Separation of Church and State
Manifest Destiny or Manifest Heresy?
by David Palm
As the last of the formerly Catholic governments of Europe are shedding every vestige of their distinctively Catholic character as rapidly as possible, it seems well worth looking again at the Catholic Church's teaching on the relationship of the Church to the State. Like just about all Americans, I imbibed the twin secular dogmas of religious liberty and the separation of Church and State with my mother's milk. And when I converted to Catholicism over ten years ago, my conversion seemed to pose no great challenges to either. Given the prevailing understanding of the Second Vatican Council, said to be gleaned particularly from certain passages in Gaudium et Spes and Dignitatis Humanae, I would have agreed wholeheartedly with George Sim Johnston who wrote in his recent article "Why Vatican II Was Necessary" that, "The council made it clear that she no longer wanted a confessional state tied to a monarchy; it was high time to make peace with liberal democracy." 1
But now, after some years of reflection and more careful examination not only of Vatican II but of pre-conciliar magisterial teaching on the matter, I find that Johnston's claim just doesn't hold up. For starters, one will search in vain for the words "monarch", "monarchy", "democracy", "democratic", or the phrase "confessional state" in the conciliar documents. Even the passages that contain the words "government" and "governments" fail to establish the "clear" teaching to which Johnston alludes. Yes, certain passages of Gaudium et Spes indicate a preference for governmental systems that encourage participation by the greater portion of citizens in public life (e.g. Gaudium et Spes §31, 73, 75, echoing John XXIII's Pacem in Terris §26). But such participation can be manifested in any number of governmental systems, including constitutional monarchies. These passages, then, fall far short of a carte blanche endorsement of full-blown democracy, let alone the liberal democracy with which Johnston insists the Church made peace.
On the contrary, as Fr. E. Cahill, S.J. has pointed out, the foundations of liberal democracy are incompatible with Catholicism:
In the theory of the Liberal State, personal human rights are acknowledged, and indeed exaggerated, for they are regarded as paramount, the rights of God and the limitations set by the divine law being disregarded. In actual practice, however, all individual rights are merged in or made subservient to the power of the majority, by which the actual government of the State is set up. Hence the governing authority again becomes omni-competent, although this omni-competence is upheld in virtue of a title different from the title of a deified emperor or a civil body identified with the deity.2
Although, according to the system's chief proponents, individual rights are better upheld in a liberal democracy, in fact this has not held good in any liberal democracy anywhere in the world. Rather, we see a consistent pattern of the erosion of basic human rights-most notably that of life-in preference to the wishes of an ephemeral majority: "Again, although in the Liberal theory of civil organisation, all the members of the social body have civic rights, these rights not being regarded as of divine institution may be over-ridden by a majority." 3
One aspect that remains a rock-solid conviction of every liberal democracy is the secular dogma of the separation of Church and State. And here we must turn from what the Second Vatican Council didn't say to what it did say. The opening section of the declaration on religious liberty, Dignitatis Humanae, insists that the council "leaves untouched traditional Catholic doctrine on the moral duty of men and societies toward the true religion and toward the one Church of Christ." 4 If, then, the Catholic Church taught prior to the council that Church and State ought not to be separated and that the State has an obligation to profess the Catholic religion, then this phrase leaving that teaching "untouched" would seem to undermine Johnston's claim.
Although religious liberty and separation of Church and State are certainly related, it is clear from the passage of DH cited above that they are nevertheless separate issues. I hope to address the much-debated issue of religious liberty in a future essay, but the focus of the present piece will be on the separation of Church and State in the Church's solemn teaching prior to Vatican II. It seems critical to me-especially as our nation's leaders insist that modern liberal democracy in its present incarnation is so superior to any other form of government that it may be spread throughout the world by force of arms-to look again at the "traditional Catholic doctrine on the moral duty of . . . societies toward the true religion and toward the one Church of Christ" which the Second Vatican Council left "untouched".
What the Church's Traditional Teaching is Not
Lest we be thwarted by some persistent misconceptions before we even start, I want to look at what the Catholic Church does not teach on the separation of Church and State. Three common misunderstandings stand out.
First, the Catholic Church does not support the notion of a theocracy, that is, that both ecclesiastical and secular authority are vested in the same individuals, so that a priestly class also holds the reins of government. Rather, the Church has always taught that the Church and the State are separate powers and each has its own legitimate sphere of influence, although, as Pope Leo XIII noted, "their subjects are the same, and not infrequently they deal with the same objects, though in different ways." 5 This separation of powers was first enunciated magisterially by Pope St. Gelasius I in the fifth century6, but has been repeated numerous times by Fathers, Doctors, Popes, and Councils. St. Thomas Aquinas summarizes admirably:
Both powers originate in God. Therefore the secular power is subordinate to the spiritual power in matters that concern the salvation of souls. In matters that concern more the civil common good, a person is obliged to obey the secular rather than the spiritual power.7
Another misconception is that the Catholic Church-prior to the Second Vatican Council at least-gave her unqualified support to monarchy as the best form of government. But this, too, is a vast oversimplification. St. Robert Bellarmine (a Doctor of the Church, who wrote in great detail on the subject) does note the intrinsic superiority of monarchy, but only if power is wielded by an ideal monarch:
Monarchy theoretically and in the abstract, monarchy in the hands of God who combines in Himself all the qualifications of an ideal ruler, is indeed a perfect system of government; in the hands of imperfect man, however, it is exposed to many defects and abuses. A government tempered, therefore, by all three basic forms (i.e., monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy), a mixed government, is, on account of the corruption of human nature more useful than simple monarchy.8
The acceptance of a multiplicity of governmental systems is given magisterial force by Pope Leo XIII:
The right to rule is not necessarily, however, bound up with any special mode of government. It may take this or that form, provided only that it be of a nature of the government, rulers must ever bear in mind that God is the paramount ruler of the world, and must set Him before themselves as their exemplar and law in the administration of the State.9
Even democratic governments are not in and of themselves contrary to Catholic teaching: "Again, it is not of itself wrong to prefer a democratic form of government, if only the Catholic doctrine be maintained as to the origin and exercise of power." 10 Pope Pius XI echoes this: ". . . these different forms of government are not of themselves contrary to the principles of the Catholic Faith, which can easily be reconciled with any reasonable and just system of government." 11 Vatican II said the same:
Yet the people who come together in the political community are many and diverse, and they have every right to prefer divergent solutions. . . . It is clear, therefore, that the political community and public authority are founded on human nature and hence belong to the order designed by God, even though the choice of a political regime and the appointment of rulers are left to the free will of citizens.12
Finally, the Church has never taught that she (or the State) may use the power of the State to coerce religious belief. Johnston states that after Vatican II, "Henceforth the Church does not impose but proposes the truth; she will not rely on the coercive machinery of the state." 13 Frankly, this is a disturbing caricature of the Church's teaching before Vatican II, savoring more of stock anti-Catholic propaganda than the reflections of a sober Catholic scholar. One wants to ask Johnston when the Church has ever taught that it was permissible to impose the truth on anyone, through the power of the State or otherwise? For, on the contrary, the Catholic Church has reiterated throughout her history that it is wrong for the Church, the State, or an individual to coerce belief in the Catholic faith. Here is just one example: "And, in fact, the Church is wont to take earnest heed that no one shall be forced to embrace the Catholic faith against his will, for, as St. Augustine wisely reminds us, 'Man cannot believe otherwise than of his own will.'" 14
What is the Church's Traditional Teaching?
Very well. The Church doesn't support a theocracy, she at least allows for (if not unequivocally supports) some form of democracy, and she rejects use of State power to coerce belief. Many Catholics-including many orthodox and learned ones-conclude from those points that, therefore, the State should be entirely separate from the Church and should treat all religions equally.
But to conclude that, because the State is forbidden to coerce belief, it must therefore declare itself entirely separate from the Church or treat all religions equally is not only a non sequitur, it runs contrary to the Church's perennial teaching. To demonstrate this, we should look again at "the traditional Catholic doctrine on the moral duty of men and societies toward the true religion" which Vatican II left "untouched".
The fact is that separation of Church and State, of the kind that we have in all of the liberal democracies of the world, has been consistently and repeatedly denounced by the pre-conciliar Popes in no uncertain terms. In the Syllabus of Errors, for example, Pope Pius IX condemned as false the proposition that, "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." 15
The encyclicals Immortale Dei and Libertas Praestantissimum by his successor, Leo XIII, are devoted almost entirely to the Catholic Church's teaching on the right ordering of state and society. The authority of Immortale Dei is particularly high. While falling short of an ex cathedra definition, Leo XIII intended for it to be definitive, for he summarizes his teaching as follows: "This, then, is the teaching of the Catholic Church concerning the constitution and government of the State." 16
There is no substitute for reading both of these encyclicals in their entirety, but I will present a few pertinent snapshots. In Libertas, the Pontiff insists that the State is not only obligated to protect the temporal and physical well-being of the people, it is obligated to protect their spiritual well-being as well:
There are [those] . . . who affirm that the morality of individuals is to be guided by the divine law, but not the morality of the State, for that in public affairs the commands of God may be passed over, and may be entirely disregarded in the framing of laws. Hence follows the fatal theory of the need of separation between Church and State. But the absurdity of such a position is manifest. Nature herself proclaims the necessity of the State providing means and opportunities whereby the community may be enabled to live properly, that is to say, according to the laws of God. For, since God is the source of all goodness and justice, it is absolutely ridiculous that the State should pay no attention to these laws or render them abortive by contrary enactments. Besides, those who are in authority owe it to the commonwealth not only to provide for its external well-being and the conveniences of life, but still more to consult the welfare of men's souls in the wisdom of their legislation.17
It follows, then, that the protection and promotion of religion is one of the paramount responsibilities of the State. The State may not adopt a stance of indifference toward all religions, treating them all with equality. Rather, the State is obliged to promote that religion that God Himself has established, namely, the Catholic Faith. Again, Leo XIII:
Wherefore, civil society must acknowledge God as its Founder and Parent, and must obey and reverence His power and authority. Justice therefore forbids, and reason itself forbids, the State to be godless; or to adopt a line of action which would end in godlessness-namely, to treat the various religions (as they call them) alike, and to bestow upon them promiscuously equal rights and privileges. Since, then, the profession of one religion is necessary in the State, that religion must be professed which alone is true, and which can be recognized without difficulty, especially in Catholic States, because the marks of truth are, as it were, engraven upon it. This religion, therefore, the rulers of the State must preserve and protect, if they would provide-as they should do-with prudence and usefulness for the good of the community.18
In Immortale Dei, Leo XIII teaches that secular rulers are obligated, as part of their governance, to promote the one true Faith. The Pope, "insists on public acknowledgment of religion by the State as a logical deduction from acceptance of the premise that God is the Author of civil authority. Such acknowledgment has reference to the only true religion-the Catholic Faith . . . " 19 Pope Leo teaches:
As a consequence, the State, constituted as it is, is clearly bound to act up to the manifold and weighty duties linking it to God, by the public profession of religion. . . . So, too, is it a sin for the State not to have care for religion as a something beyond its scope, or as of no practical benefit; or out of many forms of religion to adopt that one which chimes in with the fancy; for we are bound absolutely to worship God in that way which He has shown to be His will. All who rule, therefore, would hold in honor the holy name of God, and one of their chief duties must be to favor religion, to protect it, to shield it under the credit and sanction of the laws, and neither to organize nor enact any measure that may compromise its safety. This is the bounden duty of rulers to the people over whom they rule.20
The Pope states unequivocally that "it is not lawful for the State, any more than for the individual, either to disregard all religious duties or to hold in equal favor different kinds of religion." 21 He rejects the sort of separation of Church and State that has been upheld by every Supreme Court decision on the subject in this country:
But this teaching is understood in two ways. Many wish the State to be separated from the Church wholly and entirely, so that with regard to every right of human society, in institutions, customs, and laws, the offices of State, and the education of youth, they would pay no more regard to the Church than if she did not exist; and, at most, would allow the citizens individually to attend to their religion in private if so minded. Against such as these, all the arguments by which We disprove the principle of separation of Church and State are conclusive; with this super-added, that it is absurd the citizen should respect the Church, while the State may hold her in contempt.22
And there is no lack of condemnation of the principle of the separation of Church and State in the writings of Leo XIII's successors. For example, Pope St. Pius X wrote:
That the State must be separated from the Church is a thesis absolutely false, a most pernicious error. . . . Hence the Roman Pontiffs have never ceased, as circumstances required, to refute and condemn the doctrine of the separation of Church and State.23
The claim that the State has nothing to do with the spiritual well-being of its citizens inverts the order of things, wrongfully elevating the natural good of the nation above the supernatural good of its citizens. As St. Pius stated:
Besides, this thesis is an obvious negation of the supernatural order. It limits the action of the State to the pursuit of public prosperity during this life only, which is but the proximate object of political societies; and it occupies itself in no fashion (on the plea that this is foreign to it) with their ultimate object which is man's eternal happiness after this short life shall have run its course. But as the present order of things is temporary and subordinated to the conquest of man's supreme and absolute welfare, it follows that the civil power must not only place no obstacle in the way of this conquest, but must aid us in effecting it.24
And Pope Pius XI wrote this, concerning the separation of Church and State enacted as part of the establishment of liberal democracy in Spain:
We learned with great sorrow that therein, at the beginning, it is openly declared that the State has no official religion, thus reaffirming that separation of State from Church which was, alas, decreed in the new Spanish Constitution. We shall not delay here to repeat that it is a serious error to affirm that this separation is licit and good in itself, especially in a nation almost totally Catholic. Separation, well considered, is only the baneful consequence-as We often have declared, especially in the Encyclical Quas Primas-of laicism, or rather the apostasy of society that today feigns to alienate itself from God and therefore from the Church.25
The repeated teaching of the Popes on a doctrinal matter is, of course, inherently authoritative and demands our assent, as Vatican II taught in Lumen Gentium §25.26 And let us remember, again, that it is precisely this "traditional Catholic doctrine on the moral duty of men and societies toward the true religion and toward the one Church of Christ" that Vatican II explicitly left "untouched", even in her declaration on religious liberty.
Nor has this teaching anywhere been explicitly rescinded by any post-conciliar magisterial document. Vatican II, in Dignitatis Humanae itself, spoke of circumstances in which "special civil recognition is given to one religious community in the constitutional order of society" (DH §6), making it clear that the council did not intend to do away with the notion that Catholicism can (and should) be the official religion of those countries in which the majority of citizens are Catholic.
It is true that in the post-conciliar period the doctrine has not been forcefully reiterated. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, in its discussion of the relationship of Church and State (§2244-46), states rather tamely that, "Only the divinely revealed religion has clearly recognized man's origin and destiny in God, the Creator and Redeemer. The Church invites political authorities to measure their judgments and decisions against this inspired truth about God and man." 27 On the other hand, the CCC elsewhere insists:
The duty of offering God genuine worship concerns man both individually and socially. This is "the traditional Catholic teaching on the moral duty of individuals and societies toward the true religion and the one Church of Christ." By constantly evangelizing men, the Church works toward enabling them "to infuse the Christian spirit into the mentality and mores, laws and structures of the communities in which [they] live." The social duty of Christians is to respect and awaken in each man the love of the true and the good. It requires them to make known the worship of the one true religion which subsists in the Catholic and apostolic Church. Christians are called to be the light of the world. Thus, the Church shows forth the kingship of Christ over all creation and in particular over human societies.28
Fr. Brian Harrison notes that here the CCC has reasserted the ongoing applicability of two of the most prominent pre-conciliar papal documents on the necessity of societies (and hence the State) to uphold Catholicism:
It refers at that point to the two pre-conciliar encyclicals which most emphatically condemned the masonic ideal of the religiously "neutral" state, Leo XIII's Immortale Dei ("On the Christian Constitution of States") and Pius XI's Quas Primas, instituting the Feast of Christ the King. Moreover, the reference is to these two encyclicals in their entirety, not just to a particular passage. (In Dignitatis Humanae only one quite bland passage from Immortale Dei is cited, and there is no reference at all to Quas Primas or the social kingship of Christ.) 29
Statements of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith concerning "the rightful autonomy of the political or civil sphere from that of religion and the Church" 30 and by Pope John Paul II of a "legitimate and healthy secularity" 31 - taken by some to signal a complete about-face on the matter of Church/State relations-are each found in the context of reaffirmations of the rightful (and necessary) separation of powers between Church and State. This, as I have noted above, was firmly taught prior to Vatican II as well and so forms no break with pre-conciliar teaching. And certainly these statements must be read in light of both DH §6 and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, not to mention the solemn teaching of the pre-conciliar Popes.
So, although this post-conciliar content remains somewhat muted from the direct and forceful teachings of the pre-conciliar Popes insisting on the State's obligation to "favor [the Catholic] religion, to protect it, to shield it under the credit and sanction of the laws", it in no way contradicts their teaching. As Fr. Harrison has stated: "From the fact that the Church (wisely or unwisely) decides no longer to ask for a clear-cut implementation of the doctrine of Christ's social kingship in the traditional manner, it by no means follows that she has renounced the doctrine itself as a matter of principle." 32 And lest there be any doubt that the pre-conciliar Popes considered their teachings on this matter to be well within the realm of faith and morals on which they are fully competent to bind the faithful, Pope Pius XI explicitly condemned any fundamental dilution of these papal teachings:
Many believe in or claim that they believe in and hold fast to Catholic doctrine on such questions as social authority, the right of owning private property, on the relations between capital and labor, on the rights of the laboring man, on the relations between Church and State, religion and country, on the relations between the different social classes, on international relations, on the rights of the Holy See and the prerogatives of the Roman Pontiff and the Episcopate, on the social rights of Jesus Christ, Who is the Creator, Redeemer, and Lord not only of individuals but of nations. In spite of these protestations, they speak, write, and, what is more, act as if it were not necessary any longer to follow, or that they did not remain still in full force, the teachings and solemn pronouncements which may be found in so many documents of the Holy See, and particularly in those written by Leo XIII, Pius X, and Benedict XV.
There is a species of moral, legal, and social modernism which We condemn, no less decidedly than We condemn theological modernism.33
Therefore, the traditional teaching of the Church with regard to responsibilities of the State to the Catholic Faith remains in force, even if for prudential reasons this teaching is downplayed by the Magisterium in our modern context.
What Are the Consequences of Abandoning the Church's Teaching?
Far from being something to celebrate, as Johnston would seem to have it, the consequences for nations having abandoned the Church's teaching on the matter of the separation of Church and State have been severe. The pre-conciliar Popes were truly prophetic in this regard.
In 1832, Pope Gregory XVI recalled how greatly the peace of both Church and society was disturbed by various rebellious sects, "the Waldensians, the Beghards, the Wycliffites, and other such sons of Belial, who were the sores and disgrace of the human race." 34 He insisted that the modern clamor for the separation of Church and State would fare no better:
Nor can We predict happier times for religion and government from the plans of those who desire vehemently to separate the Church from the state, and to break the mutual concord between temporal authority and the priesthood. It is certain that that concord which always was favorable and beneficial for the sacred and the civil order is feared by the shameless lovers of liberty.35
Leo XIII taught that the benefits for both Church and State have been great and manifest:
There was once a time when States were governed by the philosophy of the Gospel. Then it was that the power and divine virtue of Christian wisdom had diffused itself throughout the laws, institutions, and morals of the people, permeating all ranks and relations of civil society. Then, too, the religion instituted by Jesus Christ, established firmly in befitting dignity, flourished everywhere, by the favor of princes and the legitimate protection of magistrates; and Church and State were happily united in concord and friendly interchange of good offices. The State, constituted in this wise, bore fruits important beyond all expectation, whose remembrance is still, and always will be, in renown, witnessed to as they are by countless proofs which can never be blotted out or ever obscured by any craft of any enemies. . . . A similar state of things would certainly have continued had the agreement of the two powers been lasting. More important results even might have been justly looked for, had obedience waited upon the authority, teaching, and counsels of the Church, and had this submission been specially marked by greater and more unswerving loyalty. For that should be regarded in the light of an ever-changeless law which Ivo of Chartres wrote to Pope Paschal II: "When kingdom and priesthood are at one, in complete accord, the world is well ruled, and the Church flourishes, and brings forth abundant fruit. But when they are at variance, not only smaller interests prosper not, but even things of greatest moment fall into deplorable decay.36
Ultimately, the Pope argued, the State that sets aside religion altogether or treats different religions as equals will inevitably work against all religion, a prediction that we see coming to fruition all around us:
To hold, therefore, that there is no difference in matters of religion between forms that are unlike each other, and even contrary to each other, most clearly leads in the end to the rejection of all religion in both theory and practice. And this is the same thing as atheism, however it may differ from it in name.37
Pope St. Pius X taught that no society would long remain stable and free if the Catholic Church was not acknowledged by the State and her teachings given their due place in the life of the State:
The same thesis also upsets the order providentially established by God in the world, which demands a harmonious agreement between the two societies. . . . Remove the agreement between Church and State, and the result will be that from these common matters will spring the seeds of disputes which will become acute on both sides; it will become more difficult to see where the truth lies, and great confusion is certain to arise. Finally, this thesis inflicts great injury on society itself, for it cannot either prosper or last long when due place is not left for religion, which is the supreme rule and the sovereign mistress in all questions touching the rights and the duties of men.38
Pope Pius XI insists that such a separation is fatal to the State, undermining the very basis for its own authority:
But if the pretension of excluding from public life God the Creator and Provident Ruler of that same society is impious and absurd for any people whatsoever, it is particularly repugnant to find this exclusion of God and Church from the life of the Spanish Nation, where the Church always and rightly has held the most important and most beneficially active part in legislation, in schools, and in all other private and public institutions. If such an attempt results in irreparable harm to the Christian conscience of the country, especially to its youth, whom they would educate without religion, and to families, profaned in the most sacred principles, no less harm befalls that same civil authority. When this loses the support that recommends it, nay sustains it, in the conscience of the people, namely the persuasion of its Divine origin, dependence and sanction, it loses at the same time its greatest power to obligate, and its highest title to be respected.39
Elsewhere he reiterates this axiom, that the State that rejects the authority of Jesus Christ will inevitably find its own authority rejected:
If, therefore, the rulers of nations wish to preserve their authority, to promote and increase the prosperity of their countries, they will not neglect the public duty of reverence and obedience to the rule of Christ. What We said at the beginning of Our Pontificate concerning the decline of public authority, and the lack of respect for the same, is equally true at the present day. "With God and Jesus Christ," we said, "excluded from political life, with authority derived not from God but from man, the very basis of that authority has been taken away, because the chief reason of the distinction between ruler and subject has been eliminated. The result is that human society is tottering to its fall, because it has no longer a secure and solid foundation.40
If we see an erosion of civility, piety, morals, and good order in every liberal democracy ever established, we should not find this particularly surprising. We have had ample warning.
These frequent warnings and their vindication through subsequent events keep me from following Johnston in heaping unqualified praise on the separation of Church and State as we have it here in the United States. Johnston claims that by (allegedly) doing away with a confessional State and making peace with liberal democracy in the documents of Vatican II, "the Americans, especially the Jesuit theologian John Courtney Murray, made their contribution to the council. The Constitution of the United States, which keeps the government out of the chancery, had served the Church well." 41
He is correct that non-interference of the State in the affairs of the Church does indeed serve the Church well. This is upheld by Pope Leo XIII in his encyclical letter to the hierarchy of the United States:
[T]hanks are due to the equity of the laws which obtain in America and to the customs of the well-ordered Republic. For the Church amongst you, unopposed by the Constitution and government of your nation, fettered by no hostile legislation, protected against violence by the common laws and the impartiality of the tribunals, is free to live and act without hindrance.42
But this is only part-and certainly not the most important part-of the story. The Pontiff continues:
Yet, though all this is true, it would be very erroneous to draw the conclusion that in America is to be sought the type of the most desirable status of the Church, or that it would be universally lawful or expedient for State and Church to be, as in America, dissevered and divorced. The fact that Catholicity with you is in good condition, nay, is even enjoying a prosperous growth, is by all means to be attributed to the fecundity with which God has endowed His Church, in virtue of which unless men or circumstances interfere, she spontaneously expands and propagates herself; but she would bring forth more abundant fruits if, in addition to liberty, she enjoyed the favor of the laws and the patronage of the public authority.43
Pope St. Pius X insists that to have the Church and the State separated, with the State failing to acknowledge the Catholic Faith as the true religion-as it is in the United States-amounts to a grave injustice to God:
[By adopting] the principle that the State must not recognize any religious cult, it is in the first place guilty of a great injustice to God; for the Creator of man is also the Founder of human societies, and preserves their existence as He preserves our own. We owe Him, therefore, not only a private cult, but a public and social worship to honor Him.44
Pope Pius XI noted that this refusal on the part of the State to give Jesus Christ and the Church He founded due public recognition is very far from a matter of indifference:
[N]ot only private individuals but also rulers and princes are bound to give public honor and obedience to Christ. . . . Christ, who has been cast out of public life, despised, neglected and ignored, will most severely avenge these insults; for his kingly dignity demands that the State should take account of the commandments of God and of Christian principles, both in making laws and in administering justice, and also in providing for the young a sound moral education.45
Certainly, by virtue of its repetition and the authority with which it has been advanced, the condemnation of the separation of Church and State and the affirmation of its positive corollary-that the state is obligated to uphold and advance the Catholic Faith-is every bit as explicit and solid as the Church's teaching on, say, contraception. And it is, through history, a great deal more explicit than the Church's prohibition of female priests, which Card. Ratzinger recently declared to be infallible (i.e. irreformable) by virtue of its constant repetition by the ordinary Magisterium. Surely it would be reasonable to argue that the matter of the State's obligation publicly to profess, protect, and promote the Catholic Faith has also been taught infallibly through her ordinary Magisterium.
We should reflect carefully on what the Catholic Church has solemnly taught concerning the right ordering of civil government. This is especially true as our nation continues to advance, often by force of arms, a particular variety of liberal democracy as the only system of government worthy of any nation. For some, my insistence that the present position of the government of the United States with respect to the separation of Church and State is not rightly ordered will seem a sort of blasphemy, albeit a secular one. But as Catholics, our first obligation is to the teaching of the Church and not to the founding documents of our country.
Obviously the United States is not a Catholic country. A great many American Catholics have become so inured to that fact that they seem to place the authority of our Constitution above that of the Popes. For example, Mr. Thomas Scott wrote recently to The New Oxford Review that, "Our presidents have sworn to uphold the Constitution of the U.S., not the teachings of the Catholic Church. One writer was upset because neither [political] party reflects Catholic values. Guess what! They never will. Not in this country." 46
But surely our Constitution can not be endowed with such authority that it stands above authentic Catholic criticism; it is not, after all, a part of the Deposit of Faith. And should we really be satisfied with this status quo, especially in light of the doctrinal teachings of the Sovereign Pontiffs concerning the right ordering of the State? After all, there was a time when all Catholic countries were not Catholic countries. The change took place the old-fashioned way, through evangelism which had as its goal the conversion of all men to the one true Faith.
For my part, based on the solemnly declared faith of the Catholic Church which Vatican II left untouched, I pray for the day in which my countrymen are converted to the Catholic Faith in sufficient numbers that we will elect Catholic leaders and amend our Constitution to give Jesus Christ and the Church He established rightful place in our government. Then and only then, as Pope Pius XI predicted, "When once men recognize, both in private and in public life, that Christ is King, society will at last receive the great blessings of real liberty, well-ordered discipline, peace and harmony." 47
NOTES:1 Crisis Magazine, "Why Vatican II Was Necessary", 9 March 2004, http://www.crisismagazine.com/march2004/johnston.htm
2 E. Cahill, The Framework of a Christian State (Dublin: M. H. Gill and Son, 1932; reprint Fort Collins, CO: Roman Catholic Books, 1997), 453-4.
4 DH §1, emphasis mine here and throughout, unless otherwise noted.
5 Libertas §18.
6 See http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/gelasius1.html .
7 Summa Theologica, Sent. II, Dist. 44. Q. 2, 5ad 3, 4
8 De Romani Pontificis Ecclesiastica Monarchia, Bk. I, c. 1; cited in J. C. Rager, "Catholic Sources and the Declaration of Independence," http://www.catholiceducation.org/articles/politics/pg0003.html
9 Immortale Dei §4.
10 Leo XIII, Libertas §44.
11 Ubi Arcano §12.
12 Gaudium et Spes §74.
13 Johnston, "Necessary".
14 Leo XIII, Immortale Dei §36.
15 Syllabus §77; http://www.papalencyclicals.net/Pius09/p9syll.htm
16 Immortale Dei §36.
17 Libertas §18; cf. Pius XII, Summi Pontificatus §65ff. and John XXIII, Pacem in Terris §57.
18 Libertas §21.
19 Sidney Z. Ehler and John B. Morrall, eds. Church and State Through the Centuries : A Collection of Historic Documents with Commentaries. (Westminster, Md. : Newman Press, 1954), 298.
20 Immortale Dei §6.
21 Immortale Dei §35.
22 Libertas §39.
23 Vehementer Nos §3.
24 Vehementer Nos §3.
25 Delectissima Nobis §6.
26 "This religious submission of mind and will must be shown in a special way to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra; that is, it must be shown in such a way that his supreme magisterium is acknowledged with reverence, the judgments made by him are sincerely adhered to, according to his manifest mind and will. His mind and will in the matter may be known either from the character of the documents, from his frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or from his manner of speaking."
27 CIC §2244.
28 CCC §2105; emphasis mine.
29 Living Tradition, "The Center is Holding," January 1993 (http://www.rtforum.org/lt/lt44.html).
30 "Doctrinal note on some questions regarding The Participation of Catholics in Political Life", §6; http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20021124_politica_en.html
31 Letter of Pope John Paul II To the Bishops of France; http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/letters/2005/documents/hf_jp-ii_let_20050211_french-bishops_en.html , citing Pius XII, Alla vostra filiale, Address to Residents in Rome from The Marches, 23 March 1958: La Documentation Catholique 55 , col. 456.
32 "Vatican II and Religious Liberty: Contradiction or Continuity?", http://www.catholic.net/rcc/Periodicals/Dossier/00MarApr/continuity.html . In a footnote, Fr. Harrison cites Gaudium et Spes to this effect: "[The Church] will even give up the exercise of certain rights which have been legitimately acquired, if it becomes clear that their use will cast doubt on the sincerity of her witness or that new ways of life demand new methods" (GS §76; my emphasis.) But, as Fr. Harrison rightly insists, "Thus, the rights themselves are not given up."
33 Ubi Arcano §60-61.
34 Mirari Vos §19.
35 Mirari Vos §20.
36 Immortale Dei §21-22.
37 Immortale Dei §31.
38 Vehementer Nos §3.
39 Delectissima Nobis §7.
40 Quas Primas §31.
41 Johnston, "Necessary".
42 Longinqua §6.
43 Longinqua §6.
44 Vehementer Nos §3.
45 Quas Primas §35.
46 NOR, Feb 2005, Letters to the editor.
47 Quas Primas §19.