---from the Catechism of the Catholic Church
2108 The right to religious liberty is neither a moral license to adhere to error, nor a supposed right to error,37 but rather a natural right of the human person to civil liberty, i.e., immunity, within just limits, from external constraint in religious matters by political authorities. This natural right ought to be acknowledged in the juridical order of society in such a way that it constitutes a civil right.38
2109 The right to religious liberty can of itself be neither unlimited nor limited only by a "public order" conceived in a positivist or naturalist manner.39 The "due limits" which are inherent in it must be determined for each social situation by political prudence, according to the requirements of the common good, and ratified by the civil authority in accordance with "legal principles which are in conformity with the objective moral order."40
III. "YOU SHALL HAVE NO OTHER GODS BEFORE ME"
2110 The first commandment forbids honoring gods other than the one Lord who has revealed himself to his people. It proscribes superstition and irreligion. Superstition in some sense represents a perverse excess of religion; irreligion is the vice contrary by defect to the virtue of religion.
37 Cf. Leo XIII, Libertas praestantissimum 18; Pius XII AAS 1953, 799.
38 Cf. DH 2.
39 Cf. Pius VI, Quod aliquantum (1791) 10; Pius IX, Quanta cura 3.
40 DH 7 # 3.
--->See: Fr. Brian Harrison: Religious Liberty: "Rights" versus "Tolerance"...
--->Pius IX, Vatican II and Religious Liberty...
Note: I have known many good persons who have been vexed by the Council's teaching on Religious Liberty, and this certainly includes myself. Especially troublesome has been what the neo-modernists have made of it. And because of this, sometimes our first reaction is emotive rather than a sober analysis in light of the whole teaching of the Church. This is why we, the laity, need faithful theologians, to keep us from straying.
In the final analysis with respect to the Second Vatican Council on religious liberty, I think the work of Fr. Brian Harrison, and then others like him (author Thomas Storck has been especially helpful to me also), has been most helpful in keeping us within the parameters of Catholic dogma as the actual doctrine here is expounded (See his links below). No Catholic in history has ever believed that a layperson or individual priest or bishop may substitute for the Church's magisterium in expounding her own teaching; and therefore our task is to learn what a complex document---or even one that poorly sets out a particular teaching---does and does not say.
In the post-Reformational world the political makeup had changed throughout all of Europe; it had become far more complex than it had hitherto been. So according to "political prudence" it was evidently determined that, where possible, just as the Church asks for religious liberty in non-Catholic countries, she must in this new situation ask lawmakers to reciprocate the favor, without however ever suggesting that the right to be free from coercion in religious matters meant a right before God to opt for error. None of us are free to embrace error when we know it is error. And "due limits," a matter of prudence, like freedom from coercion itself "can of itself be neither unlimited nor limited only by a "public order" conceived in a positivist or naturalist manner". Civil rights and religious rights before God are, de facto today, not always identical.
We can be grateful in this and all matters for clarifications made by the "living magisterium"---which alone may authoritatively interpret the Catholic tradition---sometimes in the light of constructive criticism.
Such clarifications have always been required when difficulties in complex teaching present themselves. See Msgr. Joseph Clifford Fenton: How the Church Modifies / Clarifies Doctrine Over Time, for example on the matter of extra ecclesiam nulla salus (click here)
As laymen we are called by the Lord Himself to trust the promise that He will be with His Church always, even to the end of the world. This promise of indefectibility is absolute. The Catholic Encyclopedia, 1917, says of indefectibility,
"By this term is signified, not merely that the Church will persist to the end of time, but further, that it will be preserved unimpaired in its essential characteristics. The Church can never undergo any constitutional change, which will make it, as a social organism, something different from what it was originally. It can never become corrupt in faith or in morals; nor can it ever lose the Apostolic hierarchy, or the sacraments through which Christ communicates grace to men."Essential characteristics: The Church is visible as a "social organism" and hierarchical and sacramental, and she will persist to the "end of time" in all these "essential characteristics". She can "never...ever" change in all of this. What a comfort that is.
This we must believe on the word of Our Lord Himself. This we are called to trust, without reserve, despite the complexities and sometimes imprudent defects which over time need reform, clarifications and the like (just as all Christians do in our personal lives).
As laypersons we are called above all to humility as we confess the Faith against the errors and dangers of the age. Constructive criticism is certainly allowed and even encouraged:
"The laity] have the right, indeed at times the duty, in keeping with their knowledge, competence, and position, to manifest to the sacred pastors their views on matters that concern the good of the Church. They have the right also to make their views known to others of Christ's faithful..." ---(Canon Law 212)
Meanwhile we live in trust and Hope, relying on Christ's own promise to get us all Home. Many of us have found ourselves for a time baffled, confused on this or that teaching, issue or matter. It is what it means to be human, to learn by our mistakes.--- [This Post Last Updated: 11.7. 10]
Vatican II a pastoral Council: Whatever future judgments the Church makes about the Council or aspects of it, Catholics will say Amen. Meanwhile we never break communion.