"You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free"---John 8:32
"Religious freedom, in turn, which men demand as necessary to fulfill their duty to worship God, has to do with immunity from coercion in civil society. Therefore it leaves untouched traditional Catholic doctrine on the moral duty of men and societies toward the true religion and toward the one Church of Christ."---Dignitatis Humanae #1
If there is any subject that has stirred intense debate within the Church since the French Revolution, and especially since the Second Vatican Council, it is the subject of liberty. That is in part because Catholic theology has always taught that there can be no true liberty for evil and the errors which foster it. Interestingly most nations, even to this day, agree with this teaching in many respects. No one for instance believes that there is any human right to murder or to form associations which advocate murder and so on. To the extent that this is affirmed, Catholic teaching regarding the moral law is in part affirmed. The trouble bubbles up however when we consider 'freedom' relative to errors which Catholics believe foster many evils.
Consider pornography which is ubiquitous today. Is there any legitimate human right to so degrade human beings for profit and to threaten the whole moral fabric of society as we have seen happen in our day? Catholics have always argued no, there can be no such legitimate right or liberty for that. The same obviously would be true for the moral crimes of abortion, euthanasia, eugenics targeting the poor and so on, even if those who purposely deform true liberty (which always fosters the Common Good), transvalue the traditional understanding into mischievous license, and constantly suppress the deleterious effects of these crimes. Yet until near midway in the 20th century the Catholic understanding in these areas constituted more or less the consensus of most nations in the West even after the French Revolution.
Freemasonry was one aggressive revolutionary Enlightenment current which sought from the beginning to transvalue and move responsible liberty in the direction of nihilism. One of the reasons the Popes in the past condemned Freemasonry so many times over the centuries was that not only did Freemasonry show every sign of being a new religion itself with a new cult of rituals and beliefs, but Freemasonry asserted itself especially after the American Revolution in a very duplicitous way, namely by arguing for the "separation of church and state," even as it corrupted the traditional understanding and consensus without regard for the moral consequences. This was simply the means of replacing traditional religion with the religion of Freemasonry, together with antithetical understandings of liberty. All attempts by the Lodges to deny that it was inculcating a new religious system in place of the "old" (defying even sociological definitions of religion as cult, ritual, and belief system) were and are worthless tricks. I have written about this in the American context elsewhere (click).
Toleration / Right
Even before the American and French Revolutions however, it should be noted, Catholic nations always had to walk a fine line, sometimes tolerating evils and errors in order to prevent even greater troubles. This was a matter of prudence. But Catholicism never confused this pragmatic toleration or liberty for license. On the other hand the distinction (toleration v. affirming a positive right) can sometimes seem academic to the extent that Catholics in non Christian lands ask for little more than religious liberty for ourselves. One cannot ask for something which should not exist by right of the moral law. But what happens when the pernicious Revolution and its moral transvaluations of 'liberty' spreads and appears to steamroll once Catholic nations so that for all practical purposes those nations appear Catholic no more, but rather subjugated, eclipsed?
Many Catholic thinkers saw this coming long before the Second Vatican Council. See for example the dire 1936 warning of Catholic historian Hilaire Belloc here (Click). For Belloc and so many others, the tectonic shift which they saw happening could not be more serious. Pope Paul VI, realistically seeing this increasing phenomenon wrote,
And what is it that this Church asks of you, after nearly two thousand years of all sorts of vicissitudes in her relations with you, the powers of the earth? What does the Church ask of you today? In one of the major texts of the Council she has told you: she asks of you nothing but freedom - the freedom to believe and to preach her faith, the freedom to love God and to serve Him, the freedom to live and to bring to men her message of life."--- Abbott, Documents, op. cit., p. 693, n. 53 (original text p. 730.
Some Catholic theologians and philosophers thought they saw an essential difference between the American and the French Revolutions, suggesting that Catholics could do business, as it were, with the Americans more than with the French ideologues. Whether this was a naive analysis (look at the fruits!) is a matter for another time.
By the time of the Second Vatican Council, the Jesuit John Courtnay Murray was seen by not a few as calling for a change in the traditional Catholic teaching on religious liberty. The Council document on Religious Liberty however, (Dignitatis Humanae), while sorely ambiguous in some places, according to theologian Fr. Brian Harrison did not give Murray the rupture he hoped for.
Harrison summed up Murray's analysis thusly:
"... Murray was not successful in attempting to harmonise the following two theses with Catholic doctrine by appealing to mankind's "growth in personal and political consciousness," and to the "historical conditioning" of earlier papal statements:
(1) The Catholic Church can demand from political authority, as a matter of right or divine law, only freedom, and not recognition of her unique truth;
(2) Political authority is not competent to recognize the unique truth of Catholicism, much less to allow any juridical effects on the lives of citizens to flow from such recognition."
Harrison shows that Murray failed to see or acknowledge the essential continuity of the Council teaching with traditional Catholic teaching, albeit in a new situation.
First Fr. Harrison quotes an essential text and hermeneutical key and then comments:
Therefore the civil power, whose characteristic purpose is to care for the common temporal good, must recognize and favour the religious life of citizens; but it must be seen as exceeding its limits if it presumes either to take charge of or to hinder (dirigere vel impedire) religious activity".---Dignitatis Humanae, no. 3. The specifications of no. 7 are taken for granted at this point in the text; that is, government can indeed "hinder ... religious activity" in the case of certain abuses.
"It is fair to conclude that," Harrison continues, "notwithstanding the very substantial contribution of John Courtney Murray's thought to the Declaration on Religious Liberty, the document finally promulgated by the Council, understood correctly in the light of its textual history and the official explanations given to the Fathers by the relator, did not adopt Murray's novel opinion - an opinion contrary to all Catholic tradition and to weighty pronouncements of the Church's magisterium - that society's public authorities in principle need not, and indeed may not, recognize the unique truth of Catholicism, and express that recognition appropriately in their official acts. Unfortunately Murray and many other commentators in the twenty-five years since the Declaration was promulgated have presented Dignitatis Humanae to the world as though it had endorsed this unapproved opinion, even though in fact the document ended up by reaffirming (albeit in muted tones) the traditional contrary thesis."--- Fr. Brian Harrison, John Courtney Murray: A Reliable Interpreter of Dignitatis Humane? [Source here].
Recently Dr. E. Michael Jones, editor of Culture Wars magazine, said in a taped interview that it is time for the Church to break with the American experiment which has collapsed into laciviousness and corruption. It remains to be seen what Jones means exactly since the Church continues to reject any notion that human beings have a right to indulge and promote evil against the Common Good.
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the day before Pope John Paul II died, acknowledged the tightrope, as it were, which the Church must walk, faithful to traditional Catholic moral teaching in the midst of the new reality which Belloc and so many others warned about---a takeover, that is, by resurgent, indeed hegemonic, neo-pagan nihilist tendencies which is now the de facto situation "on the ground," so to speak:
" This Enlightenment culture is essentially defined by the rights of freedom; it stems from freedom as a fundamental value that measures everything: the freedom of religious choice, which includes the religious neutrality of the state; freedom to express one's own opinion, as long as it does not cast doubt specifically on this canon; the democratic ordering of the state, that is, parliamentary control on state organisms; the free formation of parties; the independence of the judiciary; and, finally, the safeguarding of the rights of man and the prohibition of discriminations. Here the canon is still in the process of formation, given that there are also rights of man that are in opposition, as for example, in the case of the conflict between a woman's desire for freedom and the right of the unborn to live.
The concept of discrimination is ever more extended, and so the prohibition of discrimination can be increasingly transformed into a limitation of the freedom of opinion and religious liberty. Very soon it will not be possible to state that homosexuality, as the Catholic Church teaches, is an objective disorder in the structuring of human existence. And the fact that the Church is convinced of not having the right to confer priestly ordination on women is considered by some up to now as something irreconcilable with the spirit of the European Constitution.
It is evident that this canon of the Enlightenment culture, less than definitive, contains important values which we, precisely as Christians, do not want and cannot renounce; however, it is also obvious that the ill-defined or undefined concept of freedom, which is at the base of this culture, inevitably entails contradictions; and it is obvious that precisely because of its use (a use that seems radical) it has implied limitations of freedom that a generation ago we could not even imagine. A confused ideology of freedom leads to dogmatism, which is showing itself increasingly hostile to freedom.
We must, without a doubt, focus again on the question of the internal contradictions of the present form of the Enlightenment culture. But we must first finish describing it. It is part of its nature, in so far as culture of a reason that, finally, has complete awareness of itself, to boast a universal pretense and conceive itself as complete in itself, not in need of some completion through other cultural factors.----Europe's Crisis of Culture, Source here (all emphasis mine)
"...the roots of modern apostasy lay in scientific atheism, dialectical materialism, rationalism, illuminism, laicism, and Freemasonry which is the mother of them all." ---Pope Pius XII, May 23, 1958 A.D