Vatican II’s Declaration on Religious Freedom is just as timely today as it was fifty years ago, argues Joanna Bogle:
Religious freedom is the issue of the hour: in America, in Europe, in what we (used to?) think of as “the West”. But what is particularly interesting is that this comes just as we are marking the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council – the Council in which the Church explored the whole question of religious freedom and gave the world a valuable document which established the Church’s approach to this subject for the new millennium.
The Declaration on Religious Freedom, Dignitatis Humanae, emphasised that “all men are bound to seek the truth, especially in what concerns God and His Church, and to embrace the truth they come to know, and to hold fast to it.” This duty is fundamental. Religious belief cannot be imposed by government edict, or by coercion using the authority of the State. “The truth cannot impose itself except by virtue of its own truth, as it makes its entrance into the mind at once quietly and with power.”
When this was all being debated at the Vatican Council, and in the years immediately following, attention focused essentially on the internal tensions within the Church on the subject. But now the fullness of the importance and value of Dignitatis Humanae is coming into its own, and in circumstances that would have been unimaginable to many of the Bishops gathered in Rome in the 1960s.