THE Roman Catholic Church professes to be, and always to have been, the champion of civil and religious liberty. But this profession is as disingenuous as is the advice of Satolli to the people of this country, to “go forward bearing in one hand the book of Christian truth—the Bible—and in the other hand the Constitution of the United States.” It has recently been shown in these columns, that, shorn of its verbiage, this means only, Go forward bearing in one hand the Catholic Bible, as interpreted by “the church,” and in the other, the Constitution of the United States, likewise interpreted by “the church.”
It is the same when Rome talks of religious liberty. Cardinal Gibbons says: “A man enjoys religious liberty when he enjoys the free right of worshiping God according to the dictates of a right conscience, and of practicing a form of religion most in accordance with his duties to God. Every act infringing on his freedom of conscience is justly styled religious intolerance. This religious liberty is the true right of every man, because it corresponds with a most certain duty which God has put upon him.”—Faith of Our Fathers, page 264.
It will be observed that the cardinal says: “This religious liberty is the true right of every man.” What religious liberty?—Why, “the free right of worshiping God according to the dictates of a right conscience,” to be sure. And who is to determine what is a “right conscience”?—The Roman Catholic Church, of course. And it is “this religious liberty” which “is the true right of every man,” according to Cardinal Gibbons.
That this is the real meaning of the cardinal’s words is evident from the following, on page 268 of his book previously quoted:—
The church is indeed intolerant in this sense, that she can never confound truth with error; now can she admit that any man is conscientiously free to reject the truth when its claims are convincingly brought home to the mind.
On page 85 of the same work the cardinal says:—
The church has authority from God to teach regarding faith and morals; and in her teaching she is preserved from error by the special guidance of the Holy Ghost.
And again, on page 88, we read:—
Not only does our Lord empower his apostles to preach the gospel, but he commands, and under the most severe penalties, those to whom they preach to listen and obey…. We see on the one hand that the apostles and their successors have received full powers to announce the gospel; and on the other, that their hearers are obliged to listen with docility, and to obey nor merely by an external compliance, but also by internal assent of the intellect.
All this must be taken into consideration in weighing the cardinal’s definition of religious liberty. Here are the legitimate and ever necessary deductions from the quotations made from his book:—
1. The Catholic Church has full authority to teach faith and morals.
2. That which she teaches must be received.
3. No man is conscientiously free to reject that which the Roman Catholic Church teaches.
4. A man enjoys religious liberty when he enjoys the free right to worship God according to the dictates of a right conscience.
5. No man who does reject the teaching of the Catholic Church can have a right conscience.
Which is only saying that a man enjoys religious liberty when he enjoys the free right to meekly accept the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, and does so accept them; but not otherwise.
The attitude of the Roman Catholic Church toward religious liberty is further defined by the cardinal on pages 268 and 269, thus:—
Many Protestants seem to be very much disturbed by some such argument as this: Catholics are very ready now to proclaim freedom of conscience, because they are in the minority. When they once succeed in getting the upper hand in numbers and power, they will destroy this freedom, because their faith teaches them to tolerate no doctrine other than the Catholic. It is, then, a matter of absolute necessity for us that they should never be allowed to get this advantage.
Now, in all this, there is a great mistake, which comes from not knowing the Catholic doctrine in its fullness. I shall not lay it down myself, lest it seem to have been gotten up for the occasion. I shall quote the great theologian Becanus, who taught the doctrine of the schools of Catholic theology at the time when the struggle was hottest between Catholicity and Protestantism. He says that religious liberty may be tolerated by a ruler when it would do more harm to the State or to the community to repress it. The ruler may even enter into a compact in order to secure to his subjects this freedom in religious matters; and when once a compact is made, it must absolutely be observed in every point, just as every other lawful and honest contract. This is the true Catholic teaching on this point, according to Becanus and all Catholic theologians. So that if Catholics should gain the majority in a community where freedom of conscience is already secured to all by law, their very religion obliges them to respect the rights thus acquired by their fellow-citizens. What danger can there be, then, for Protestants, if Catholics should be in the majority here? Their apprehensions are the result of vain fears, which no honest mind ought any longer to harbor.
This is not a disavowal of the right of the Catholic Church to coerce people to matters of faith and morals, but is rather an assertion of the right. “Religious liberty may be tolerated by a ruler when it would do more harm to the State or to the community to repress it.” Exactly! and who is to judge when it will do more harm to repress “religious liberty”? Who, indeed, but “the church!” And hence it follows that the much-vaunted Roman Catholic “religious liberty” is only a limited degree of religious toleration, depending entirely on that policy by which the prophet declared of that power of which the papacy is the legitimate successor: “Through his policy also he shall cause craft to prosper in his hand.” Surely Rome is well called “the mystery of iniquity.”