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The ship of state is never in neutral for long

According to George Weigel, the big issue in the fuss over the Society of Saint Pius X (the traditionalist group whose bishops just got de-excommunicated) is religious freedom: whether “coercive state power ought … be put behind the truth-claims of the Catholic Church or any other religious body.”

That obviously can’t be the issue. If it were, with modernity saying “religious freedom” where the SSPX says “no,” it would be impossible to explain why one of their bishops is now liable to criminal prosecution in Europe for what amounts to blasphemy: denying the factual reality of the moral absolute on which the public order of the EU grounds itself (that is to say, minimizing or denying the Holocaust).

Man may not be monolithic, but he’s unitary and social, and he can’t keep ultimate considerations out of how he lives with others. That being so, the public order will always have a religious dimension. Since that order is backed by coercion, and it affects the whole of life, its implicit religious claims will in some ways be backed by coercion as well. That’s just the human condition. Descriptions of a neutral and tolerant liberal order never seem realistic and in fact never really apply.

As a Catholic neoconservative, Weigel believes the circle can be squared: liberal modernity and Catholicism can each be trimmed so that each can accept the other in its integrity. He says that’s post-Vatican II Church doctrine, and the SSPX has to accept it. The result, supposedly, will be a secular public order that Catholicism can thrive in as a full participant, and fully accept as a matter of principle.

What good though does it do to claim that any such thing is possible, or that Alexis de Tocqueville or Vatican II—which in fact said it left existing social doctrine untouched—repeal reality?

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