Papa Luciani on Lefebvre and Religious Liberty

With the Church having made sincere efforts to invite the Society of St. Pius X back into the Church after Archbishop Lefebvre brought it into schism many years ago, I thought it might be of interest to see what Papa Luciani thought about religious liberty back in 1977. As you may know, Lefebrve objected strongly to the Vatican Council’s document on religious liberty, and in fact, on all of the Conciliar documents.

I have provided this English translation of his Italian writings first published in “Gente Veneta” in May, 1977 and later reprinted in “Humilitas” the following year. The following is the recitation of an encounter Luciani had with a fellow traveler.

“I encountered him on the train. Seated in front of me, he temporarily stopped his reading of a magazine and said to me, ‘Excuse me, Reverend, but in seems to me that this Lefebvre is right; the Church has truly changed direction and has given up the fight when, at the Council, it spoke of religious liberty.’

I slowly closed my breviary, that I had been reciting, and responded, ‘Yes, in a certain way, the Council has changed. I thought of Charlemagne who cut off the heads of the Saxons who refused baptism, of Bernardo Gui, the Inquisitor, who railed agains the heretics in southern France, and of other similar cases and I humbly confessed, in the Church of the past, ‘from time to time she has had a pattern of behavior not in conformity to the evangelical spirit, rather to it’s contrary.’ (DH 12) The Council has admitted to a series of deeds unworthy of praise, and has deplored them, has said that must not be repeated, and in this sense it has changed. As far as the teaching of the past though, it has not changed, but has affirmed that the Church has always ‘conserved and handed on the doctrines of the Apostolic teaching… that no one is forced to embrace the faith.’ (DH12)

‘The teacher?’ my questioner responded. But here — and he gave a look at his magazine — Lefebvre cites the very words of Christ, ‘He who does not believe will be condemned.’

And I said, ‘One moment. ‘Will be condemned.’ But by God, after the present life. The Council never tires of saying that we are free before God; that everyone in fact is obliged to search for the truh, and embrace it as soon as it is known, to respond to God and to the Church if we accept to become a part of her. The Council meant to speak about its freedom before the State in religious matters. The title of the Conciliar document, in fact, speaks of ‘social and civil freedom in religious matters.’ Political power, Catholic or not, which — according to the Council — neither can coerce anyone to embrace religious faith nor can it impede someone from embracing and professing a faith.

‘You have not yet shown me how the Council follows Christ and the Apostles,’ said my questioner.

‘If you wish, I will try to tell you of it now. Remember the parable of the grain and the weeds? The servants wanted to uproot the weeds, but the overseer said, ‘No, let them to grow together in the field until the harvest, that is until the end of the world. Only then will you separate them.’ In other words, Jesus wants that ‘all men arrive at the knowledge of the truth’; Jesus many times invited his listeners to have faith and on faith and works he will judge us after death. But faith presupposes a free consent. Never, while preaching, did Jesus impose the truth with force; never did he impede contrary public propaganda. When James and John suggested that fire from heaven descend on the Samaritans, he scolded the two of them, saying, ‘You do not know of what spirit you are.’

‘Okay,’ said my questioner, ‘but tell me: with particular ideas or individuals that go about in the world, does it not seems that they create chaos if the State allows them to?’

I said,’The Council did not say allow everything; instead there are two instances when the State must intervene and limit.’

‘What are they?’

‘The first is when religious liberty is used by someone in such a way to put into danger the liberty or the rights of others.'”

‘And the second?’, he asked.

‘It is regard to the common good and public order. The State, in fact, must be at the service of all, assuring a true and peaceful coexistence within pluralism.’

‘So, the Council was thinking of disarming all of its adversaries with its document on ‘social liberty in religious matters?’

‘The Council Fathers knew well that the Church would always have adversaries. It behooved them to make known that the Church does not see itself as an adversary of anyone; that it desires to live the spirit of Christ it Lord who declared himself to be meed and humble, who came not to be served but to serve in the manner of the Servant of Yahweh: ‘the bent reed he will not break, and the smoldering wick he will not quench.'”

(O how I wish we could have had Papa Luciani as our shepherd for many years! We could only imagine where we might be today to have had his fidelity and pastor’s wisdom for an extended period of time. I sometimes wonder what his first encyclical would have been. I wonder how he would have used the material resources of the Church…. would we be a simpler, humbler Church? God only knows now.)

About Deacon Bob

Moderator: Deacon Bob Yerhot of the Diocese of Winona-Rochester, Minnesota.
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