It is 52 years to the day since Cardinal Joseph Cardijn delivered his first speech on the Council floor at Vatican II. His theme was religious freedom, an issue that is perhaps even more on the world’s agenda today than it was during the 1960s.
As always, Cardijn refuses to adopt a “defensive” approach to religious freedom where the Church seeks to defend its own freedoms or status. On the contrary, Cardijn sees religious freedom as the whole basis of his approach to the Gospel message. Indeed, for Cardijn religious freedom lies at the very heart of his see-judge-act method.
Intervention by Cardinal Joseph Cardijn, 20 September 1965
The schema on liberty pleases me greatly. Allow me to humbly share with you the experience of nearly 60 years of priestly apostolate exercised in every country at the service of young workers today.
It seems to me that a solemn and clear proclamation of the juridical religious freedom of all people in every country of the world is an urgent need.
First Reason: Peaceful unification of a pluralist world
The world today is tending increasingly towards unity and conflicts between nations and cultures must disappear progressively.
As John XXIII stated so admirably in Pacem in Terris, our great task is to unite ourselves with all men of good will to build a more human world together based on “truth, justice, liberty and love”. And the fundamental condition for people to live together peacefully and to collaborate fruitfully is sincere respect for religious freedom.
The fact of not respecting the philosophical and religious convictions of others is increasingly felt by them as a sign of mistrust in a matter considered as sacred and personal to the highest degree. Such an attitude makes mutual confidence impossible and without this there can be no true community life and no effective collaboration.
On the other hand, if mutual confidence reigns, it creates an opportunity for very joyful collaboration, not only on the scientific and technical planes but also on the social, cultural, pedagogical and moral levels.
If the Church can pronounce itself unambiguously in favour of religious freedom, people everywhere will gain confidence and recognise that the Church wishes to participate in building a more human and more united world. If on the other hand, this declaration should be rejected, great hopes will disappear, particularly among young people.
Second Reason: Efficacity of apostolic, missionary and ecumenical action
In a world heading towards unification, the presence of the Church among the people must necessarily take a new form, which could be compared to the dispersion of the people of Israel after the captivity of Babylon.
In the greater part of the world Christians are a small minority. In order to fulfil its mission, the Church cannot base itself on temporal, political, economic or cultural power as it did in the Middle Ages or under colonial regimes. It can only count on the power of the word of God, evangelical poverty, the purity of its witness, manifested in the authentically Christian life of lay people, and also on the esteem of the peoples among whom the Church wishes to live and witness to its faith. And this esteem of the people is nothing other than what we have described as religious liberty. But how can the Church hope to benefit from religious liberty in countries where it is a minority if the Church itself fails to loudly proclaim or to practise religious liberty in the countries where it is in the majority?
This proclamation of religious liberty is important not only for the efficacity of apostolic and missionary action in general but it is also the condition sine qua non of the ecumenical movement.
We know that all our non-Catholic brothers consider this declaration as a step which must be taken in order to arrive at a sincere and effective ecumenism.
Third Reason: The educational and pedagogic value of religious freedom
The schema speaks of the right of the person and of communities to religious freedom. This juridical freedom is not an end in itself. It is a necessary means for education in liberty in its fullest sense, which leads to interior liberty, or liberty of the soul by which a man becomes an autonomous being, responsible before society and God, ready if necessary to obey God rather than men.
This interior freedom, even if it exists in germ as a natural gift in every human creature, requires a long education which can be summarised in three words: see, judge and act.
If, thanks be to God, my sixty years of apostolate have not been in vain, it is because I have never wanted young people to live in shelter from dangers, cut off from the milieu of their life and work.
Rather I have shown confidence in their freedom in order to better educate that freedom. I helped them to see, judge and act by themselves, by undertaking social and cultural action themselves, freely obeying authorities in order to become adult witnesses of Christ and the Gospel, conscious of being responsible for their sisters and brothers in the whole world.
In our world moving towards unification, it is not possible to educate young people in glass houses, cutting them off from the real world. Many people lose the faith because they have been given a childish education.
It is only by means of a sound education in interior freedom that our young people will be able to become adult Christians.
Some will object that freedom involves a number of dangers: indifferentism, diffusion of errors, abuse of the ignorance of the masses and of the passions.
Here is my answer:
I am conscious of these dangers. Some certainly will abuse religious freedom; but these risks are less serious that those which arise from the suppression or the oppression of religious freedom. “Absolutist regimes” – even those which claim to serve the Church – where social pressure is substituted for personal formation, favour anti-clericalism and in fact incite the masses to revolt against the faith and the Church.
The dangers inherent in a regime of freedom must be faced in a positive manner, for example by a frank and sincere international agreement between civil and religious authorities; but above all by the formation and human, moral and religious education thanks to which young people and adults become conscious of their own responsibilities.
To conclude, I would like to propose the following:
This Vatican Council must conclude with a solemn and magnificent act by Pope Paul VI in union with all the Fathers.
This act should solemnly proclaim religious freedom. It should request all confessions, all ideologies, all authorities and institutions to unanimously maintain and protect religious freedom, defining the requirements of public order in a correct and honest manner as well as seeking to implement the means for effectively protecting religious freedom.
I have finished. Thank you.
Joseph Card. Cardijn
Joseph Cardijn, Religious liberty (www.josephcardijn.com)
Why is religious freedom so important for achieving “peaceful unification of the world” in Cardijn’s view?
How does Cardijn define “religious liberty”? What is the significance of his definition?
What is the connection between “religious liberty” and the see-judge-act method?