A doctrinal system that exalts the attitude (internal) that all philosophical opinions, all religions, and all ethical doctrines regarding life are equally true and valuable. Accordingly, no one religion contains certain truth. It differs from religious tolerance (in which a religion— considered false—is permitted to exist), from irreligion (in which all religions are judged to be false), from civil religious freedom of conscience (in which the state makes no judgment about the value of various forms of worship), and from religious neutrality (in which the state does not become involved in religious controversy). It also differs from practical religious indifference, which is the neglect of religious practice arising from contempt of religion or from psychological, sociological, and environmental factors. Syncretism, or the fusion of various creeds by surrendering certain dogmatic or moral teachings, is the outgrowth of religious indifferentism.
pius ix, in his Syllabus of Errors, condemned certain propositions under the heading of indifferentism, such as that man has a right to absolute freedom of religion and that one can come to salvation through any religion whatever. vatican council II, employing a pastoral approach, reappraised the topics of communicatio in sacris, irreligious indifferentism, irenicism, and religious freedom.
Communicatio in sacris. This means common worship (i.e., sharing in the official, public prayer of a Church). The Decree on Ecumenism replaced the strict attitude of Canon Law (e.g., 1917 CIC cc. 732; 1258;2319), which prohibited active participation on the grounds that other Christian communities lacked the character of a Church. Reversing this position, the Decree recommended a discriminating (not general) participation in the worship and Sacraments of other Churches (Unitatis redintegratio 8), particularly of the separated Eastern Churches (cf. Orientalium Ecclesiarum 26–29; Ecumenical Directory of the Secretariat for Unity, Part I, 39–54). The Decree provided two principles for avoiding religious indifferentism: first, liturgical worship and the Sacraments signify an already existing—even if not perfect—unity of the Church and thus general participation cannot be applied in most cases; second, as a means of grace for the faithful, liturgical worship and the Sacraments also contribute to the growth of unity.
Irreligious Indifferentism. Such indifferentism was divided into postulatory atheism of the West and atheistic communism of the East. The pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World places atheism in its treatment on the question of man: that is, atheism is not considered from a metaphysical or epistemological perspective but is viewed in terms of an authentic desire for true humanism (Gaudium et spes 19–21). Postulatory atheism stresses the absence of God and the value of man alone on the existential level. Disregarding the economic and political aspects of atheistic communism of the East, the Decree refers to previous repudiations of communism; it then urges the Church to reflect on its own defective humanism and its role in the growth of Marxism. Irreligious indifferentism thus has its roots more in man's attempt to become truly human than in any positive act against God or religious institutions. Since Vatican II, lib eration theology has attempted to develop humanistic principles (based on the dignity of man and his freedom as a Christian) that seek to avoid both postulatory atheism and atheistic communism (see atheism).
Irenicism. As a conciliatory approach to doctrine, irenicism may be true or false. The Decree on Ecumenism rejects false irenicism, or the partial disclosure or diluting of tenets on either side of a dialogue to achieve peaceful union; it is contrary to the spirit of ecumenism and leads to mutual deception. On the contrary, the Decree encourages true irenicism, which avoids polemics, practices brotherly love, recognizes goodness and truth wherever found and emphasizes common aspects and presents Catholic doctrine more profoundly, more precisely, and more fully in a mutually understandable language (Unitatis redintegratio 11).
Religious Freedom. The Declaration on Religious Freedom, basing its position on the dignity of the human person (fully known only in the light of Revelation), insisted on two negatively stated rights: (1) no man may be compelled in the religious sphere to act in a manner contrary to his conscience; (2) within due limits no one may be prevented from acting in accordance with his conscience (Dignitatis humanae 2). The document considers only the moral dimensions of religious freedom—rights whose object is freedom from coercion but not the content of religious faith—and thus does not pass judgment on the problems of the true or the erroneous conscience. Regardless of former practices, a person today, whether believer or nonbeliever, has the right not to be prevented from practicing his religion, whether privately or publicly. Religious freedom thus leads to religious pluralism which, however, is not to be confused with religious indifference; religious pluralism is based on the right to profess and practice one's religion and makes no value judgment on truth and error; religious indifference, however, suggests that all religions equally possess truth and thus have equal value.
Bibliography: w. g. topmoeller, The Problem of Dogmatic Indifferentism according to John Henry Cardinal Newman (Rome 1956). j. feiner, "Decree on Ecumenism," Vorgrimler 2: 57–164. h. hoeck, "Decree on Eastern Catholic Churches," ibid. 1: 307–331. n. molinski, "Indifferentism," Sacramentum Mundi 3: 120–121, p. pavan, "Declaration on Human Freedom," Vorgrimler 4: 49–86. j. ratzinger, "Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World," Part One, Introd. and ch. 1, "Dignity of the Human Person," ibid. 5: 115–163. Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity, Directorium…de re oecumenica, Pars 1, Acta Apostolicae Sedis 59 (1967) 574–592, tr. Directory for the Application of the Decisions of the Second Vatican Council concerning Ecumenical Matters, Part I (USCC Publ. Office, Washington, D.C.1967).
[t. f. mcmahon/eds.]