The state of necessity (2)

The state of necessity: part 2 (of 2)

Bishop Rifan’s incoherent reading

Confusion between two errors

For Bishop Rifan, “there is no real contradiction between what Blessed Pius IX taught and what Dignitatis Humanae, the Declaration on Religious Freedom, teaches.”[1] According to him, Pius IX condemned religious liberty understood as the absence of a moral obligation for the individual conscience to embrace the true religion (the error of personal or individual religious indifferentism), while Dignitatis Humanae teaches religious liberty understood as the individual’s right to be free from constraint by civil authorities in the public exercise of religion. But the teaching of Vatican II corresponds to the error of the religious indifferentism of civil authorities, equally condemned by Pius IX. It suffices to compare the texts to realize that Bishop Rifan’s interpretation is completely unfounded. Pius IX condemned not only the error of the indifferentism of individuals, but also and more precisely the error of the indifferentism of the State based upon the principle that the civil authorities must not prevent the exercise of false religions in the external forum, which is tantamount to denying the social kingship of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The two equally condemned errors (indifferentism of the individual and of the State) are quite distinct. In theory, the second error can be professed without professing the first, even though there is a link of cause and effect between the two. This, moreover, is an attribute of both liberal Catholicism and of modernism, which (indirectly) instill the indifferentism of the individual conscience by at first restricting moral duty to the limits of the individual conscience. Even if apparently §1 of Dignitatis Humanae rejects the error of the indifferentism of individuals, even if apparently §2 of this document does not teach it, even if the expressed and various authorized declarations have stated at the time of the Council[2] and afterwards[3] that the documents of Vatican II did not teach the first error, it nonetheless remains that §2 of Dignitatis Humanae confirms the error of the indifferentism of the State. That is why all the passages cited by Bishop Rifan are beside the point.

A too rapid inference

Bishop Rifan is mistaken about the real thrust of Dignitatis Humanae because in his reading of it he makes no distinction between the internal forum of acts of conscience and the external forum of acts done in public. He says:

The Council teaches from the natural point of view a right not to be forced or prevented from acting within due limits in matters religious by the State. That is to say that the Council affirms that in matters of conscience the civil power lacks jurisdiction; it is relatively incompetent.[4]

But keeping to the exact meaning of Dignitatis Humanae, it must be said that the inference Bishop Rifan makes by linking these two phrases by means of “that is to say” is incorrect. It is true that, as he says in his second statement, the State does not have power to act directly on internal acts of conscience. But the text of Dignitatis Humanae says much more than that. In his first statement, Bishop Rifan says that the State does not have the power to compel external actions accomplished in the framework of life in society. The first assertion logically implies the second, for if one lacks the power to compel external actions, all the more so does one lack the power to compel internal acts. But the second statement does not necessarily imply the first, for it is possible to lack power to act on internal acts while possessing the power to act on external ones. That is why the two statements are not strictly equivalent, the first saying more than then second.

The negative right: a previously refuted thesis

Finally, Bishop Rifan adopts the argument used by Fr. Basil of Le Barroux,[5] which was refuted by Fr. Jehan de Belleville,[6] also of Le Barroux. According to this argument,

the Council merely affirms a negative right, without conceding any affirmative rights to persons in their acts not in conformity with the truth or the good in matters religious.[7]

The distinction between a negative right and an affirmative right in this context is equivalent to a distinction between the right not to be impeded from acting and the right to act. However, it is a sophistical distinction, for, as St. Thomas says,[8] every negation is based on an affirmation: if one has the right not to be prevented from acting (negation) it is because one has the right to act (affirmation). To be fair, we should make it clear that Fr. Basil’s argumentation is in reality more nuanced than the short summary given by Bishop Rifan would lead one to believe. According to the Benedictine, Dignitatis Humanae proclaims not the right to act but the right not to be prevented from acting in the sense that even if an objectively bad action as such has no objective right, the person who does it has the subjective (or personal) right not to be prevented if he is in good faith. But it suffices to refer to the notion of right defined by Aristotle and St. Thomas to comprehend right away the sophism underlying this position. For in fact a right is inherently objective and not subjective; the right to act and the right not to be prevented from acting are identical, and both are ascribed not to the person who acts but to the action with its object. For it is essentially the object of an action which is at the root of a right, that is to say of the justice and hence the moral goodness of an action.[9] The dispositions of the person accomplishing it (invincible ignorance, good faith, good intention) cannot remedy the intrinsic malice of an action. That is why the State ought to prevent intrinsically evil actions in the external forum of life in society even if those who accomplish them are in good faith. In practice, of course, the heads of state are unable to prevent evil always and everywhere. Human government imitates that of God, who allows evil in order not to place an obstacle to a greater good or to avoid a worse evil. But this exercise of tolerance is a matter of prudence and not of justice: it implies no strict right, either positive or negative, in favor of evil.

It is this negative right “not to be restrained from acting” which is explicitly condemned as such by Pope Pius IX in Quanta Cura. The Pope condemns the proposition that

liberty of conscience and worship is each man’s personal right, which ought to be legally proclaimed and asserted in every rightly constituted society; and that a right resides in the citizens to an absolute liberty, which should be restrained by no authority whether ecclesiastical or civil.

This is the condemnation of the religious indifferentism of the civil authorities in the sense that they should not “restrain [anyone] from acting,” the error taught by§2 of Dignitatis Humanae in contradiction with Tradition before Vatican II and the social kingship of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

The coherence of the conciliar texts

Thus far we have shown that the teaching of religious freedom in Dignitatis Humanae regarding the indifferentism of the State incurs Pius IX’s condemnation. We must now see whether the condemnation is limited to this error alone and examine whether §1 of Dignitatis Humanae really rejects the indifferentism of individuals or merely seems to.

a. A traditional appearance

It is true that this text begins by making an assertion in apparent opposition to the error of private indifferentism condemned by Gregory XVI and Pius IX:

First, this sacred Synod 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 that I have  commanded  you” (Mt. 28:19­2). 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 sacred Synod 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.

b. But an appearance only

Apparently, then, or at least directly, the text of Dignitatis Humanae does not seem to oppose the statements of Popes Gregory XVI and Pius IX concerning the condemnation of the indifferentism of individuals. But in reality, things are not quite so simple, for §1 of Dignitatis Humanae contains the ambiguous expression “subsists in,” which recurs here, taking it from Lumen Gentium, §8. This expression opens the way to a new, much subtler form of private individualism and inexorably leads, albeit indirectly, to the conclusion condemned by Gregory XVI in Mirari Vos and by Pius IX in Quanta Cura and the Syllabus of Errors: one may indeed hope for salvation outside the one true religion, since religious communities other than the Catholic Church

have by no means been deprived of significance and importance in the mystery of salvation. For the Spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as means of salvation which derive their efficacy from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Catholic Church. (Unitatis Redintegratio §3)

The end of this passage is also remarkable: it states that religious freedom, the subject of the following discussion, “leaves untouched traditional Catholic doctrine on the moral duty of men and societies toward the true religion and toward the one Church of Christ.” Here it is not a question of “the Catholic Church” in which, it is said a few lines above, the one true Church subsists; rather, it is a question of “the one Church of Christ.” This is another snare from Lumen Gentium §8. The true religion is the one exercised only in the one Church of Christ. But the Catholic Church is only the community in which this one true religion and this one Church of Christ subsist. Now, we know (thanks to a document of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith of June 29, 2007,[10] what the expression “subsistit in” means: to subsist means to exist fully, as opposed to existing partially. The text of §1 thus states that the religion binding on all men is the one exercised not only fully in the Catholic Church, but also more or less in the other religions, which are so many partial elements of the one Church of Christ.

Dignitatis Humanae: a text contradicting Tradition from A to Z and from No. 2 to No. 1

Consequently, to state that “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” is to deny the truth. Indeed, either the text of Dignitatis Humanae understands the expressions “true religion” and “one Church of Christ” in the sense suggested by the context in parallel places of Lumen Gentium and Unitatis Redintegratio, in which case the doctrine that religious liberty leaves untouched is not the traditional Catholic doctrine; or else the text understands these same expressions in the traditional Catholic sense, in which case religious freedom does not leave untouched the doctrine they express.

Contrary to the appearances, §1 of Dignitatis Humanae is perfectly coherent with §2: the moral obligation imposed on individuals does not concern the one true religion as it is preached by the one true Catholic Church; it concerns religion not only as it is preached in the Catholic Church, but also in the false religions considered as such. The indifferentism of the State which is the subject in §2 is rooted in a new, subtler form of the indifferentism of individuals discussed in §1.

Benedict XVI and the authentic interpretation of Vatican II

We can also see that the different declarations of Pope Benedict XVI do not corroborate Bishop Rifan’s rereading of the text. Until now, the successor of John Paul II has not yet done anything to correct the most seriously defective teachings of the Council; on the contrary.

a. Benedict XVI and religious liberty

In his Christmas Address to the Roman Curia of December 22, 2005, Pope Benedict XVI makes a distinction between the two meanings possible for “freedom of religion.” In the sense that it would be the equivalent of an independence of the conscience in relation to the divine authority fixing the objective rule of morality (thus, in the sense of the indifferentism of the individual) the expression is to be reproved, according to the Holy Father. But in the sense that it would be the equivalent of the absence of any and all constraint in the external forum on the part of the civil authorities, the expression is, according to him, just. Further on, the Pope adds:

The martyrs of the early Church died for their faith in that God who was revealed in Jesus Christ, and for this very reason they also died for freedom of conscience and the freedom to profess one’s own faith: a profession that no State can impose but which, instead, can only be claimed with God’s grace in freedom of conscience.

This passage could at the most have an equivocal sense, for it is true that the profession of faith cannot be imposed by the State in the internal forum of the conscience, whereas it is false that the profession of faith cannot be imposed by the State in the external forum of society. Moreover, the Pope is not speaking here of the profession of the one true faith; he is simply speaking of martyrs who claimed the freedom to profess their own faith, which can be understood in the subjective sense.

But subsequently, other addresses of the Pope have dispelled this ambiguity and proven that Benedict XVI speaks of freedom understood in the sense condemned by Gregory XVI in Mirari Vos and by Pius IX in Quanta Cura. Indeed, the Pope claims the right for all believers to profess their religion publicly in society without the State being able to intervene in any way whatsoever. Moreover, in his Address of 2005, Benedict XVI already said that the Vatican II had wished to ratify “an essential principle of the modern State.” This remark should prick our ears, for it strikes us as an echo of the former reflections of Cardinal Ratzinger, who presented the teachings of Vatican II on religious freedom as a “countersyllabus.”

One year after his famous speech on the hermeneutic of the Council, Pope Benedict XVI unequivocally indicated what the meaning of this religious freedom is in the Address of November 28, 2006, to the diplomatic corps of the Turkish Republic:

The civil authorities of every democratic country are duty­bound to guarantee the effective freedom of all believers and to permit them to organize freely the life of their religious communities.

Especially during his recent trip to the United States, Benedict XVI forcefully repeated the same ideas in his Speech to the United Nations Assembly on April 18, 2008:

Human rights, of course, must include the right to religious freedom....The full guarantee of religious liberty cannot be limited to the free exercise of worship, but has to give due consideration to the public dimension of religion, and hence to the possibility of believers playing their part in building the social order.

He adds that the principle of religious liberty is “directed towards attaining freedom for every believer.”[16]

b. Benedict XVI and ecumenism

Far from correcting the faulty teaching of Dignitatis Humanae on religious freedom, Pope Benedict XVI’s speeches clearly and forcefully confirm it. On the other hand we can see that Pope Benedict XVI, no more than did Pope John Paul II, does not flinch the consequence of this teaching; indeed, the consequence of religious freedom is ecumenism. Without entering into details about his visit to the synagogue of Cologne in 2004 or his trip to the Middle East in 2006, we can see very well that, during the ecumenical meeting held at Naples on 21 October 2007, Benedict XVI did not hide his intentions. He explained:

Today’s meeting takes us back in spirit to 1986, when my venerable predecessor John Paul II invited important Religious Representatives to the hills of St Francis to pray for peace, stressing on that occasion the intrinsic ties that combine an authentic religious attitude with keen sensitivity to this fundamental good of humanity.

And he added: “While respecting the differences of the various religions, we are all called to work for peace....”[17] It is clear that the spirit of Benedict XVI is still the spirit of Assisi.

The conclusion that interests us is the following: the declarations of Pope Benedict XVI and his ecumenical endeavors do not bring an end to the state of necessity. The authentic interpretation of Vatican II given by the present pope still upholds in principle the same errors denounced long ago by Archbishop Lefebvre and Bishop de Castro Mayer in their Open Letter to Pope John Paul II.[18] This letter alone reduces to nothing Bishop Rifan’s sophistry.

Twenty years after the Episcopal Consecrations: Operation Survival continues

Twenty years have passed since the episcopal consecrations of June 30, 1988. Pope Benedict XVI denounces the abuses ascribed to the spirit of the Council, but he preaches fidelity to the empoisoned letter of the Council. He declares that the traditional missal was never abrogated, but he sees in it the extraordinary expression of the liturgical law in concurrence with the protestantized Novus Ordo, which in his eyes remains the ordinary expression of this same law.

This duality which divides Benedict XVI’s government between a faultless fidelity to the erroneous principles of the Council and an appearance of a return to order is perfectly explained in the logic of the modernist system. Modernism, which is religion in progress and perpetual evolution, results, said St. Pius X, “from the conflict of two forces, one of them tending towards progress, the other towards conservation.” The force tending towards conservation is authority, which represses abuses; the force tending towards progress is the imperatives of the Council. And we can see how the conciliar authorities are always looking for a balance and trying to counterbalance the two contradictory tendencies against each other, the progressives against the conservatives.

The conservative tendency will at the most go so far as to authorize a certain personal attachment of some of the faithful to pre-conciliar Tradition. But this would not justify a conclusion that the state of necessity has ended. The dilemma remains the same, between a false blind obedience and legitimate resistance for the sake of perpetuating the Catholic Faith. Even today we must still choose the latter.



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 [1] in matters religious no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs. [2] 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 (Dignitatis Humanae, §2). [Emphasis added.] Bishop Rifan, Traditions et magistere vivant (Le Barroux: Editions St. Madeleine, 2007), p.96.

See also p.92, n.130: Bishop Rifan borrows this explanation from Fr. Lucien, Fr. Basil of Le Barroux, and from Fr. Louis-Marie de Blignieres. For more details about this question, see Le Sel de la Terre, No. 56 (Spring 2006), pp.183-87.

2 Bishop Rifan, ibid., pp.94-95, quotes the official report given on the text of Dignitatis Humanae by Bishop Emile De Smedt on November 19, 1963.

Catechism of the Catholic Church (1992) which are along the same lines as Bishop De Smedt’s report.

4 Bishop Rifan, ibid. , p.96.

5 The thesis of Fr. Basil, La liberte religieuse et la tradition Catholique (Le Barroux: 1998) reviewed in Le Sel de la Terre, No.30) in six volumes comprising 2,960 pages and 9,154 notes, has only a material advantage, for if one has the patience to read it to the end, it becomes evident that there is a lot of hot air. A new, condensed version in one volume is not any more convincing.

6 Jehan de Belleville, O.S.B., Droit objectif dans Dignitatis Humanae: La liberte religieuse a la lumière de la doctrine juridique d’Aristote et de St. Thomas d’Aquin (Rome, 2004).

7 Bishop Rifan, Tradition et le magistere vivant, p.96.

8 Disputed question De Malo, Q.2, Art.1, ad 9.

9 See Sel de la Terre, No. 56 (Spring, 2006), pp.180-82.

10 Response of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, June 29, 2007.

11 Bishop Rifan (Tradition, p.103), claims nevertheless to rely on the Discourse of December 22, 2005.


...if religious freedom were to be considered an expression of the human inability to discover the truth and thus become a canonization of relativism, then this social and historical necessity is raised inappropriately to the metaphysical level and thus stripped of its true meaning. Consequently, it cannot be accepted by those who believe that the human person is capable of knowing the truth about God and, on the basis of the inner dignity of the truth, is bound to this knowledge (translation available on the Vatican’s website).


It is quite different, on the other hand, to perceive religious freedom as a need that derives from human coexistence, or indeed, as an intrinsic consequence of the truth that cannot be externally imposed but that the person must adopt only through the process of conviction. The Second Vatican Council, recognizing and making its own an essential principle of the modern State with the Decree on Religious Freedom, has recovered the deepest patrimony of the Church (ibid.)

14 Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Principles of Catholic Theology: Building Stones for a Fundamental Theology (1982; Ignatius Press, 1987), pp.381-82.

15 Meeting with the Diplomatic Corps to the Republic of Turkey, November 28, 2006.

Address to the General Assembly of the United Nations Organization, April 18, 2008 (

17 Greeting to the Heads of Delegations taking part in the International Encounter for Peace at the Episcopal Seminary of Capodimonte, October 21, 2007 (online at www.vatican. va).

The Angelus, January 1984.