Appeared in Spring 2001, Vol. XXVI, No. 1

Father Brian W. Harrison, O.S., well-known to readers of this journal, has been widely noticed for his efforts directed toward showing that there is no inconsistency, and that there is indeed a legitimate continuity, between the doctrine of the second Vatican Council concerning religious liberty, as set forth in Dignitatis Humanae (hereafter “DH”), and that of the pre-conciliar Church. Fr. Harrison’s views are to be found in his book Religious Liberty and Contraception1 (hereafter “RLC”), and as modified or augmented in several articles or book reviews.2

In a lengthy article such as this, I do not propose to discuss exhaustively all the many issues, doctrinal and historical, upon which I find myself in agreement or disagreement, as the case may be, with Fr. Harrison. However, I shall here focus upon what he holds to be a legitimate interpretation of DH’s doctrine, and how he undertakes to demonstrate that this interpretation is consistent with what he understands to be pre-conciliar doctrine. What I hope to illustrate is that Fr. Harrison’s interpretation of the doctrine of DH on religious liberty is unjustified, and that his thesis as to how that doctrine can be reconciled with pre-conciliar doctrine is fundamentally flawed.

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