Select comments on the “Five Proposals on Laicity” in “LibertéPolitique”

The review “Liberté Politique”, with which our Observatory is ordinarily on the same wave length, dedicated its latest issue now in circulation (n° 62, summer 2914) to the theme : “The Lay Morality, a new religion?”. Published in that issue are the 5 . presentations made at the Symposium “Morals and Laicity” held at Toulon on the 3rd and the 21st of February 2014. On this occasion as well we harbor high regard for both the endeavor and the cultural approach given to the theme of laicity, which is followed closely in France, but not only there.

In one of the articles published (Another Vision of Laicity: Proposals, pgs. 61-79), Bénédicte Bernarde, a lawyer working on his PhD in canon law at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, encapsulates in five phrases the way laicity should be understood today after the end of the confessional State. Here are the five proposals advanced by Mr. Bernard (pg. 75):

1 – Abandonment of the confessional state, that is to say separation between religion and State in the legal-political order, while conserving the subordination of the State to the spiritual order as far as morals are concerned;

2 – Autonomy of the two orders: spiritual and temporal;

3 – Positive cooperation on the part of the State with religious organisms;

4 – Respect for the liberty of all religions and the consideration of religions according to their contribution to the common good, within the limits of public order.

5 – Presence of religion in the public sphere.  

As I said above, these are correct propositions, but they do not suffice.  

If we reread proposal n°1 we ask ourselves if a moral order is possible without a religious order, and in particular without the true religion. What is the “spiritual order as far as morals are concerned”? If it is a matter of a natural moral law, we know it structurally needs the Catholic faith and the Church, which is its sole authentic guardian.

When reading proposal 2 we note that the autonomy between the two orders is indisputable, but not without a subordination of the first to the second, because, yes, politics is autonomous, but not able to serve as its own foundation. In fact, politics requires sufficiently absolute morality in order to be able to bond citizens, but the absoluteness is not proper to politics, and if it were, woe unto us. Autonomy without subordination quickly transforms the State into an absolute.

Proposal n°3 is true, but has to be read together with n°4. The State cannot collaborate with “all” religions, nor can it collaborate with all the aspects of a religion. It can only collaborate with the religions that contribute to the common good within the limits of public order. As we know, the expression ‘public order’ is to be found in the Declaration Dignitatis humanae of Vatican II. Here it is a question of understanding what is this public order, and if it is relatively independent from the common good. The concept of public order is less intense than the concept of the common good, but it does remain a concept of the moral order, neither pact-related nor conventional. Will it be possible to define its contours without a broader reference to the common good, and hence to the true religion?

In brief, the five proposals explain some things, but do not give an exhaustive explanation of “the moral duty of men and societies towards the true religion and the one Church of Christ”, of which Dignitatis humanae speaks in paragraph 1. The true religion has claims as far as the State is concerned, and these are not suitably highlighted in the five proposals.

The author of this article states that his conception of laicity draws upon the teaching of Benedict XVI. In certain ways, yes it does, but I would exercise due prudence in evaluating the teaching of this pope on laicity. That teaching never abandoned the claims of the true religion.