A Paradigm Shift in the Catholic Church: Recognising Religious Freedom and Secular Autonomy

Mozes Noda


This paper explores the shift in the position of the Catholic Church regarding religious freedom, in the context of the changing perspective on the relationship between Church and State. The Declaration Dignitatis humanae of Vatican II recognised religious freedom as a human right deriving from the dignity of the person. It reflected a significant change in perspective as it understood religious freedom as abidance by convictions held in conscience and as freedom from coercion. Both the State and the Church are expected to ensure freedom from external coercion and from psychological pressure. The process which led to the recognition of religious freedom in the Catholic Church went along with the acknowledgement of the autonomy of the State in secular matters. The State is expected to recognise the freedom to profess freely religious beliefs and the right to free worship, but religious freedom may not interfere with secular authority in its own sphere of competence. Dignitatis humanae is therefore known as the declaration of the separation between Church and State. Yet, a more attentive lecture shows that it actually also advances a balanced model for the collaboration between State and Church in the shared concern for the common good. Both are required to (inter)act in a manner that advances the common welfare of society.


Religious freedom, Vatican II, Dignitatis humanae, dignity of the person, freedom of conscience, separation between Church and State, common good

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