The years following Vatican II have shown the truth of Leo XIII’s statement that religious liberty necessarily leads to immorality. In formerly Catholic countries, it is not only faith that has disappeared, but also Christian morality.
The declaration of Vatican II on religious liberty, Dignitatis Humanae (§2), affirms:
This Vatican Synod 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 in matters religious no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs. Nor is anyone to be restrained from acting in accordance with his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits." (Walter M. Abbott, S.J., Editor, The Documents of Vatican II (New York: The America Press, 1966), pp. 678-79.)
Unfortunately yes, Vatican II presents the right not to be impeded from acting in accordance with one’s conscience in matters religious as a genuine natural right. It explains that this right is based on “the very dignity of the human person” (and not on a positive juridical determination); consequently it is only upon this basis that religious liberty must also be recognized as a civil right (DH 2).
The new Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms:
“The right to religious liberty is neither a moral license to adhere to error, nor a supposed right to error, 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.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, §2108).
Vatican II does mention “due limits” circumscribing religious liberty, but the nature of the limits is not clearly stated in the document. In paragraph 2, it seems to involve safeguarding public order; further on, paragraph 7 speaks of “the objective moral order,” which is better, but illusory and ultimately insufficient.
Taken literally, the implication of limiting religious liberty to “the objective moral order” is that only the Catholic Church could enjoy unrestricted freedom of religion because she alone conserves the natural law in its entirety (Islam authorizes polygamy; the Protestants—and even the Eastern schismatics in some cases—allow divorce; etc.). But this conclusion obviously contradicts the rest of the text. For Vatican II, having set aside the obligations of strict natural law, the only restraining limit on religious freedom is public order. As long as the cult is not a cover for terrorist attacks, criminal networks, pedophilia, or some other infringement of “the rights of man,” everything must be authorized.
Even interpreted strictly, this limitation of religious liberty to the “objective moral order” is inadequate because restricted to the natural order of things, thereby omitting consideration of the supernatural order. Such a conception of religious liberty fails to recognize the social kingship of our Lord Jesus Christ, the supernatural rights of His Church, and the supernatural end of man in the common good of the political order. It fails to consider that the false religions, by the mere fact that they keep souls from the Catholic Church, lead souls to hell. In a word, it is naturalism.
To it can be applied what St. Pius X said about the separation of Church and State:
This thesis is an obvious negation of the supernatural order. It limits the action of the State to the pursuit of public prosperity during this life only, which is but the proximate object of political societies; and it occupies itself in no fashion (on the plea that this is foreign to it) with their ultimate object, which is man’s eternal happiness after this short life shall have run its course." St. Pius X, encyclical, Vehementer Nos (February 11, 1906), §3.
The religious liberty taught by Vatican II not only contradicts the teaching of the Church, but also, and foremost, its constant practice.
The saints have never hesitated to break idols, destroy their temples, or legislate against pagan or heretical practices. The Church—without ever forcing anyone to believe or be baptized—has always recognized its right and duty to protect the faith of her children and to impede, whenever possible, the public exercise and propagation of false cults. To accept the teaching of Vatican II is to grant that, for two millennia, the popes, saints, Fathers and Doctors of the Church, bishops, and Catholic kings have constantly violated the natural rights of men without anyone in the Church noticing. Such a thesis is as absurd as it is impious.
Catechism of the Crisis, Fr. Matthias Gaudron (Angelus Press, 2009), pages70-72.