SSPX on “Religious Freedom”

That's what you end up with.....

An interesting fruit of the battle about HHS mandate is the fact it forces the Church in the US to progressively clean herself from the influences of a not-so-glorious past; but in doing so, she runs the risk of her message not being properly understood, or being altogether wrong.

The issue here is religious liberty. There is no doubt in the US:

a) there has historically been a great measure of religious liberty, and

b) this religious liberty is now endangered by the HHS mandate and the Obama troops.

It seems wrong to me to deny that, from the factual point of view, religious liberty has served the Church in the US well. A country originally colonised by hard-line Protestants now has some 70 million Catholics, and I doubt this would have been the case if religious liberty had not been – though nothing is perfect on this earth – a distinctive trait of American society.

Up to here, I think we all agree, even the SSPX: what American faithful now have (=religious liberty)  is worth fighting for, because what will happen otherwise is a country where Christianity – and most directly, Catholicism – is discriminated against or even, in extreme cases, forced to go underground.

In addition, the issue of religious freedom is what allows – and rightly so – to obtain the mobilisation of Protestants, Jews & Co against the HHS mandate, undoubtedly an attack on religious freedom. If the Church in the US would say “religious freedom is endangered, but we don;t care because we are against religious freedom in the first place” this would not be terribly useful, or intelligent.

Where the problems begins is – as the SSPX rightly observed – when the US Church interprets religious freedom as something intrinsically right, or intrinsically Catholic. This is very V II, and very wrong. Read these words:

From well before Cardinal Gibbons, Catholics in America have been advocates for religious liberty, and the landmark teaching of the Second Vatican Council on religious liberty was influenced by the American experience. It is among the proudest boasts of the Church on these shores. We have been staunch defenders of religious liberty in the past. We have a solemn duty to discharge that duty today.

As the Gipper would say, “there you go again”. Again the usual V II soup, and again the defence of an error as the result of the “American experience”.

Far more to the points are the words of the SSPX:

 Certainly we must fight for the liberty of the Catholic Church – that is, the ability for her to fulfill her divine mission to save souls, promote the faith (particularly in society) and enact the corporal acts of mercy. However, this is a much different thing than defending religious liberty, a false notion that originated with the Protestants and condemned as an error under the generic title of “Liberalism”.

Note the SSPX doesn’t say the Church in the US must not fight against the HHS mandate, or for her ability to work as freely as she can. But when religious liberty is smuggled for a Catholic value, we are clearly in heresy territory. It can’t be said that error is entitled to the same degree of freedom as Truth, and that a country in which error and truth are allowed the same rights is doing things the Catholic way. Jesus did not die on the cross so that people may be Muslims, of Hindus, or whatever. He did not say “I am one of the ways”. 

Therefore, religious liberty is emphatically not a Catholic value, even if it was 

“the vision of our founding [?] and our Constitution, which guarantees citizens of all religious faiths the right to contribute to our common life together”

and this is the first time I see Catholic bishops approving non-Catholic religious principles from a largely Protestant body, and taking their Protestant ideas as an example of good Catholic thinking. This must have been V II, no doubt.

If I were an American citizen, my take on the matter would be that whilst I can be a good Catholic and a good American, I will never allow my patriotism to come before my God, and therefore in matter of religious freedom I will acknowledge religious freedom as a component of American political life, whilst wishing and professing the Catholic view on the matter, namely: that error can never have the same rights as Truth.

I do not think this is too much to ask of a Catholic in the US, because it is not too much to ask of a Catholic everywhere else. On the contrary, when the US bishops make of religious liberty a religious value, they are mixing Catholicism with US politics, and giving right to those who say V II, wrongly interpreted – as on this occasion – only produces confusion and heresy. I understand they are fighting a good fight against secular oppression, but they are sending signals that whilst politically acceptable are very wrong if taken as religious principles.

The President’s good servant, but God’s first.


Posted on April 16, 2012, in Catholicism, FSSPX, Good Shepherds and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.

  1. novusordoughboy

    I was over at Ignis Ardens, and somebody pasted an extremely goofy article from National Review criticizing the Society on religious liberty. The guy seemed pretty clueless.

    • Thanks Novusordoughboy,

      if you can post the link it might amuse my six readers.

      For the record,I once wrote a post (recently reblogged) of suggestions for Anglicans thinking of conversion. A good soul posted the link on Catholci answers and said there was nothing wrong. The sheer ignorance of the bases of Catholicism which came out from many of the answers was truly appalling.


  2. novusordoughboy

    Original source. It’s pretty funny. No direct references to documents, just some sentimental tripe and a hilariously-misplaced neo-cat reference to ‘Cafeteria Catholicism.’

    I once went to some blog for or by converting Anglicans (or Episcpopals, I don’t know), and they seemed puzzled at why anyone would be against ecumenism or religious liberty. it was really depressing.

    • Thanks, novusordoughboy!

      Good Lord, is the chap confused! He has just created a new category of infallible teaching, “by opinion of liberal Catholics”.

      Believe me, this chap has some traumatic decades before him.


  3. Nice post on a deep subject. I closed the browser once, at first, because from the first two paragraphs I thought it was going to say something different. But then you went on and ended up on what I also am convinced is the right side (although you don’t say what we must do next, right? I have a plan, if you’re short one).

    But here’s where I fell off the horsie, in the first couple of paragraphs: that ‘religious liberty’ has served us well, in the beginning. Naw. It *looked* like it was serving us well, but it inevitably–inevitably I say (after Pius XII said it)–ended up here, after serving as a false good example to Vatican II. You know America and how successful it was, was used throughout the Council as the cover for modernism? Have you read The Rhine Flows Into the Tiber?

    Suppose you had been on the first boat that landed in Maryland. That was a Catholic colony and they had the right, by charter, to have an official church. They were getting ready to make landfall, and preparing to disembark in procession, carrying the Blessed Sacrament, when suddenly someone had the idea that the protestants on board–I forget how many, I’d like to say a quarter of the people had come along just to escape the many benefits of religious liberty as developing in England–should join the procession as protestants, not under the Catholic banner. And so they did.

    I happened to be present at an anti-war march in San Francisco, standing with some of the organizers of that march, when a gay guy came up and asked, hey, can we march as a group of gay guys, with a banner? And a couple of people made the decision that gives us what we live with now. Because the rest, as they say, is history. (All the rest of the inclusions, and the illusion of unity under that banner, came from the first endorsement, of course.)

    What would you have done in Maryland? I don’t know what happened to the Blessed Sacrament, followed by some who believed in Him, and some who not only did not believe in Him, were not being pressed to believe in Him by the Catholics there, to the degree possible right there and right then. I think I know what I would have done. I have always loved the Blessed Sacrament, even as a little girl. I remember overhearing someone remark, ‘Look at the child, she geneflects like she believes it!’ And I did. I’ve been wrong so many times in my life. But I want to believe that when it was put to me like that, with the Blessed Sacrament right there, I’d have said, ‘What, are you crazy? Most certainly not! They will not have an official standing here, we are a Catholic state by right, and this is a Catholic procession.’ Booya. But they didn’t. And I don’t think we’ve prospered from it at all, and have done much harm in the world. Which is one of the saddest things to have to say, about one’s own country. Here’s what my pastor says about it: not my country right or wrong, but my country, when she’s right, and when she’s wrong, we fix it.

    I’m glad you followed up those initial paragraphs that scared me, with the rest, and a good post.

    • The first paragraph wanted to say the Church must – it really must now – fight the battle of religious liberty. I don’t see anything wrong with that. That’s what you have, and you protect what you have.

      I see the problem in the idea that this fight for a contingent politically motivated situation be elevated to a doctrinal principle. But make no mistake, I think they should fight the fight, and fight it in the name of religious freedom. This – and not the ideal, doctrinal position of Catholicism – is what will rally around them Christians of all denominations, and help defeat the Obama troops.

      Still, they should – whenever asked, or whenever opportune – not be shy in saying what the position they – like all Catholics – consider the best and doctrinally correct is.

      If I lived in some repressive country and had the right to go to Mass once a month, I would fight for the right to go to Mass once a month. As opposed to never. But I wouldn’t say that this is what is supposed to happen according to Catholic teaching.

      I’ll review the first lines to see whether I manage to formulate the concept better, though I think it’s clear enough from the context.


  4. Whilst I agree with the SSPX in theory, in practice their approach is no less problematic. I would cite the example of St. Thomas More. He did not seek confrontation with the state but invoked a mechanism within the state’s own legal system to save himself from arrest, trial and execution. The mechanism was of course silence is assent under the law. That he ‘failed’ is secondary to his achievment. In other words, his sanctity rested upon that very act of silence to which he practiced and his subsequent martyrdom served to crown the achievement. He is a saint AND martyr.

    The mistake Archbishop Smith made in his welcome address to the Pope at Hyde Park (listen carefully to it) is to equate sanctity with the act of martrydom itself which is a falsehood. In other words, there is no equivalence between the Catholic and Anglican martyrs in that regard. Sanctity is not just about execution.

    As to the American bishops, I see no problem in them invoking a mechanism within the American constitution – namely libertarianism – to achieve the same end of Thomas More i.e. to witness to the truth of the Catholic faith. The SSPX’s intervention on this matter is, in my view, a mistake.

    • bmpc,

      the SSPX would not object to what you say.

      They object to the concept religious liberty be a catholic value. It just isn’t. Of course, in certain – less than ideal – situations it can be useful. But that’s that.

      The US Bishop raise a pragmatic situation to an element of Catholic doctrine; this is where they err. And what is worse, they call V II as the justification of their error. Which is very V II, but wrong nevertheless.


  5. I perfectly understand the objection of the SSPX. The problem is this. By his silence, St. Thomas More could be deemed to be a heretic under the law for assenting to the marriage of Henry VIII – under the law. In truth, he was simply using a mechanism native to his state in order to protect himself – he didn’t want to die. In other words, his spirtitual genius lay in his attempts to avoid martyrdom, not to seek it. Martyrdom was ONLY embraced when all other options were exhausted. St. John Fisher similarly embraced ‘silence’ when negotiations broke down as he endeavoured to broker a deal with the authorities.

    I see no reason why the American bishops should not explore all options available to them under the law and or consititution of their country. They are fighting for the survival of Catholic employees and the unborn of course. It is a noble cause worthy of our support. Their use of libertarianism is just a variation of St. Thomas More’s use of silence under the law even if their own lives are not, for the moment, on the line. These men are not stupid and they perfectly aware that, ultimately, the American constitution is incompatible with the Catholic teaching.

    • bmpc,

      once again, no one says the Church should not try to protect her liberty.

      But the US bishop cannot think they can rewrite Catholic doctrine; nor, for that matter, could Thomas Moore do it. The big difference here being that Thomas More used a principle used in the political life of his country, but did not try to elevate it to a religious one.

      In the American case, there is no necessity whatever to say that religious liberty is intrinsically Catholic, part of the Catholic doctrinal patrimony; even less there is the need to say in this (heresy) the US Church preceded Vatican II. The US bishop can fight their fight in favour of a political point without making of it a doctrinal matter. *This* is where the problem lies, and this is where the SSPX rightly criticises them.


  6. You miss the point – More could have been accused of heresy just as the SSPX accuse the bishops. By not saying “no” to the divorce it could be argued he was elevating his silence (or “yes” to the divorce) to a doctrinal level. More was fighting for his life just as the American bishops are trying to save American Catholics from the culture of death.

    This is not a game.

    • bmpc, you miss the point.

      Whilst More was certainly fighting for his skin, and wasn’t a bishop, and wasn’t trying to rewrite Catholic doctrine, the US bishop have no necessity whatever to deny Catholic teaching, wouldn’t be justified even if they had, and are bishops and as such held to a higher standard.

      No game could have a stake so high that it would justify heresy.


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