Last in a Series

The very mention of names such as Constance, the Inquisition, “Bloody” Mary, and St. Bartholomew’s Eve is a sufficient reminder that Roman Catholicism has a far from unsullied record in the annals of religious toleration. It is not unjust to say that, both constitutionally and historically, persecution of “heretics” is a principle that has been built into the papal system. That this is not just a thing of the past is evident, for example, in the cruelties and indignities Protestants have suffered in Spain and Colombia in recent years.

There is a certain logic in the argument that, since Rome claims to be the one true Church and ark of salvation, the extermination of dissidents and heretics is justified to protect the multitudes of the faithful from their deadly poison; but it is not a logic that can be reconciled with the spirit of the Gospel. It is no surprise that this same logic has in this century been appropriated by those who are sworn enemies of the Gospel—the Nazis of Hitler’s Germany and the anti-God regimes of contemporary Communist states, whose policy was and is to silence, by the assassination of either the body or the personality, any who dare to dissent.

With genuine pleasure, then, one notes that the Second Vatican Council was an important turn toward tolerance. The Declaration on Religious Freedom, which was the most hotly disputed of all council documents and had its opponents right to the end, is in effect a retraction or annulment of the notorious Syllabus of Errors issued by Pope Pius IX a century ago. This compendium of papal encyclicals listed and condemned eighty “heresies.” Among the “errors” denounced were modern doctrines ...

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