Pope Benedict XVI and his Vatican officials have recently been working to bring the Traditionalist group known as the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) into a reconciliation with the Catholic Church. The SSPX, however, has just issued a pretty straightforward rejection of an important Catholic doctrine. On the SSPX.org website, they have denounced the recent document from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops protesting the Obama administration’s contraception mandate, for the following reason:
Certainly we must fight for the liberty of the Catholic Church — that is, the ability for her to fulfill her divine mission to save souls, promote the faith (particularly in society) and enact the corporal acts of mercy. However, this is a much different thing then [sic] defending religious liberty, a false notion that originated with the Protestants and [was] condemned as an error under the generic title of “Liberalism”.[A footnote here directs readers to three papal documents from the 19th century.]
Unfortunately, the USCCB is exhorting Catholics to legitimately defend the Church’s liberty via the false principle of “religious liberty” . . .
The article goes on to criticize the U.S. bishops’ document for invoking the patronage of St. John Fisher, St. Thomas More, and a number of other saints. The SSPX article declares this to be “astonishing” — “because all of these saints opposed the error of religious liberty — in fact, one could say they died because of this error since they were martyred for Christ, Who is the only Way and Truth.”
The principle of religious liberty as we understand it today may been have discovered first by Protestants (this issue in the history of ideas is still being debated today, and I am not certain of my own opinion on it), but it was certainly not invented by Protestants: It was invented by God, who endowed human beings with certain inalienable rights. And it is a truth equally available to Catholics and to Protestants — both of which groups now defend it with equal vigor — as well as to people of many other religious opinions.
The Catholic Church now unambiguously teaches the importance of religious liberty both as a matter of justice and as a matter of respect for the dignity of the human person. If the SSPX believes this is a false teaching — and it is evident from its website that it does — the full acceptance of the SSPX into the Roman Catholic fold would de facto create a new sort of “cafeteria Catholicism.” And it would do something much worse than that: It would send the very harmful, undermining message that the principle of religious liberty is relatively unimportant, at a time when that precise principle is under attack — in a modest (but pernicious) way by the Obama administration here at home, and in a cruelly and bloodily serious way in many of the world’s dictatorships.