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25 January 2017 Changing the Conversation (170509) Celebrating More Than 50 Years (170509) Conscience-Based Moral Judgments (170509) Dignitaries Humanae (170509) False Views on Jesus' Views on Divorce (170509) Mission and Human Rights (170509) Jesus and the Ordination of Women (170516) 29 May 2017 How much of Church Doctrine do we really believe? (170602) Trump Pulls Out of Paris Agreement (170602) 05 June 2017 Thoughts on Religious Vocations: An Open Letter to Pope Francis (170605) I can't get the institutional church out of my system (170618) 25 June 2017 Just War? Enough Already (170703) What would Teilhard say? Evolve or be annihilated (170710) Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (170719) Religion's Wax Nose (170726) American Civil Religion (170731) A Heresy of the Times (170807) Cardinal Calls for Global Church (170818) The Price of Being a Prophet (170821) The Implosion of the Roman Catholic Church (170902) Reflection on Racism in America (170913) Who am I? Where am I going? (170918) One Priest's Hopes for the Mass Translation (170925) The Edge of the Inside (171002) Selective Christianity (171016) Theology at the Cutting Edge: Healing the Political and Social Divide in America (171016) Resisting Islamophobia Is The Catholic Thing To Do. (171023) It Started With a Letter to the Archbishop (171030) Why Do We Still Tolerate Mass Stipends? (171106) Their Cross to Bear: Catholic Women Told to Forgive (171113) Papal loyalists become dissidents (171120) Echoes of Theocracy (171127) Will Pope Francis Remove the 'Warning'? (171204) Gumbleton on Nuclear Deterrence (171211) The Scandal of the 2011 Missal (171218)
ARCC News 2018
Prophets of a Future Not Our Own (20180101) 2018: Time to Become Ultra-Human? (20180118) Time for a Bonfire of Their Vanities? (20180122) Until All Are Welcome My House, My Rules: 3 Women "Rejected" (20180208) Policing the Communion Line (20180205) A Time to Judge (20180212) Mary McAleese Being Banned is Embarrassing (20180219) Correct, Don't Complicate Excommunication (20180226) Catholic Tradition, Labour, and Organizing Workers (20180305) Misogyny in the Vatican (20180312) The Unofficial Saint of the Internet (20180318) Francis Invites Change, But We Are the Change (20180325) Rediscovering the Role of Mary Magdalene as Apostle of the Apostles (20180401) Synodality and its Perils (20180409) Get rid of the clergy - But keep Holy Orders (20180415) Renewing the Program of Priestly Formation (20180429) Male and Female, in the image and likeness of God (20180506) Wedding Bans: Why Do Parishes Turn Young Couples Away? (20180513) Christian Humanism, the Path to the Divine (20180520) Mary - Prophet and Priest (20180527) A Wake-Up Call to Liberal Theologians (20160603) Canonization is right for Oscar Romero (20180610) Could the Church take a risk? (20180618) AJC expresses "Profound Concern" over beatification (20180624) The Bible's #MeToo Problem (20180701) 'Humanae Vitae' and the census fidelium (20180715) The Catholic Church wasn't always so against contraception (20180722) 50 years later, scientist's findings on birth control... (20180729) #MeToo, Your Excellency The Catholic Church needs a way to deal with bad bishops (20180812) The Catholic Church is tempted by power and obsessed with sex (20180819) Real change against abuse... (20180826) Pope Francis is facing a crisis of justice (20180829) Catholics Are Facing a Very Real Emergency (20180902) Truth and its violent consequences (20180909) The Third Millennial Catholic Reformation (20180917) Reality in an Historical-Critical Perspective (20180923) Both Prudential & Indisputable (20180930) Catholic Crossroads and Catholic Conflict (20181007) Schism or Evolution? (20181015) Theology: Stones or Bread? (20181028) White Christian America (20181102) Stone Throwing. Or Not. (20181104) Young People, Hope for the Church(es) (20181112) Who Represents the Laity? (20181118) Open Letter to the US Catholic Bishops: It's Over (20181125) From Collegiality to Synodality (20181203) The Birth of the Messiah (20181217) A Non-traditional Blessing for 2019 (20181231)
ARCC News 2019 Changing Power Relationships


Dignitaries Humanae (170509)

The Legacy of Vatican II - Dignitatis Humanae


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The Legacy of Vatican II: 
Dignitatis Humanae
Anneliese Sinnott, Ph.D.
One of the most important documents issued by the Second Vatican Council is the document on Religious Freedom, Dignitatis Humanae, although, unfortunately it is one of the least well known. The "Declaration on Religious Liberty" was quite contentious precisely because it represented a repudiation of centuries of Church practice and doctrine.(1) Its basic claim was that 
"The right of religious freedom comes from the dignity of the human person."(2)
The principal architect of the document was John Courtney Murray, S.J, (3)  an American Jesuit.  Murray had spent much of his theological effort in attempting to reconcile Catholic theology with the principles of democracy.  Prior to the Council, John Courtney Murray had privately submitted various religious liberty manuscripts to Rome, all of which were rejected. 

Dignitatis humanae, one of the final fruits of the council, provides a kind of "case study" of Vatican II's break from the past. The document was as much or perhaps even more about the potential for doctrinal "development" as it was about religious liberty. Acceptance of the document opened the door to new possibilities in the expression of both doctrine and pastoral practice. 

John L. McKenzie reminds us that there is always a tension between freedom and authority which varies with the strength of either. If there were no tension, it would mean that one or the other had vanished to the detriment of the whole. This tension is healthy but it must be kept in balance. (4) It is the recognition of freedom that allows the tension between authority and freedom to remain healthy.

John Tracy Ellis remarks at the end of his article about the document, 
Here, it seemed to me, was the voice of a Church that had finally been won to the principle of semper reformanda and admitting openly and honestly her past sins in the spirit of the Council's initiator, Pope John XXIII. (5)
When the final vote was taken on September 21, the draft was voted in by 1,997 to an opposition of 224.
Dignitatis humanae, given the history of the Roman Catholic Church, was radical. But, of all the "big questions" it raised, the inviolability of human conscience stands out most strongly. In the document, this claim is traced back in the document through Scripture and tradition. 
The impetus generated by the Council, and the emphasis on religious freedom shaped by the thought of John Courtney Murray, had tremendous effect on the American Catholic Church. The American Church has changed. It has grown. American Catholics are very different people than they were at the time of the Council. Some among us believe that religious freedom is the core and foundation of our lives as Roman Catholics and that the call to "develop our conscience" is a divine mandate, supported by the highest authority in our Church, Council documents. Others among us, however, would extend that "freedom" to all sectors of our lives except 'religion', but choose to be eclectic even in this. Perhaps our challenge at this time is to go back to those documents, and once again, reread and study them!

(1) Stephen Schloesser. "Against Forgetting: Memory, History, Vatican II'. Theological Studies  67 Vol. 35, No. 6. 300.
(2) Schloesser, 288.
(3) Dom Alberic  Stacpoole,OSB, ed. Vatican II Revisited By Those Who Were There.Minneapolis: Winston Press, 1986,  p. 291.
(4) Gerard Mannion et al, Readings in Church Authority: Gifts and challenges for contemporary Catholicism. Hants, England: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2003,  p. 119.
(5) Stacpoole, 292.
Anneliese Sinnott is a member of the ARCC Board.


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