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JPII & Dignitatis Humanae - IV

Final Questions a Catholic Cannot Evade

Julio Alvear, Ph.D.
Introduction ... Note from the Editor

As the official documents show us, it is certain that John Paul II taught the right to religious liberty of a positive content with the elements we have stressed, formulated under the perspective of the conciliar hermeneutic of Dignitatis humanae. It thus results that the basis of any reexamination of its continuity with the Magisterium of the Church must situate itself on a different terrain.

1. A traditional interpretation of Dignitatis humanae is possible only if the teaching of John Paul II is restricted to the concept of liberty of conscience - which he identifies at times with the right to religious liberty - especially taking into account the presuppositions we pointed out in the Encyclical Veritatis splendor and the explanation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church on the topic. (1) However, this is not the summit of his teaching but rather only its starting point.

Paul VI at the UN

The Conciliar Popes at the UN

2. Respect for the truth forces us to admit that this summit is a broadening of the positive concept of the right to religious liberty. I do not intend to discuss here whether it is possible to adopt a “traditional” interpretation of Dignitatis humanae, like that made in their time by Victorino Rodriguez, O.P., Brian Harrison, and more recently by F. Ocáriz and Basile Valuet, O.S.B. (2)

In any case, John Paul II gave an answer to this question through his teaching, and the response is gravely negative. Certainly there is a possibility that citations could be chosen to make a non-problematic doctrinal presentation, that is to say, to make his teaching appear in almost perfect harmony with the doctrine of St. Thomas and the Popes who energetically condemned both the errors of the “new rights” and the “modern liberties.”

But it must be admitted that such a presentation would raise the laughter of all the heads of States and international organizations as well as all the religious leaders and social groups addressed by John Paul II. For he spoke to them delivering a very clear message in his fundamental orientation, including an explicit modern doctrine on religious liberty of a positive content that followed the ecumenical and humanist ideals of our times.

3. In this domain, we must ask ourselves to what measure and extent the doctrine of the right to religious liberty as professed by John Paul II in his continuous teaching can condition the response to the appeal made by Benedict XVI to reread the texts of the Council - and therefore also Dignitatis humanae - according to a “hermeneutic of continuity.” Part of the answer can be found in the teaching of Benedict XVI himself on the topic: Did he not follow the same path of his predecessor on this topic?

4. For a lay Catholic doing research on this subject, other questions appear: These questions require a profound clarification of the Magisterium.

  1. Footnote 1
  2. Footnote 2
  3. Footnote 3
  4. Footnote 4
Posted October 8, 2013

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