It’s ok for Catholics to think and talk!

A statement has been released by Hans Küng to the media about a letter he received from Pope Francis. The English version was released simultaneously by National Catholic Reporter and The Tablet.
Hans Küng
On March 9, my appeal to Pope Francis to give room to a free, unprejudiced and open-ended discussion on the problem of infallibility appeared in the leading journals of several countries. I was thus overjoyed to receive a personal reply from Francis immediately after Easter. Dated March 20, it was forwarded to me from the nunciature in Berlin.
In the pope’s reply, the following points are significant for me:

  • The fact that Francis answered at all and did not let my appeal fall on deaf ears, so to speak;
  • The fact that he replied himself and not via his private secretary or the secretary of state;
  • That he emphasizes the fraternal manner of his Spanish reply by addressing me as Lieber Mitbruder(“Dear Brother”) in German and puts this personal address in italics;
  • That he clearly read the appeal, to which I had attached a Spanish translation, most attentively;
  • That he is highly appreciative of the considerations that had led me to write Volume 5 of my complete works, in which I suggest theologically discussing the different issues that the infallibility dogma raises in the light of holy Scripture and tradition with the aim of deepening the constructive dialogue between the “semper reformanda” 21st-century church and the other Christian churches and postmodern society.

Francis has set no restrictions. He has thus responded to my request to give room to a free discussion on the dogma of infallibility. I think it is now imperative to use this new freedom to push ahead with the clarification of the dogmatic definitions, which are a ground for controversy within the Catholic church and in its relationship to the other Christian churches.
I could not have foreseen then quite how much new freedom Francis would open up in his post-synodal exhortation, Amoris Laetitia. Already in the introduction, he declares, “Not all discussions of doctrinal, moral or pastoral issues need to be settled by interventions of the magisterium.”
He takes issue with “cold bureaucratic morality” and does not want bishops to continue behaving as if they were “arbiters of grace.” He sees the Eucharist not as a reward for the perfect but as “nourishment for the weak.”
He repeatedly quotes statements made at the episcopal synod or from national bishops’ conferences. Francis no longer wants to be the sole spokesman of the church.
This is the new spirit that I have always expected from the magisterium. I am fully convinced that in this new spirit a free, impartial and open-ended discussion of the infallibility dogma, this fateful key question of destiny for the Catholic church, will be possible.
I am deeply grateful to Francis for this new freedom and combine my heartfelt thanks with the expectation that the bishops and theologians will unreservedly adopt this new spirit and join in this task in accordance with the Scriptures and with our great church tradition.
(This article was translated from the German by Christa Pongratz-Lippitt.)

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  1. Bernard Whelan says:

    It would have been very interesting to see the actual text of the Pope’s letter to Hans Küng, if only to allay any suspicion that Dr Küng was being a little too sanguine in his interpretation of the letter. However, assuming that Dr Küng’s understanding is correct, and that open and free discussion of the issue of infallibility is officially authorised, we have cause for rejoicing not only for that very fact, but also that Pope Francis really is learning on the job. Cynical old soul that I am, early in Francis’s papacy I began to wonder whether his open, informal and non-authoritarian style was anything more than that – style rather than substance. This feeling was backed up by such matters as his dismissal of the idea of women priests (“the Church has spoken and said no”), purely on the say-so of one of his predecessors, and the way in which he dealt with a letter from Mary McAleese in February last year, appealing for his intervention in the case of Tony Flannery – simply passing her letter on to the CDF, which was a virtual guarantee that nothing would be done.
    So now, the fact that he is willing to respond so positively to a letter on such a controversial issue, and that he is willing to permit open discussion of matter on which he might well have said that the church had spoken definitively, does provide further grounds for real hope of much-needed reform.

  2. The ice is slowly melting.

  3. It makes it even more important that Hans Kung is re-instated as a Catholic teacher (April 17th thread on this site). Don’t let’s distrust his interpretation of the letter he has received from Francis; rather praise his respect for a confidential exchange.
    Maybe as suggested this is a positive aspect of global warming.

  4. Most of you will have seen this already but for those who do not get the Tablet this is what the leading article this week has to say about Francis’ and Hans’ discourse on infallibility. Given that most people seems scared stiff to say anything about infallibility, this could be the beginnings of something really amazing.
    God bless the Pope and very long life too.
    Kung pins hope on Francis Premium
    28 April 2016
    Professor Hans Küng, long regarded as the enfant terrible among Catholic theologians though he is now an illustrious 88-year-old, has asked Pope Francis to open a theological dialogue on the subject of infallibility. He says the Pope’s response, which he has just received, has been positive. This is not hard to believe. Ever since his election to the papacy, Pope Francis has acted as if the dialogue Professor Küng wants has already occurred and the result is settled. Francis is as undogmatic a pope as it is possible to imagine. But if this amounts to a redefinition of the papal teaching office in practice, what need is there to revisit a theory that has, so to speak, been left behind?
    The answer is to do with a phrase that Küng coined a long time ago, “creeping infallibility”. In nearly 150 years there has been only one clear example of the exercise of the power to teach infallibly ex cathedra as described by the First Vatican Council – the proclamation of the dogma of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary in 1950. But according to Professor Küng the notion that papal teaching is protected from error by the Holy Spirit has spread, over the centuries, until it covers almost every papal utterance. He has asked the radical question – what is the basis for this assumption? And there are no easy answers. The mistake, if it is a mistake, goes to the heart of the modern papacy and the role it has played in the Catholic Church in recent years. Until recently it was still the predominant and “official” view. Many still hold it.
    This is well illustrated in the discussion that followed the publication of Pope Francis’s exhortation Amoris Laetitia. Conservative critics were appalled that he appeared to have contradicted “the teaching of the Church”, particularly over the admission of divorced and remarried Catholics to Holy Communion. Many of his defenders replied that he had not, though they have not explained how his position can be squared with the uncompromising words of Pope John Paul II in his 1981 document Familiaris Consortio. “They are unable to be admitted thereto from the fact that their state and condition of life objectively contradict that union between Christ and the Church which is signified and effected by the Eucharist,” he declared, with no exceptions for hard cases. There is no doubt, furthermore, that this rule was long-standing and had only been called into question in recent years. By ignoring it, Francis conveyed that he thought it was a mistake. Indeed, the majority at two synods of bishops on the family, to which he was responding, seemed to think so too – or so their silence on the point implied.
    There are a host of other controversial questions which over the years have been similarly settled by a papal fiat, ranging from birth control to women’s ordination. If Hans Küng is right, none of them can be regarded as definitive and binding, even when they have been labelled as such. But whether Pope Francis wants to open these floodgates just now must be uncertain. Having navigated the Church through one difficult debate, he may be looking for some peace and quiet. On the other hand, Professor Küng has been waiting a very long time and will not live for ever

  5. Since we are talking about reform in the Church, this, below, is an excellent review of Gabriel Daly’s book by Richard Gaillardetz in this weeks Tablet.
    There is no longer a space for further comment below the original piece on this site reviewing the book.
    Books > The intractable battle
    The intractable battle Premium
    28 April 2016 | by Richard Gaillardetz |
    The intractable battle
    The Church: always in need of reform
    Gabriel Daly, OSA
    A righteous anger reverberates from the Irish theologian Gabriel Daly. He has witnessed sundry abuses at the hands of an authoritarian Church and now, in the autumn of his life, he speaks out. He is not content to offer a laundry list of favourite ecclesiastical reforms; Daly’s reformist agenda follows upon a sophisticated theological analysis.
    Daly has written extensively on the early-twentieth-century anti-modernist controversy. During that sad chapter of church history, ecclesiastical authorities hounded a number of “modernist” theologians who were guilty of little more than a commitment to integrate historical consciousness and a respect for human experience into their account of the Christian faith. Daly fears the pontificates of John Paul II and Benedict XVI have recalled the fearsome spectre of anti-modernist purge. He acknowledges the more open atmosphere Francis has created, but wonders whether he may fall prey to the very theological errors that a successful reform must address: integralism and essentialism.
    Catholic integralism reduces divine revelation to an “integral” set of doctrinal propositions, such that to challenge any one teaching is to undermine revelation itself. Integralism, Daly contends, is a repudiation of history and a denial of the necessity for a contextual and differentiated appropriation of church teaching. Integralism is evident in the Magisterium’s persistent prohibition of responsible debate regarding relatively peripheral teachings on contraception and women’s ordination. It feeds a Catholic fundamentalism that represents a failure of the imagination, a failure to recognise the revelatory power of the poetic and metaphorical.
    The best response to the error of integralism, Daly insists, is a more robust reception of the Second Vatican Council’s theology of revelation. The council taught that it was Christ who “was the mediator and sum total of divine revelation”, and not a set of doctrines. It did not deny the necessity of church doctrine, but it insisted on a hierarchy of truths in which the Church’s teachings must be understood in relation to the fundamental gospel message.
    For Daly, the second theological error haunting the Church today is an essentialism that treats the human person, for example, in abstract, legal and metaphysical categories and simply ignores “concern for the dignity and self-worth of any human being”. This absolute essentialism (for Daly admits that Catholic teaching requires a qualified essentialism) leaves little room for “failure, repentance, or forgiveness and compassion” in our pastoral care for the divorced and remarried. It also leads to absolutist moral categories such as “intrinsic evil”, that obscure the more complex reality of human sexuality.
    Both integralism and essentialism require coercive ecclesiastical structures bent on absolute control of church debate. Daly attacks the persistent abuse of power perpetuated by the Church’s rigid hierarchical structures in general and, in particular, the oppressive activity of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The rigidly hierarchical structure of church ministry and leadership presents an impediment to authentic reform. Daly challenges an observation made by the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger that because church leadership structures are sacramental they must be hierarchical. He questions – rightly – why only hierarchical structures can be sacramental. Daly also criticises the sacralisation of hierarchical institutions and structures. What precludes more democratic structures from also possessing a sacramental character? This opens a central ecclesiological question that Daly largely passes over. How can we affirm that our church structures have a genuinely sacramental character, without succumbing to a sacralisation of those structures as a cover for resistance to reform?
    How best to conduct the reform Daly sees as necessary? We must recognise an intractable battle between liberal Catholics and conservative Catholics: a battle that, Daly insists, admits of “no possibility of consensus between them”. Appealing by way of analogy to his own Irish context, he argues that this ecclesiastical battle is not unlike the conflict between Nationalists and Unionists. Just as there can be no genuine consensus between those two political movements, we should be sceptical of the possibility of consensus between Catholic liberals and conservatives. The best we can hope for is a kind of uneasy truce.
    Daly even criticises Pope Francis for mistakenly pursuing such a “consensus” among opposing church parties. But does not a commitment to the catholicity of the Church require a third option beyond a suppression of disagreement on the one hand, and a reluctant tolerance of a diversity of views, on the other?
    Where Daly is most on the mark, however, is not in his despair at ever reaching consensus between liberals and conservatives, but in his acknowledgement of ecclesiastical power relations that have stacked the deck against liberals. He is right to decry the heavy-handed authoritarianism that marked the successive pontificates of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, and in his conviction that substantive, indeed radical, reform of ecclesiastical church leader­ship is essential for the vitality of the Church today. Such a reformist agenda would almost certainly garner an enthusiastic endorsement from the current Bishop of Rome.

  6. declan cooney says:

    could anyone tell me why Hans Kung was dismissed from his teaching post?
    Was he following Church teaching?

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