Several encyclicals and other documents or statements of Gregory XVI, Pius IX, Leo XIII and Pius XII teach that non-Catholics have no right to religious liberty, particularly public profession and preaching of their doctrines, even though peculiar circumstances may render it necessary to allow public profession of heresy in the interest of some greater good, such as the avoidance of civil strife. A sample of the relevant texts follows:
Gregory XVI, Encyclical (August 15, 1832):
And from this stinking fountainhead of indifferentism flows that absurd and erroneous opinion or rather nonsense, that liberty of conscience must be claimed and demanded for anyone whatever.6
Pius IX, (December 8, 1864): (The following are condemned propositions.)
no. 77. In the present day it is no longer expedient that the Catholic religion should be held as the only religion of the State, to the exclusion of all other forms of worship.
no. 78. Hence it has been wisely decided by law, in some Catholic countries, that persons coming to reside therein shall enjoy the public exercise of their own peculiar worship.
no. 79. Moreover, it is false that the civil liberty of every form of worship, and the full power, given to all, of overtly and publicly manifesting any opinions whatsoever and thoughts, conduce more easily to corrupt the morals and minds of the people, and to propagate the pest of indifferentism.7
Leo XIII, Encyclical (June 20, 1888):
For this reason, while not conceding any right to anything save what is true and honest, the Church does not forbid public authority to tolerate what is at variance with truth and justice, for the sake of avoiding some greater evil, or of obtaining or preserving some greater good. . . . But if, in such circumstances, for the sake of the common good (and this is the only legitimate reason), human law may or even should tolerate evil, it may not and should not approve or desire evil for its own sake. . . .
But, to judge aright, we must acknowledge that, the more a State is driven to tolerate evil, the further is it from perfection; and that the tolerance of evil which is dictated by political prudence should be strictly confined to the limits which its justifying cause, the public welfare requires. . . . And although in the extraordinary condition of these times the Church usually acquiesces in certain modern liberties, not because she prefers them in themselves, but because she judges it expedient to permit them, she would in happier times exercises her own liberty. . . .8
Pius XII, (December 6, 1953):
The duty to suppress moral and religious error cannot, therefore, be an ultimate norm of action. It must be subordinated to which, , permit and may even make it appear that the best choice for promoting is the toleration of error.9
Although there are more passages setting forth this teaching, notably several of Leo XIII,10 these selections accurately give the sense of the traditional view. But, seemingly to the contrary, the Second Vatican Council teaches the following in :
The Vatican Council declares that the human person has a right to religious freedom. Freedom of this kind means that all men should be immune from coercion on the part of individuals, social groups and every human power so that, within due limits, nobody is forced to act against his convictions in religious matters in private or in public, alone or in associations with others. The Council further declares that the right to religious freedom is based on the very dignity of the human person as known through the revealed word of God and by reason itself. This right of the human person to religious freedom must be given such recognition in the constitutional order of society as will make it a civil right.
. . . Therefore the right to religious freedom has its foundation not in the subjective attitude of the individual but in his very nature. For this reason the right to this immunity continues to exist even in those who do not live up to their obligations of seeking the truth and adhering to it. The exercise of this right cannot be interfered with as long as the just requirements of public order are observed.
. . . Consequently to deny man the free exercise of religion in society, when the just requirements of public order are observed, is to do an injustice to the human person and to the very order established by God for men. . . .
The freedom or immunity from coercion in religious matters which is the right of individuals must also be accorded to men when they act in community. . . .
Religious communities have the further right not to be prevented from publicly teaching and bearing witness to their beliefs by the spoken or written word. . . .
Also included in the right to religious freedom is the right of religious groups not to be prevented from freely demonstrating the special value of their teaching for the organization of society and the inspiration of all human activity.11
The apparent conflict here concerns public worship and proselytizing activities, since the papal teaching quoted earlier never contemplated suppressing private religious actions. But how far is the conflict real?