Abp. Chaput on 50 Years of Dignitatis Humanae

ChaputFrom the when it rains it pours file…

On March 17, 2015, the same day His Embarrassment Timothy Cardinal Dolan marched with the gays in New York, Archbishop Americus Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia delivered an address at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Declaration on Religious Freedom of Vatican II, Dignitatis Humanae.

Let’s take a look at some of his more noteworthy quotes.

In some ways, the Council’s Declaration on Religious Liberty — Dignitatis Humanae in Latin, or “Of Human Dignity” in English — is the Vatican II document that speaks most urgently to our own time. The reason is obvious. We see it right now in the suffering of Christians and other religious believers in many places around the world.

Yes, the reason is entirely obvious, but apparently not to Archbishop Chaput.

Truly, it never ceases to amaze me how consistently the bishops of newchurch get things exactly backwards.

It is thanks in large measure to Dignitatis Humanae that our churchmen – including every last one of the post-conciliar popes – have been speaking and behaving for the last fifty years as if Catholicism is but one religion among the many that contribute to the common good, and the voice of the Church is but one opinion among many of note in the public square.

So what?

The crisis at hand is due in part to the fact that civil authorities are pleased to treat, and dismiss, the one true faith and the Holy Catholic Church as precisely that; just another constituency.

Even so, Archbishop Chaput points to the declaration as if it’s the solution!

He continues:

Pope Paul VI, who promulgated Dignitatis Humanae, saw it as one of the most important actions of the Council. It changed the way the Church interacts with states. And it very much improved the Church’s relations with other Christians and religious believers.

Indeed, the Church (meaning, her post-conciliar leaders) are now no longer willing to speak to rulers of State about the Social Kingship of Christ, this is true, and many other so-called “Christians” now see us as equals.

Well, praise the Lord!

Religious faith, whatever form it takes, gives a vision and meaning to a society. In that light, pagans saw the early Christians as a danger, because they were. Christianity shaped an entirely new understanding of sacred and secular authority. Christians prayed for the emperor and the empire. But they would not worship the empire’s gods.

Notice how effortlessly the newchurchmen speak of “religious faith” in the most generic of ways; with no hint whatsoever that they recognize (much less wish to point out) the great human tragedy wrought by the false religions that lead souls away from Christ.

For Christians, the distinction between the sacred and the secular comes straight from Scripture. In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus himself sets the tone when he tells us to render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.

Indeed a distinction is to be made between the sacred and the secular, but let’s be very clear about the Scripture verse cited.

In saying, “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s,” Our Lord did not in any way intend to suggest that Caesar, and other civil authorities, were somehow exempt from their own obligation to render unto God His due; including as it relates to the way in which they treat His Church and the way in which they rule.

In fact, Jesus made it very clear that the civil authorities have no authority apart from that which is given to them from Above.

Furthermore, in giving the Church her mission, Our Lord made it entirely clear that all authority – not just in Heaven, but also on Earth – belongs to Him.

These are very inconvenient truths for men like Archbishop Chaput who are pleased to accept the pluralistic U.S. Constitutional approach to religious freedom wherein the State is required to treat Jesus Christ as if He is worthy of no more esteem than Buddha, Hari Krishna and Muhammed.

Archbishop Chaput does realize, however, that the approach to religious liberty adopted at Vatican II stands in stark contrast to the doctrine of the Church as expressed so clearly throughout the centuries before the Council.

His proposed solution is neither compelling nor original; he essentially takes a page out of John Courtney Murray’s playbook and attributes the traditional teaching to historical circumstances that have since changed; with the implication being that the Church herself is thus obligated to follow suit.

But if that’s true, then how do we explain sixteen centuries of the Church getting tangled up in state affairs? The details are complicated, but the answer isn’t. Christians are amphibian creatures. God made us for heaven, but we work out our salvation here on earth. As the Roman world gradually became Christian, the Church gained her freedom. Then she became the dominant faith. Then she filled the vacuum of order and learning left by the empire’s collapse.

In other words, the Church rolls with the punches leveled upon her by the State.


To set matters straight, we need to rewind a bit; all the way back to that mountain in Galilee where the Risen Christ issued the divine commission to His Church saying:

And Jesus coming, spoke to them, saying: All power is given to me in heaven and in earth. Going therefore, teach ye all nations: baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you. And behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world. (Matthew 28:18-20)

Here we find Jesus commanding the Apostles to bring the nations of the world into the life of the Church (“baptizing them”), instructing them (“teach ye all nations”) in His ways that they may reflect in their very ordering all things whatsoever that He commanded.

If we truly take these words to heart, Archbishops Chaput’s errors will be obvious.

First, it is improper to say that the Church “gained her freedom” via the conversion of Rome.

The Church is free by her very nature simply because she is the Mystical Body of Christ the King and she has been given a mission by Him to whom all authority in Heaven and on Earth belongs.

In order to truly understand the relationship between Church and State, we need to be clear that the Church does not derive (or gain) her freedom from the various civil authorities, even as certain of them sin against God by persecuting her and impeding her.

That is why Pope Leo XIII taught:

The Church is a society eminently independent, and above all others, because of the excellence of the heavenly and immortal blessings towards which it tends … Wherefore it is unjustly that the civil powers take offence at the freedom of the Church, since the principle of civil and religious power is one and the same, namely, God. (cf Pope Leo XIII – Officio Sanctissimo)

With this in mind, it should be clear that it is also incorrect to say that the Church “filled the vacuum of order and learning left by the empire’s collapse.”

The work of “ordering and teaching” has ever been the Church’s proper mission as given to her by Christ, and she has ever been obligated to carry it out; even in those places where the State sinned by making it difficult for her to do so.

Archbishop Chaput, perhaps unwittingly, is confusing those things that are immutable (e.g., the mission of the Church and her freedom to carry it out) and certain historical circumstances that can and do change (e.g., the willingness of a given State to recognize these immutable truths about the Church, her mission and her freedom).

He continues:

Religious and secular authority often mixed, and power is just as easily abused by clergy as it is by laypeople. The Church relied on the state to advance her interests. The state nominated or approved senior clergy, and used the Church to legitimize its power.

Again, the archbishop misspeaks…

The Church does not, properly speaking, rely on the State to “advance her interests;” rather, she calls on the State to uphold its duty toward Christ the King and His Holy Catholic Church, and when the State does this, it naturally plays a part in “advancing the Church’s interests” (or better stated, carrying out her divinely given mission).

That said, let us recognize and dismiss the statement, “power is just as easily abused by clergy as it is by laypeople,” for what it is; entirely irrelevant to the discussion.

Over time, and especially after the Wars of Religion and the French Revolution, the “confessional state” — a state committed to advancing the true Catholic religion and suppressing religious error — became the standard Catholic model for government.

A State that recognizes the objective truths that Jesus Christ is King and that the Holy Catholic faith is the one true religion, and therefore takes steps to govern accordingly, is a State that is upholding its duty under God. Nothing more, nothing less.

In other words, such a model of government did not eventually “become the standard;” it simply is the ideal because it corresponds with reality.

Archbishop Chaput, having made numerous false assumptions, now arrives at the money quote:

That’s the history Dignitatis Humanae sought to correct by going back to the sources of Christian thought.

Did you get that?

In order for Dignitatis Humanae to make sense, the sixteen centuries of Catholic teaching previously cited by the Archbishop Americus must be viewed as wrong and in need of correction.

From here, Chaput removes all doubt as to his inability to clearly understand the traditional doctrine that he imagines Dignitatis Humanae corrects.

The choice to believe any religious faith must be voluntary. Faith must be an act of free will, or it can’t be valid. Parents make the choice for their children at baptism because they have parental authority. And it’s important that they do so. But in the end, people who don’t believe can’t be forced to believe, especially by the state. Forced belief violates the person, the truth and the wider community of faith, because it’s a lie.

The traditional doctrine is, and always has been, in perfect agreement with this statement.

To hear Archbishop Chaput speak, however, one would think (and trust me, many otherwise intelligent people do) that the Church prior to Vatican II promoted “forced belief.”

Or to put it another way: Error has no rights, but persons do have rights — even when they choose falsehood over truth.

Those rights aren’t given by the state. Nor can anyone, including the state, take them away. They’re inherent to every human being by virtue of his or her creation by God. Religious liberty is a “natural” right because it’s hardwired into our human nature. And freedom of religious belief, the freedom of conscience, is — along with the right to life — the most important right any human being has.

It would seem that the Archbishop is saying that in the matter of religion, persons have the right, from God, to choose falsehood over truth as a matter of conscience.

Perhaps his intent isn’t entirely clear, but either way, let us be clear: This notion is utterly and completely false and has been condemned by the Church in no uncertain terms.

In order to fully grasp the gravity of this falsehood, it may be helpful to recall that “truth” is not just a theory or a concept; it is none other than the Person of Christ, and God does not give anyone the “right” to choose against Christ!

Yes, He allows it; he tolerates it, but He does not grant us the right to do it. The difference is substantial.

From here Archbishop Chaput lists a handful of things Dignitatis Humanae does not do even as it sought to correct the errors of the past. We’ll skip to the most noteworthy ones:

It also doesn’t endorse a religiously indifferent state. It doesn’t preclude the state from giving material support to the Church, so long as “support” doesn’t turn into control or the negative treatment of religious minorities.

In fact, the declaration says that government “should take account of the religious life of its citizenry and show it favor, since the function of government is to make provision for the common welfare.”

The contradiction is palpable.

First he insists that the declaration doesn’t encourage religious indifferentism, but then he points out that it encourages governments to “take account” of “religious life” – not just Catholic religious life, but that which includes all manner of “religious” beliefs – as if all of them deserve favor.

This is the very definition of religious indifferentism!

In its own words, Dignitatis Humanae says “religious freedom . . . has to do with immunity from coercion in civil society [emphasis added]. 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.”

If nothing else is obvious at this point, Dignitatis Humanae – at least according to Archbishop Chaput’s reading – not only “touches,” but most thoroughly undermines traditional doctrine.

You can wrestle with the rest of Archbishop Chaput’s presentation directly via the link provided; it continues for another 1,800 or so words.

In conclusion, let it be known that Archbishop Chaput’s defense of this truly tragic document is far from out of step with the “official” application of the same provided by every pope who has reigned ever since the Council closed.

In other words, he isn’t the problem; Dignitatis Humanae is the problem, and the solution ain’t exactly a mystery – it’s tradition.

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