Vatican Document on Religious Freedom Seen Striking at Soviet Union
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Vatican Document on Religious Freedom Seen Striking at Soviet Union

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The first full day of debate at the fourth session of the Ecumenical Council opened discussions at the Vatican today on the Catholic Church’s draft declaration on religious freedom, a schema linked procedurally with the proposed document repudiating the ancient charge of deicide against the Jewish people.

The religious freedom instrument, termed in the debate today as “the Council’s most important document,” would strike out by implication against the USSR, where full religious and cultural rights are denied to the Soviet Jewish community. It would also act as a restraining warning against countries like Spain, where the Catholic Church itself is dominant; The religious freedom item and the “Jewish document” were the major topics held over from the last session of the Council, which recessed last December.

An official summary of the religious freedom draft, issued by the Vatican today, showed that, after affirming every man’s right to be “guided by his own counsel” in matters of faith, and denying anyone’s right to force adoption of a faith against an individual’s will, civil authority would be declared “out of bounds if it interferes with man’s relationship with God.” Then the draft would state:


“Religious groups are entitled to the same religious liberty as individuals. Such groups have a right to govern themselves according to their own laws, to honor the Supreme Being, with public worship, to assist their members in practice of religion, and to provide them with proper teaching and also to promote institutions in which their members collaborate in organizing their personal lives according to religious principles.

“Religious liberty implies this freedom for religious groups to point out the special value of their teaching in organizing society and vitalizing the whole of human activity, Man’s social nature, and the very nature of religion, provide the foundation of the right to hold meetings and to set up educational, cultural, charitable and social organizations.”

The draft would conclude with these statements; “Men today years for freedom both in the private and the public profession of faith. This freedom is recognized in many state constitutions and international agreements on civil rights. There are areas where this right is proclaimed, but where civil authority makes such freedom difficult and endangers it. This Council, hailing the former signs of the times with joy, while deploring the latter with sadness, asks all men to weigh carefully the importance of religious life, especially in present-day life.”

In today’s debate, eight cardinals participated, Six voiced agreement with the main text, but offered some reservations. Two, Cardinal Ruffini, of Italy, and Cardinal de Arriba, of Spain, were flatly opposed to the document.

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