom should be recognized and made effective in practice.

Finally, government is to see to it that equality of citizens before the law, which is itself an element of the common good, is never violated, whether openly or covertly, for religious reasons. Nor is there to be discrimination among citizens.

It follows that a wrong is done when government imposes upon its people, by force or fear or other means, the profession or repudiation of any religion, or when it hinders men from joining or leaving a religious community. All the more is it a violation of the will of God and of the sacred rights of the person and the family of nations when force is brought to bear in any way in order to destroy or repress religion, either in the whole of mankind or in a particular country or in a definite community.

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