Religion: The Right to Tolerance

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"There's no question of innovation, but only of clarification," protested black-haired Jesuit Father Antonio Messineo in Rome last week. Those who regarded his article in the Jesuit fortnightly Civiltâ Cattolica as something new in Roman Catholic thought, he said, were wrong. Father Messineo's conclusion had been that "tolerance is a duty of both individuals and states towards those who have accepted error and profess error." This tolerance, reasoned Messineo, rises out of the respect due to the human person and to his God-given right of exercising his reason and working out his own destiny. "It logically follows," he wrote, "that there is a right to tolerance, and that such a right is vested in the human person. This expression may cause some surprise, but . . . the only method to lead a person towards truth and away from error is the method of persuasion."

But tolerance must always be directed to individuals and not to their errors, and it must never proceed from indifference. "Right can only be on the side of truth . . . but there are three theological reasons why tolerance . . . is a duty." In the field of practical politics, wrote Messineo, politics may be dictated by prudence; in personal relations it is dictated by charity, and is required in recognition of each individual's right to move freely in search of truth.

In an informal elaboration of his views, Father Messineo added: "Today tolerance is taking a larger place than ever in Catholic concept, because this is a democratic age and democracy stresses the rights of individuals . . . You'll see that when the Dutch Catholics become a majority,* Holland will be a tolerant country—not because Dutch Catholics are indifferent to truth, not because they'll deem it prudent to be tolerant, nor again out of charity, but because they are aware of the individual rights of non-Catholics to tolerance."

* Roman Catholics in The Netherlands now number 3,703,000, Protestants 4,250,000.