Many traditionalist Catholics claim the Second Vatican Council is heretical and modernist for saying that non-Catholics are free from coercion of the state. The conciliar document Dignitatis Humanae stated, “It is one of the major tenets of Catholic doctrine that man’s response to God in faith must be free: no one therefore is to be forced to embrace the Christian faith against his own will” (n. 10). What they do not realize is there is a long-standing tradition in Catholic moral theology that the state cannot force others to convert to Catholicism, not because all religions are equally true, but because it violates the free will of man and his human dignity. A lot of bad things have been done by people who have forced others to convert by use of fear and violence, not keeping the faith in mind so much as the colonization of new lands.
“The Church, indeed, deems it unlawful to place the various forms of divine worship on the same footing as the true religion, but does not, on that account, condemn those rulers who, for the sake of securing some great good or of hindering some great evil, allow patiently custom or usage to be a kind of sanction for each kind of religion having its place in the State. 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.'”
~Leo XIII (Immortale Dei, n. 36)
A pre-conciliar pope condemning forced conversions?! Heretical! Just kidding. Other popes did the same as well.
“[The Jews] ought to suffer no prejudice. We, out of the meekness of Christian piety, and in keeping in the footprints or Our predecessors of happy memory, the Roman Pontiffs Calixtus, Eugene, Alexander, Clement, admit their petition, and We grant them the shield of Our protection. For We make the law that no Christian compel them, unwilling or refusing, by violence to come to baptism.”
~Callixtus II (Sicut Judaeis)
But wait! There’s more.
“Assuredly, it is contrary to the Christian faith that one who is unwilling and totally opposed to [being baptized] be constrained to adopt and observe Christianity.”
~Innocent III [Alexis P. Rubin, ed., Scattered Among the Nations (Wall & Emerson, 1993), pp. 50-51.]
To sum it up, Venerable Pius XII, the last pope some traditionalist Catholics claim is the last legitimate pope had this to say.
“Therefore, whenever it happens, despite the constant teaching of this Apostolic See, that anyone is compelled to embrace the Catholic faith against his will, Our sense of duty demands that We condemn the act.”
~Venerable Pius XII (Mystici Corporis Christi, n. 104)
So how about the part of Dignitatis Humanae in regards to the Church’s role in society? That follows tradition too.
“Religious freedom, in turn, which men demand as necessary to fulfill their duty to worship God, has to do with immunity from coercion in civil society. Therefore it [Second Vatican 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.”
~Second Vatican Council (Dignitatis Humanae, n. 1)
Here the Council affirms what it is condemning: not a confessional state, but forced conversions. It happens to echo the words of Saint Pius X.
“That the State must be separated from the Church is a thesis absolutely false, a most pernicious error. Based, as it is, on 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.”
~Saint Pius X (Vehementer Nos, n. 3)
So there you have it, the Second Vatican Council did not break with Tradition… at least not in regards to the confessional state and forced conversions. More will follow in the future regarding the Council.