Outflanking the Bishops Conference on the Right

Last week, we noted  a report from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on the importance of religious freedom in America, Our First, Most Cherished Liberty: A Statement on Religious Liberty. Most of the time, one hears about dissents from the Catholic Left, which disagrees with the bishops on issues like abortion and homosexuality. Last week, though, there was a reminder that dissenters also exist on the Catholic Right.

The Society for Saint Pius X is a traditionalist Catholic body, formed around opposition to Vatican II, with an ambiguous relationship to the Church. Pope John Paul II excommunicated the society’s founder, and the society lacks canonical status, but recently the Vatican and the SSPX have been negotiating a formalization of the society’s place within the Church. It’s noteworthy, therefore, that the SSPX has responded to Our First, Most Cherished Liberty with a statement of its own. The SSPX is not impressed. In fact, it views the bishops’ statement as another example of an Americanist compromise that dilutes the Catholic faith. “Liberty,” the society asserts, is a matter of freely following the will of God, as that will is expressed in the Catholic Church; it has nothing to do with the American notion — strongly influenced, the SSPX argues, by heretical Calvinist theology — of personal freedom. It is precisely this American idea of personal freedom, the society maintains, that has led to things like the HHS contraceptives mandate. The SSPX calls on the bishops to abandon the principles of the Church’s “opponents” and return to the Church’s own.

As Rick Garnett points out over at Mirror of Justice, this argument was settled at Vatican II itself, in the Church’s Declaration on Religious Freedom, Dignitatis Humanae. I don’t know how large a movement the SSPX represents within Catholicism, though I suspect it’s fairly small. Still, it’s interesting to think of the bishops as reflecting a middle-of-the-road position — within the Catholic Church, that is.

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One response to “Outflanking the Bishops Conference on the Right

  1. This issue of relgious liberty as defined by Vatican II’s “Dignitatis Humanae” forms part of the crucial issue of the discussions between Rome and the SSPX, just as with the error of collegiality (that all the bishops are equal to the pope). Even non-SSPXers (e.g., Gherardini and Matei) are disputing what level assent is due to Vatican II, particularly the portions that are contradictory to what the Church has traditionally taught. So this is not merely an SSPX issue, but a theological one for the entire Church.

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