A report on the SSPX/Holy See meeting

Our friends at Rorate did some heavy lifting for us today about the talks between the SSPX and the Holy See.  Drawing on the intrepid Andrea Tornielli’s piece on the same (which I simply don’t have time to translate) we learn this…

Interesting tidbits on the CDF-SSPX first meeting

Vaticanist Andrea Tornielli reports today in Il Giornale about yesterday’s meeting in the Palace of the Holy Office between the representatives of the Holy See and those of the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Pius X for the first of the official meetings of the doctrinal discussions. Besides mentioning what the Press Office had already made public in its official communiqué, Tornielli adds the following:

"It went fine, the difficulties exist – one of those present tells Il Giornale – but the beginning was good."

A few days before the meeting, the Lefebvrists had received from the Vatican a kind of preparatory text with the arguments that would be discussed. The debate that began yesterday witnesses the Fraternity maintain that some of the Conciliar texts are not compatible with tradition, while the experts of the Holy See affirm the opposite.

"How long the talks will take cannot be foreseen – the Vatican source continues -[;] we have decided to set a bimonthly frequency, we will thus meet again right after Christmas. But in the meantime work will be done, and diligently, using e-mail to exchange considerations, questions, in order to arrive at the next meeting, as far as possible, with some point of agreement."

Brick by brick.

Don’t forget to add your prayers to those of many for the good results of these meetings.

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  1. mrsmontoya says:

    Prayers indeed – the recent Anglican developments have demonstrated the power of prayer!

  2. Tominellay says:

    I am so hopeful for the success of these talks…

  3. chironomo says:


    A commentary I read yesterday said that the parties would be meeting every two weeks. Now this report says that they will be meeting every two months. There seems to be a confusion about the meaning of bi-monthly, or whatever the phrase is in Italian. There is a bit of a difference. Meeting every two weeks seems quite urgent…a lot of meetings. Every two months, while still laudable, is 1/4 as many meetings as the other way round.

  4. Joseph says:

    If there is a sincere love for the church combined with a deep faith and a mutual willingness to hear the other out, those talks will be fruitful. I am very relieved that there are no daily progress reports as interesting as they would be, but the idle chatter of many would be worse than distracting.

  5. seanl says:

    The prayers are going up!

  6. DCtrad says:

    [“… some of the Conciliar texts are not compatible with tradition, while the experts of the Holy See affirm the opposite.]

    Would someone be willing to speculate concretely on a list of article numbers based on past statements by the SSPX to support this. I’m more than curious on the subject.

  7. JayneK says:

    The SSPX has problems reconciling the Declaration on Religious Liberty with Catholic tradition. An open letter to Pope John Paul II explains their position: http://www.sspx.org/miscellaneous/letter_to_pope_john_paul_ii_lefebvre_de_castro-mayer_1985.htm

  8. kgurries says:

    It would seem that the question of “rupture” vs. “continuity” will apply to each topic. Apparently, one side will attempt to demonstrate rupture (rupture theology) while the other will defend the continuity of doctrine (hermeneutic of continuity). Can “rupture theology be defended? Does “rupture theology” conform to Tradition and the teaching of the Church? I anticipated some of these questions in the following post on “Rupture Theology”:


  9. Maybe we should send cookies to the SSPX leadership and the Vatican. I mean, put enough butter and sugar and chocolate into a discussion, and I imagine a lot of nonessential difficulties just melt away. The Cookies of Christian Unity for the Pope of Christian Unity! :)

    Or we could make tiny brick-shaped candies, so that everybody could build little church models with them during coffee breaks and then eat them…. :)

  10. chironomo says:


    It had been a long time since I had read that letter. I had forgotten how very harsh it really is. But this is a matter of life and death and requires a strong defense of the truth. We will hope that these issues will be addressed openly and with a deep desire to reach the truth.

  11. moon1234 says:

    Wow. After reading the letter to Pope John Paul II I am now very curious how this will be answered. I have always thought that there was something wrong with teaching that people are free to choose whatever religion they want.

    I have always thought that all people are required to belong to the one true church. We simply tolerate them when they refuse, but never give up in trying to bring them into the church. So too should our secular, man made laws never be in opposition to devine law. We are not free to make laws (or follow such) if those laws violate God’s law.

  12. Jerry says:

    The Google translation (translate.google.com) of the Il Giornale article is surprisingly readable; however, I can’t attest to its accuracy. Perhaps someone else can comment.

    RomaL’incontro the thaw between the Holy See and Lefebvrists, the first since 1988 to discuss doctrinal issues, started at 9.30 am yesterday, the palace of the Inquisition, and continued until 12.30. They are found around the table are the experts of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, led by Monsignor Guido Pozzo, and those of the Society of Saint Pius X, led by Bishop Alfonso de Gallareto.

    “In a cordial, respectful and constructive – reports the Vatican Press Office – have highlighted the major questions of doctrine which will be discussed during the talks that will continue in the coming months.” “In particular – continues the statement – we examine the issues relating to the concept of Tradition, the missal of Paul VI, the interpretation of Vatican II in Catholic doctrinal continuity with Tradition, the themes of unity of the Church and Catholic principles ecumenism, the relationship between Christianity and non-Christian religions and religious freedom. ” The list of doctrinal issues that Lefebvrians consider issues which are related to the interpretation of the council.

    “It went well, the difficulties we are – Newspaper confides to one of these – but the start was good.” Before the meeting, already for some days Lefebvrians had received from the Vatican a kind of preparatory text with the topics under discussion. The debate began yesterday saw the fraternity say that some texts of the Council are not compatible with the tradition, while experts say the opposite of the Holy See.

    “You can not predict how long will the talks – the source continues, the Vatican – we decided to give us a bi-monthly, then we will probably just after Christmas.” But in the meantime we will work, and actively, using e-mail to exchange considerations, questions, so you get to the next meeting, if possible, agreed with some points. “

  13. Fr_Sotelo says:

    It is telling that the Lefebvre-Mayer letter does not cite specifically the articles of the document of Religious Liberty which are allegedly heretical and rebut them with past Conciliar ex-cathedra teaching. Citing past encyclicals does not necessarily mean you are dealing with ex-cathedra pronouncements.

    It is true that the papal teaching of previous encyclicals exhorted the civil power to subdue and repress believers of other faiths, and clearly condemned the First Amendment belief that all people have a right to freedom of worship according to their conscience.

    But even before the Council there was belief by some theologians that this application of the Natural Law was not contained in Divine Revelation. Therefore the moral obligation to repress other religions could not be considered dogma, but reformable application of the Natural Law (as the pro-death penalty stance could be a reformable application of the Natural Law). In fact, there is no ancient father before the fourth century who advocated the belief that the government should outlaw public expression of non-Catholic faith.

    In all honestly, how many trads want to see the government or secret police shuttering all non-Catholic houses of worship and arresting our non-Catholic neighbors who propagate their religion? Vatican II saw an entirely new reality with the advent of democracy and applied the Natural Law according to the mindset of the very ancient church, which suffered persecution and therefore advocated the right of the human conscience to worship God in freedom.

    The Catholic church still believes that “error has no rights.” However, error is not floating out there, disembodied. It exists within the minds of people, some of them sincere although erroneous. With the Vatican II Declaration of Religious Liberty, the Church recognized that people do have rights. Even when they are in error

  14. DCtrad says:


    Wow thank you this helped me alot.

  15. Of course with the SSPX document to Pope John Paul II, what a pity they did not understand what the Church taught in Vatican II.

    Really, it’s nothing different than what St. Thomas Aquinas has said on erring conscience.

  16. Daniel A. says:

    Fr. Sotelo,

    I don’t think that many trads want to see the secret police closing Protestant Churches, arresting Muslims, or making Jews wear yellow stars.

    I do wonder a bit how the government would treat religion in a (hypothetical and improbable) nation where the government, though not all the people, perfectly applied Catholic teaching. It seems to me that my concern is that the declaration on religious freedom would prevent the state from giving any kind of preference to the Catholic religion. I agree with the general statement that people, including those in error, should be free from COERCION. However, section 4 of Dignitatis Humanae would seem to not only forbid religious coercion, but would require a (hypothetical) thoroughly Catholic nation to allow missionary activity by any other religion. This in turn would seem to conflict with previous teachings, which to say the least would not require strict indifferentism on the government’s part.

    Now, I don’t know precisely what kind of document Dignitatis Humanae is: does it outrank all the other documents that it contradicts? Is it absolutely binding? Could a nation (morally) teach about and encourage the Catholic faith in its public schools, so long as it avoided coercion? Could it (morally) forbid a Protestant missionary from handing out Jack Chick tracts in front of the capital city’s cathedral, if said missionary was on public land? Could a nation call itself a Catholic nation while attempting to hold to the principals of Dignitatis Humanae?

    I am honestly asking these questions…clearly I do have an opinion, but if I am somehow misguided I am open to changing it. However, given that I work in a place where religious indifferentism is required, I have seen that it works very poorly. In an American public school, students don’t “explain to one another the truth they have discovered, or think they have discovered.” Rather, they think that religion is a forbidden topic, and that the school and its employees actively discourage religion.

    By the way, I assume you are “that” Fr. Sotelo. I am in fact “that” Daniel A…from Fresno, whose wedding to “Catherine A.” you’re going to say this December :). If you’re not the same Fr. Sotelo, then feel free to disregard that…if you are, then you know that I’m asking these questions with the utmost respect, and that I only wish to know what the Church actually teaches in this area, and if I am somehow in error to think that the government ought to be permitted to encourage Catholicism and discourage Catholics from leaving the Church, so long as it doesn’t in fact coerce them.

  17. Andrew_81 says:


    If it were really that simple, given how insistent the SSPX seminaries (and Archbishop Lefebvre) was on teaching St. Thomas, you would think that someone would have pointed this out much earlier than 40 years into the strife.

    Honestly, any man of good will can see that there are two seemingly opposed ideas of how to view the false or heretical religions. The whole question of whether this seeming opposition is real or is not is the meat of this debate. If theological experts have not in one meeting come to a consensus that this is the case and there are no real problems (on the contrary, there are problems as has been identified), then perhaps it is best to allow these theological experts hash out the matter instead of presuming to know better than them.

    If we had the theological training necessary to have this discussion, then perhaps it would be worthwhile, but honestly, a combox is not a place for that debate, and I know I, and probably most others here don’t have sufficient training or authority to resolve the problems.

    Perhaps Fr. Sotelo’s attempt to reconcile the two positions is correct, but honestly, I’d like to have a magisterial reinforcement behind that, which is perhaps what will come from these discussions … perhaps finally we will have clarity on “what the Church taught in Vatican II”.

  18. @Andrew_81

    I believe the problem is when we get to the “personal interpretation of Church documents” as a variant of “Sola Scriptura.” We can look at what the Church says it means and what the SSPX says it means. The difference is one has the authority and one does not.

    Dignitatis Humanae says in #1:

    First, the council professes its belief that God Himself has made known to mankind the way in which men are to serve Him, and thus be saved in Christ and come to blessedness. We believe that this one true religion subsists in the Catholic and Apostolic Church, to which the Lord Jesus committed the duty of spreading it abroad among all men. Thus He spoke to the Apostles: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have enjoined upon you” (Matt. 28: 19-20). On their part, all men are bound to seek the truth, especially in what concerns God and His Church, and to embrace the truth they come to know, and to hold fast to it.

    This Vatican Council likewise professes its belief that it is upon the human conscience that these obligations fall and exert their binding force. The truth cannot impose itself except by virtue of its own truth, as it makes its entrance into the mind at once quietly and with power.

    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.

    Quite different than how the SSPX has seemed to represent it

    However, I don’t want to start a rabbit hole here so I’ll stop.

  19. paulbailes says:

    Re Arnobius of Sicca’s “it [presumably DH] leaves untouched traditional Catholic doctrine on the moral duty of men and societies toward the true religion” – as I understand it, the key point of dispute concerns “societies”. If society retains a duty towards true religion, that means society can’t be indifferent to false religion. But the official interpreters of DH seem to think that indifference is OK, which is one of the places where the SSPX raises its objections. NB by “can’t be indifferent” nobody in their right mind means coercion to practise Catholicism; but they might reasonably mean limits on the public practice of false religion. By way of comparison, there are laws in some places preventing the propagation of untruth about the persecutions suffered by our Jewish bretheren 1933-45. So in that context e.g. it does not seem so unreasonable to outlaw telling lies about the Church. Etc. etc, but a far cry from buring at stakes or whatever.

    God bless

    PS one of the most interesting things I remember reading in one of Michael Davies RIP books was from his time doing National Service at the then British military base in Malta: the Anglican and/or OPD chaplains to the British forces were not permitted to wear clerical dress outside the grounds of the military establishments because in Catholic Malta it was against the law to impersonate a clergyman – a nice implementation indeed of Leo XIII’s “absolutely null and utterly void” ruling, what!

  20. Fr_Sotelo says:


    Yes, I am “that” Sotelo, not the Jesuit Fr. Sotelo in El Paso, nor Fr. Tony Sotelo of Phoenix, nor Fr. Fabio Sotelo of Atlanta. I seem to think that there was another Jesuit Sotelo (of Calif. fame) who might have left the priesthood, but I could be wrong.

    DH of Vatican II, not an infallible teaching, nonetheless comes from an ecumenical Council, which is the most solemn exercise of the Ordinary Magisterium. The decree has more weight than the papal encyclicals which precede it.

    It would be seen as a development of the Church’s teaching of the State as it applies the natural law towards non-Catholic religions. In the matters of applying the natural law, that which is not dogma can undergo a reformulation based upon the change of circumstances which are examined.

    An example is that at one time the pope may have instructed a Christian prince that death should be imposed upon any violent criminal as the sure means of public safety, whereas at another time a future pope could say that where such criminals can be safely restrained and incarcerated, to avoid the death penalty.

    The previous Catholic teaching was that the State should not show indifference towards false religions. What does that mean in practice–to not show indifference. Honestly, it meant that all public expressions of false religion were to be subject to criminal penalties and repression. General Franco carried this out in Spain, and was seen as a model of the true, Catholic State.

    Thus, it was an acceptable theological opinion before Vatican II to assert that when Catholic Americans became the majority, they had to change the constitution. This change would involve the abolition of First Amendment rights and the use of the American government to show favor to Catholicism and some kind of active restraint of non-Catholic faiths.

    When American Protestants saw what happened to Spanish Protestants under Franco, and that the Catholic Church lauded the methods of the Franco government for dealing with non-Catholics, they were most unamused about the prospect of Catholicism’s growth in the U.S.

    Now, in pre-WWII Poland, before the communist takeover, they drew up a constitution that allowed for Catholicism to have somewhat of a favored status, while not making Catholicism the official religion of the State. The Church was not pleased, of course, and yet far from this freedom bringing harm to the Church, the Polish Church had a growing and staunch Catholicism, both before and after the war.

    It would be fascinating to research that situation of pre-WWII Poland and how it was able to work for the Church. It was a democracy, a very Catholic one, but it did not seek to supress the non-Catholic public practice of faith.

    The SSPX, on the other hand, seems to be fed up with the whole concept of democracy’s freedom of religion as a capitulation to freemasonry, and advocates the return of Christian monarchy and the aggressive assertion of the Catholic State.

    The ancient Church was content to live with freedom of religion, because for the Roman Empire, the exaltation of the true religion and the supression of error meant the destruction of the Church. While the emperor respected freedom of conscience, the Church could practice her faith in peace.

  21. Fr_Sotelo says:


    In fairness to the SSPX, I would not say that the traditional Catholic doctrine regarding freedom of religion was “untouched” by Vatican II.

    Catholic touching clearly taught that the Catholic State had obligations to not only defend the true religion, but to see to it that Catholicism was propagated and that the errors of her enemies were to be suppressed. The Council of Trent convened with the express desire to “extirpate heresy” and that meant exhorting Christian princes to suppress the public expressions of worship which were not Catholic.

    DH of Vatican II seems to embrace the thinking behind the First Amendment of the American constitution, that the State should neither establish a religion nor hinder the free exercise thereof.

    Hopefully, these talks at the CDF will explain for the SSPX what circumstances of the world today and what dogmas of Catholic faith would justify the different application of natural law to the question of religious liberty.

  22. Fr_Sotelo says:

    The second paragraph above should read that “Catholic teaching clearly taught….”

  23. [“… some of the Conciliar texts are not compatible with tradition, while the experts of the Holy See affirm the opposite.]

    Let’s call texts incompatible with sacred Tradition what they really are – heresy.

    While the text that the Council gave us leaves plenty of work to be done reconciling the teachings of VII with Tradition, the very notion that this entirely valid ecumenical council may have taught heresy is simply untenable.

    As Fr. Z has said many times, one of the keys to moving forward in this matter is humility. For the SSPX this means the assumption going into these talks must be that the Council did not, in fact could not, contradict Tradition, even if it left us with difficulties in the matter of interpretation. For the Holy See it means recognizing that some of the points raised by the SSPX are critically important and must be resolved, not just for the good of the SSPX but for the good of every single member of the Church.

    It seems pretty clear (from the lifting of the excommunications to the very fact of these talks) that the latter expression of humility is taking place. Let’s hope the former does as well.

  24. Jason Keener says:

    When read in the light of Sacred Tradition, Dignitatis Humane is a good document. We shouldn’t be too alarmed if Dignitatis Humane did not say very much about church-state relations, the suppression of error, etc. As the Council Fathers understood, so much had already been covered on the issues of church-state relations and the suppression of error in the encyclical letters of the past. DH was instead to focus on the Church’s teaching that people should be free from coercion in matters of religion. This timely focus of DH was/is especially useful to those people who were/are suffering under Communistic and Islamic regimes.

    The state and all societies still have a moral duty towards the true religion, as is pointed out in DH #1; however, how the state and other societies fulfill this moral duty will be somewhat varied in different eras, cultures, and circumstances.

    Also, though a state must still fulfill its moral duty towards the true religion, that does not mean the state can suppress all religious error. The state cannot suppress all religious error because that would be an infraction of people’s individual rights to pursue God and religion as they see fit according to their own consciences. In any event, who would want a government, even a Catholic one, to act in an almost totalitarian way suppressing everything it believes is moral and religious error? That kind of government would seem to be a violation of the principle of subsidiarity, which tells us that people have a right to decide their own personal family and religious matters. God told us the weeds and the wheat will grow together here on Earth, so we should not feel government has to go around and stomp out every moral and religious error.

  25. Jason Keener says:

    The great Pope Pius XII taught this about the toleration of religious error in Ci Riesce (1953):

    “Another question, essentially different, is this: could the norm be established in a community of states—at least in certain circumstances—that the free exercise of a belief and of a religious or moral practice which possess validity in one of the member states, be not hindered throughout the entire territory of the community of nations by state laws or coercive measures? In other words, the question is raised whether in these circumstances “non impedire” or toleration is permissible, and whether, consequently, positive repression is not always a duty.

    We have just adduced the authority of God. Could God, although it would be possible and easy for Him to repress error and moral deviation, in some cases choose the “non impedire” without
    contradicting His infinite perfection? Could it be that in certain circumstances He would not give men any mandate, would not impose any duty, and would not even communicate the right to impede or to repress what is erroneous and false? A look at things as they are gives an affirmative answer. Reality shows that error and sin are in the world in great measure. God reprobates them, but He permits them to exist. Hence the affirmation: religious and moral error must always be impeded, when it is possible, because toleration of them is in itself immoral, is not valid absolutely and unconditionally.

    Moreover, God has not given even to human authority such an absolute and universal command in matters of faith and morality. Such a command is unknown to the common convictions of mankind, to Christian conscience, to the sources of Revelation and to the practice of the Church. To omit here other Scriptural texts which are adduced in support of this argument, Christ in the parable of the cockle gives the following advice: let the cockle grow in the field of the world together with the good seed in view of the harvest (cf. 13:24-30). The duty of repressing moral and religious error cannot therefore be an ultimate norm of action. It must be subordinate to higher and more general norms, which in some circumstances permit, and even perhaps seem to indicate as the better policy, toleration of error in order to promote a greater good.

  26. Fr_Sotelo says:


    I think the following words of Pius XII get to the crux of the matter concerning the higher duties of our Faith: “which in some circumstances permit, and even perhaps seem to indicate as the better policy, toleration of error in order to promote a greater good.”

    Pius is not saying that the repression of non-Catholic religions and sects, in the past, was wrong, as that was commonly practiced in Catholic states. What he is saying is, in these days, “let’s look at the circumstances.”

    In medieval and post Catholic Reformation Europe, it may have been dangerous for the Faith to have religious freedom. But now, the old policies could actually foment hatred against the true religion. This shift laid the foundation for DH of Vatican II.

    Vatican II, however, went beyond Pius XII, and states that as a general norm, the Church abandons the practice of exhorting the repression of non-Catholic, public worship. Give everyone freedom to worship in peace according to their conscience, and the Church will do fine, because she is confident that where she receives a fair hearing, she will draw increasing souls to her fold.

    This is a teaching for which Fr. John Coutney Murray, sj, got smacked down by the Holy Office before Vatican II, but for which he was vindicated afterwards. Of course, religious liberty does not mean indifference to the Faith. Before the Supreme Court started to freak out about religion in the 1960’s, the active cooperation between American government and the churches was a good model, I believe.

  27. MichaelJ says:

    I find it interesting that prior to the reign of His Holiness Benedict XVI (long may he live) the “consensus” was that the SSPX incorrectly iterpreted Tradition – Tradition must be reconciled with the “development of doctrine” contained in Vatican II in other words.

    Now the consensus seems to be that the SSPX incorrectly iterprets the Vatican II documents – Vatican II must be reconciled with Tradition.

    This is significant progress in my mind.

  28. I wanted to thank all the posters on this thread for their comments, links, quotes, etc. This entire discussion has been very civil, very intelligent, and very educational for me (and for other readers/lurkers as well).

    I’ll continue to pray for all parties engaged in these talks…that all may be one.

  29. Jason Keener says:


    I think you bring up some good points.

    The Catholic teaching on how much error a government should tolerate and/or suppress has changed and been different at different points of history; however, the essential principles of Catholic doctrine on religious liberty and on the basic moral duty of the state towards the True Religion, etc., have remained the same. What we have seen in our time is a less rigid PRUDENTIAL APPLICATION of the Church’s judgement about the suppression of error, and for good reason.

    First, the Church realizes that for Catholic governments to try and suppress all religious error would be a violation of each person’s right to seek God according to their own conscience. The government, of course, cannot allow people to carry out religious activities that totally disturb the common good like the sacrificing of children and animals, but it would also be a violation of the common good for the government to not allow people to practice their religion freely if their practices are done peacefully. When so many people (Catholics included) have suffered and continue to suffer under Communistic, Atheistic, and Islamic regimes, it is timely that the Church is today emphasizing man’s right to be free from coercion in matters of religion. A true relationship with God can only be discerned and entered into in a climate of freedom.

    Second, religious error is not as much of a threat to the civil order as it was in the old days when the Church and State were so closely tied together in the person of the Catholic Monarch. In the past, religious error and heresy were not seen only as errors in religion, but they were also perceived as challenges to the legitimately established government of the day and also as a threat to the tranquility of the social order. There was a greater need for the suppression of religious error in the past when the harm done to the common good and order of society through religious error was so dangerous and upsetting.

    Third, if Catholic governments today were in the business of suppressing all moral and religious error, it would probably do more harm than good to the Church. People in today’s world are already indifferent and disdainful towards religion, and a Catholic government suppressing error would only add to people’s disdain for the True Church. The ultimate goal is to bring souls to Christ and the Church. If an action is going to drive people away from the Church, the action should usually not be pursued.

    Again, the essentials have always remained the same—societies and states have a moral duty towards the true religion, and people have a right to be free from coercion in matters of religion. Specific policies about how to prudentially apply the Church’s teaching on the suppression of error, etc., can and should vary at different points in history to suit the present culture and era. From what I can tell, the SSPX should not worry and think the Church has changed anything essential to the Faith. We have certainly seen a different application of some of the CHANGEABLE elements of Catholic Social Doctrine, but we have not seen the Church abandon Her ESSENTIAL teachings pertaining to religious liberty and the moral duty of the state towards the True Faith. It is the very nature of the application of social doctrine to vary over time and be somewhat flexible, as the Church, while keeping the essentials in place, has to address the needs of a particular time.

  30. Fr_Sotelo says:


    Louie V. also raised a good point. If the SSPX approaches the Holy Father with the attitude of correcting him, that could certainly be a stumbling block in their understanding of Vatican II. Our intellect is darkened by original sin, and a certain docility is needed for the Holy Spirit to shed light and understanding.

    I don’t know if DH of Vatican II needs to be reconciled to Tradition, for I don’t think it departs from Divine Revelation. Is it perhaps the case that certain teachings of the Council (Dignitatis Humanae included) need to have their positions more adequately explained as having come from Tradition? Maybe we are saying the same thing.

    The question asked by an SSPX adherent I met was, “why did the Council fathers allow DH to deviate from previous papal encyclicals without adequately expounding on the need for this departure?” The quote from Pius XII is very helpful.

  31. Fr_Sotelo says:


    You stated, “for Catholic governments to try and suppress all religious error would be a violation of each person’s right to seek God according to their own conscience.”

    The SSPX could point to constant Catholic teaching that no such right exists, because it would mean the right to embrace even idolatry or agnosticism (if one gives up their search for God).

    The recognition of the right you describe is a novelty, in light of the Magisterium of the last 1,000 years. That is an issue which the SSPX will want explained, I believe. What makes the pill even harder to swallow is that such a right, explained in your words, can be found in the minds of freemasons from the 18th century. You and I would agree, I think, that a good idea can come from a mason, but I don’t see the trads as keen to that.

    As far as people having disdain for Catholic suppression of their free thinking, the Church’s traditional response was simply, “we know they don’t like it, but it’s good for them.” I don’t think the SSPX would be opposed to that thinking even now, so the Holy See has its work cut out in trying to move them from point A to point B.

  32. Fr_Sotelo says:


    By the way, you give an excellent apologetic for the stance of Dignitatis Humanae, IMO.

  33. MichaelJ says:


    At one time the term “common good” included the eternal fate of an individual’s soul as well as the eternal fate of those who may be led astray by that individual. With that understanding, freely practicing a false religion can never be considered to promote the common good even if practiced “peacefully”.

    While I agree that it is a prudential decision to determine whether it is worse to actively supress false religions or to allow those practicing them to eternally damn themselves, that is not at all the same as saying that those who “peacefully practice” their false religion have a right to do so.

    Finally, there is a distinction between an active totalitarian active supression of false religions that you seem to be describing and a more gentle passive suppression. Nobody is suggesting, for example, that the state round up and imprison all moslems. Would it be an eggregious violation though if the state were to refuse to issue a building permit for a mosque?

  34. Jason Keener says:


    The “common good” still includes the eternal fate of an individual’s soul, but it seems to me how the common good is pursued at different points in history can vary according to what means best achieves the goal of eternal salvation. Catholic governments in today’s world suppressing what they believe to be false religions just because they are in error would probably only infuriate non-Catholics, not lead them closer to the truth of the Catholic Faith. Good Catholics might also be scandalized because most Catholics recognize everyone, even those practicing false religions, have a right to seek God according to their own conscience.

    You are right that freely practicing a false religion can never be considered a promotion of the common good. Error has no rights, but people still have a right to be free from coercion in matters of religion. A relationship with God can only be had in an atmosphere of freedom. To be clear, the part of the common good here is people’s right to be free from coercion in matters of religion. That people use their free will to choose a false religion is an abuse of reason and the common good, but again, neither the Church nor Catholic governments have been tasked by God to suppress every person’s error in every circumstance. God tolerates error and sin so that we might have the use of our free will, which is a great good. We must tolerate sin and error too when there is a great good to be achieved, like the great good of people being free to act according to the dictates of their conscience when seeking God.

    Regarding the Mosque question, it is not so cut and dried; however, I would say that even in a Catholic country, a Mosque could be permitted to be built by the Catholic government. Even if the government gives the Catholic Faith a preferred role in the life of the state with special recognition for the Church, tax breaks for the Church, etc., that does not mean the government has a corresponding duty to suppress all other people who happen to be in religious error. As human persons with an intellect and free will, Muslims also have a right to seek God as they see fit, even if they live in a state that officially endorses and promotes the Catholic Faith.

    Instead of refusing Muslims building permits, a better way for a Catholic government to influence Muslims in a Catholic country would be to act charitably towards the Muslims, to pray for them, and to evangelize them with good Catholic reading materials, etc. The Catholics of the country could also be informed that although the government allowed the Mosque to be built in order to respect the dignity of the Muslim people in their search for God, the issuance of the permit is in no way a government endorsement of Islam. The government could then list all of the reasons why the Catholic Faith is the True Faith and properly recognized religion of the state.

  35. MichaelJ says:


    I really do not think we have much disagreement although it seems apparent that we both have a different view of the purpose of the State and the role it plays in our salvation.

    My only “concern” is that the hands-off approach you seem to be advocating would tend to prevent a change in circumstances that will allow a more preferred hands-on approach. Maybe I completely mis-understand what you are saying, but I am of the opinion that we should always strive for the ideal even while recognizing that we will not achieve it.

    Getting back to the mosque issue, I was not so much suggesting that the state supress error but more that the state has a duty to prevent the spread of error. Would you agree that if the state cannot (should not) prevent the construction of a mosque it at least has the right to prevent evangelization by those practicing false religions??

  36. Jason Keener says:


    Thank you for your reply. I’ll try to clarify what I’m getting at.

    We both seem to agree that there is no question the state has a moral duty towards the True Religion. Men, individually and in society, need to recognize Christ and the True Church. The social dimension of man demands that man not only render individual worship to God, but civil and social worship, too.

    We might disagree on the role of the state with regards to false religions and controlling the spread of error. I don’t think the role of the state should be to prevent all religious error because when the state prevents people from practicing even their false religions when done peacefully, the state is infringing on people’s God-given right to act according to their own consciences in matters of religion. I do not think it is wise to give any government so much power where the government feels it can regulate religious practice in the state. We have to realize too that if Catholic governments act to prevent the spread of error in their countries, Muslim countries will have further justification to shut down Catholic churches in Muslim countries to prevent what the Muslims believe is a spread of error. In general, do we want any government in any country exercising control over religious matters? Wouldn’t it be wiser for governments to just stay out of the business of regulating religious practice? It would seem that government should not be overly involved in any religious matters because it is outside of the government’s sphere of competence. Governments get many things wrong, and they often have enough to handle with the bare essentials of running a society.

    Also, I’m not sure the state has the duty to suppress religious error. Where was the state ever given this power to regulate people’s individual lives, even those who are in religious error? A better practice might be for the state to guarantee the Catholic Church’s ability to operate freely so that the Catholic Church can evangelize and try to convert Muslims to the True Faith. Combatting religous error is a matter that falls under the Catholic Church’s competence more than it falls under the competence of any government.

    Again, the Muslim question is kind of tricky. Muslims should probably be free to try and evangelize the Catholics even in a Catholic country because in general people should be free to have discussions about the truth of this or that religion. Again, we don’t want any government to overstep its boundaries. Evangelization is something that can be handled just fine between individual citizens without the complications of government control.

    As an aside, some theologians believe that Catholic countries should tolerate the spread of false religions especially today because many of the false religions still respect the natural moral law. Even though these false religions may make some big errors, their respect for the natural moral law is a good help in fighting what is even worse in today’s world—rampant secularism, total atheism, hedonism, etc.

  37. quovadis7 says:

    Fr. Z,

    Since much/most of the discussion of this post seems to be focused upon Dignitatus Humanae (in particular, the impact of paragraph 2), could you PLEASE do one of your “slavishly accurate” translations of paragraph 2 of this important Vatican II document?

    In the past, I have attempted to do a literal translation of this controversial paragraph from the official Vatican Latin text of Dignitatus Humanae.

    What I get with my meager Latin skills, however, does NOT correspond very precisely with the “official” English translation available from the Vatican – i.e. the “official” English Vatican translation seems to me to be OK wrt Church tradition on religious liberty, but my literal English translation of the official Latin text does not….

    Here is the official Latin text:

    “Haec Vaticana Synodus declarat personam humanam ius habere ad libertatem religiosam. Huiusmodi libertas in eo consistit, quod omnes homines debent immunes esse a coercitione ex parte sive singulorum sive coetuum socialium et cuiusvis potestatis humanae, et ita quidem ut in re religiosa neque aliquis cogatur ad agendum contra suam conscientiam neque impediatur, quominus iuxta suam conscientiam agat privatim et publice, vel solus vel aliis consociatus, intra debitos limites.”

    Here’s what my literal translation gives me:

    “This Vatican Synod declares the human person to hold a right to religious liberty. This matter of liberty consists in this, that all men should be immune from coercion whether from the part of individuals or social groups and any kind of human power, and so certainly that in religious affairs neither anyone be compelled to act against his conscience nor be impeded, to act not according to (i.e. against) his conscience privately and publicly, either alone or associated with others, within appropriate limits.”

    Here is the “official” English translation provided by the Vatican (taken directly from the vatican.va website):

    “This Vatican Council declares that the human person has a right to religious freedom. This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits.”

    The potentially problematic doctrinal area of my literal translation text is the “nor be impeded” phrase, which seems to me to be completely missing from the “official” English translation provided by the Vatican (hmmm, why is that?).

    That phrase, if properly translated & interpreted, WOULD give seemingly unprecedented religious liberty to non-Catholics (albeit ambiguously “within appropriate limits”), which I am certain is what the SSPX has challenged so vigorously over the years….

    What does YOUR “slavishly literal” translation say, Fr. Z?

    Perhaps, in the meantime, someone else with much better Latin skills than mine can make a stab at translating this “troublesome” paragraph from Dignitatus Humanae???

    Pax et benedictiones tibi, per Christum Dominum nostrum,

    Steve B
    Plano, TX

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