Fimister noted that in his argument, Maritain is "in no way repudiating the fulness of the papal claims to dominion over the temporal order in the middle ages; he upholds all of those doctrines, and then comes up with a complicated and very subtle way to try and bypass them. And Paul VI was a huge fan of Maritain; I don't think he incorporates the erroneous parts of Maritain's position into Dignitatis humanae, but I think he was very impressed by Maritain's philosophy, and I think … it was the kind of arguments Maritain presents in that book which made Paul VI think a document of that nature was worth doing."
To promote a proper understanding of Dignitatis humanae, Fr. Crean urged that we must begin "by taking seriously what it says in the opening paragraph that it leaves intact the traditional teaching of the Church on the duty of men and states to the true religion and the Church of Christ. If people do take that seriously, which they have to, they'll want to know what that traditional teaching is. But very often that phrase seems to be just treated as a rhetorical gloss that was put in at the last moment, in order to get the document passed. And it was put in at the last moment to get the document passed, but it's not just a rhetorical gloss, it's a very important statement. Until people start taking that seriously, and understand that doctrines taught by the Church can't be contradictory to other doctrines previously taught by the Church, we're not going to get anywhere."
Fimister added: "When Paul VI inserts that clause about not contradicting what's been previously taught by the Church on this subject, he means it; he's not being disingenuous or duplicitous. As a Maritainian he really means that they don't" contradict that teaching.
"It's a pretty big bar to set, but in a sense we're trying to show a non-Maritainian solution to the problem posed by promulgated documents which are inspired by Maritain's ideas, but not ultimately teaching them," he stated.
Speaking again about Dignitatis humanae, Fimister recommended the thought of Thomas Pink, whom he said has shown "that the actual points taught by Dignitatis humanae are not irreconcilable, they are are very careful conceived so as not to be irreconcilable, with the previous tradition. And that allows one to, without perhaps stressing out constantly about the council and potential crises, as it were, go back with relief and joy to 2,000 years of Catholic wisdom on the proper organization of political society, which has been sort of sealed off from the generations after Vatican II because of this perception of rupture," which "is just a mistake."
"Whatever the prudence of phrasing things precisely in the way they were phrased, there isn't a rupture there, and I think Pink has been brilliant in showing that Paul VI really very much didn't want there to be a rupture there; it's not just that as it happened, he wanted a rupture but there wasn't one. He really didn't want there to be one."
One of the motives for writing their book, Fr. Crean said, "is this rift in the Church which de facto has been caused by Vatican II, and this abiding idea that things are different now, that Catholics shouldn't think now as they did in the past about political things. So it's a book which will be able to heal that wound in the Catholic mentality."
What to do in the present day
Turning to political engagement in the status quo, keeping in mind "what one is ultimately trying to achieve," Fimister reflected that "people easily fall into the idea of thinking that natural reason or natural law is somehow atheistic or agnostic, and they forget that the first requirement of the natural law and of natural reason is to worship God in the manner he has appointed."
He noted that in Longinqua, his 1895 encyclical on Catholicism in the United States, Leo XIII said "that the constitutional organization of the US is as it were not unreasonable in the context of the great religious plurality in the US, but our concrete action in a situation like that needs to be influenced, and is highly informed by, the fact that one realizes it's a provisional situation. And insofar as some kind of neutrality is reasonable in a society where Catholics are a minority, it has to be a theistic neutrality, not an agnostic neutrality. So it needs to be provisional and it needs to be theistic. That makes a big difference in how you view what you should and shouldn't be doing in the temporal order."
Speaking to the present-day situation, Fimister noted the importance of parental choice in education – which includes the use of funds for private education – while Fr. Crean commented that "people have to be ready to make gestures of defiance to unjust laws. I think it's very important that they be backed up by the hierarchy strongly when that happens."
"I was very sad to see how little resistance there has been to the attempt to get people to act as registars" for same-sex marriages, the priest noted.
He discussed Kim Davis, a former county clerk in Kentucky who refused to issue marriage licenses after the US Supreme Court found that same-sex couples have the right to marry. She was briefly jailed.
"She should have been championed by all the bishops, for example," Fr. Crean said. "Individual people making heroic gestures, and then being strongly backed up by the bishops, that is the kind of thing that can have an important influence on the public mind, I think."
Fimister commented that Davis "was defended on the wrong grounds; she was defended by Catholics on the ground of religious freedom, but that was counterproductive because the fact that same-sex acts are contrary to the moral law, and that such activities are of no social benefit, and shouldn't be specially recognized and privileged by society and made equivalent to marriage, is something knowable by natural reason; and the fact that one shouldn't recognize laws which are contrary to the natural law is also something knowable by natural reason; and that therefore she was acting correctly and legally by ignoring a law that is contrary to the natural law is a very important point, and all of that was missed by people defending her on the basis of religious liberty, which is a ridiculous argument."
As a thought experiment, he offered the idea of someone from an ecclesial community associated with apartheid who believe interracial marriage to be intrinsically immoral.
If "you had some adherents of that who refused to issue marriage licenses to people of different ethnicities, it would be absurd to defend their right to do that on the grounds of religious liberty. So there's no way of bracketing the substantive point, and then crying about religious liberty; it's an irrelevant consideration."
In their work, Fr. Crean and Fimister write that "while it is fitting that there be some juridic order between temporal commonwealths, it is unnecessary and unwise to seek to constitute an international political society."
Fimister commented that there are three possibilities among international relations: a purely international organization; a supranational organization in which sovereignty is pooled; and an originally sovereign supranational jurisdiction.
The UN, he said, is meant to be a purely international organization "which recognizes the full sovereignty of its members, and is simply a context in which friendly relations and discussions between them can be facilitated. And such an order … doesn't assume that there's any kind of universal jurisdiction in the temporal order" over member states.
He cited the EU as an example of an organization with pooled sovereignty, "so that the member states of the EU are at root sovereign, but they have bestowed their sovereignty in certain designated areas upon the common institutions which they have created, as it were, in the international order by treaty, and those treaties then create a supranational bubble, as it were, in which sovereign powers which are borrowed from the member states are exercised by collective institutions."
"That can be more dangerous," he explained, "it can work, but it can be more dangerous, because it's further removed from the natural units of human society. One of the big criticisms of the European Union, which arose in the course of the debates in Britain about leaving it, the way it's often expressed by British politicians, is there's no European demos, there's no corresponding natural political community to the political community created by that pooled sovereignty, and consequently nobody is really holding that entity to account; there are institutions which in theory could hold it to account, but as there are no real people who correspond to those institutions, they are a bit nominal … so that's why that's a bit of a problem."
As for original supranational jurisdiction which is not delegated by member states, Fimister said that it "would have to be created by the Holy See, because on the natural level there isn't any natural sovereignty of a universal nature; that sovereignty comes about through man's recognition of the supernatural end and the authority of the Holy See, so to create that kind of universal default supranational jurisdiction would belong to the Holy See."
Their work concludes with a brief postscript on "what the Law does not tell you", reflecting on neighborhood and friendship: "Like the lawyer who questioned Christ, Aristotle, the model of natural reason, does not know who is neighbour is … Friendship with God, it would seem to the rationalist, is impossible."
It is in the revelation of God's offer of friendship to man, they write, that friendship is itself purified and Christ destroys the boundaries "erected by man's self-enclosed and fallen reason."