Pope Francis should restore Hans Kung’s credentials as a Catholic Teacher

This week saw the English publication of Hans Kung’s book ‘Can we save the Catholic Church? Now in his mid-eighties, a prophetic voice in the Church during and since the Vatican Council, Kung continues his critical analysis of the Church he has been faithful to all his life. This latest book, one in a long line of publications over the years by Kung, is incisive and sharp, as is so much of his writing. It is also a very accessible read. He examines, over a text running to some 350 pages, the historical background detail that precedes our present circumstances.

Much of his criticism surrounds the absolutist-centralist position of the papacy and the evident need for the collegiality propounded by the Council to become a reality. He refers to Karl Rahner’s interview published in 1990, “Faith in a Wintry Season”, published some six years after his death in ‘84. In this interview Rahner described the Church as having fallen in to a “Wintry Season”, an apt description of the early years of John Paul II and in the years that followed his pontificate and that of Benedict, the gradual wind-back of the vision that sparkled in expectancy with the conclusion of the Council, continued apace.

Kung later refers to his own Open Letter to the Bishops published in 2010. He received not a single response to his statement of concern. He writes “Not only was there no positive reaction, but also no negative reaction, only complete and utter silence”. Had Kung become so much of an outcast that no one dare comment for fear of association? Read his letter again and you will appreciate the words of someone deeply concerned with the integrity of the Church. In the last interview given by Cardinal Martini, and published posthumously, he spoke of the Church being 200 years behind times. Why can’t we listen to prophets whilst they are still alive?

This latest critique by Hans Kung is at times a painful read, for he honestly confronts the Church as it is and yet lays out a future that continues the Gospel mission of the Church if only we recognise our present reality and respond to it. The English edition of this book was published by William Collins on October 10th, a year to the day since the gathering at Heythrop College that established “A Call for Action” here in the UK (www.acalltoaction.org.uk).

Over the period of months since that meeting, ACTA has established itself as a concerned group within the Church in the UK and support continues to grow. With the inspirational hope engendered in the Church by Francis, maybe we are now entering a period of real dialogue and that a pilgrim Church will thrive in a new landscape.

Kung’s book is a serious and valued contribution to our current discussions. This publication deserves a wide audience in the English speaking world. A most significant and charitable action towards Kung would be for Francis to restore Kung’s credentials as a Catholic Teacher who, throughout these difficult years has remained a priest in good standing. The restoration of Teilhard de Chardin only came after his death. It would be a pity if history were to repeat itself.


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  1. Peter McCann says:

    Problem is, he’s not a Catholic teacher. His latest public comment is about his desire to have himself euthanised. He needs our prayers.

  2. I might as well make this comment under this item as there is nowhere better than any other.
    The other day I accidentally came across a proboards thread devoted exclusively to commenting, or more correctly keeping an eye on, the ACP. If you are not already aware of it you should be. Not that it is worth paying too much attention to, but it is as well to know what is out there.
    It is run by a character who calls himself Hibernicus and appears to have some Vincentian connections.
    There are 248 postings on the thread which has been viewed over 14,000 times.
    I only found it because the guy was having a pop at me.
    to which I have now replied

  3. For me Hans Kung bears the true mark of a follower of Jesus of Nazareth. Just as Jesus was a thorn in the side of his Jewish religious authorities during his life so too has Hans Kung been ‘a thorn in the Vatican’s side for almost 40 years’ His open letter to the Bishops of the world was a powerful plea for solidarity, “Do not keep silent: By keeping silent in the face of so many serious grievances, you taint yourselves with guilt. When you feel that certain laws, directives and measures are counterproductive, you should say this in public. Send Rome not professions of your devotion, but rather calls for reform’. Just like the Bishops, Jesus’ friends melted away when he most needed them.
    As for euthanasia, there are many ways and reasons to embrace death, war, dying to save the life of another, walking purposefully to a Crucifixion. I would be slow to judge the inner motivations of another person.
    Pol @2. I wonder is Dan Browne aware of Hibernicus, he would make a good lead character in one of his novels.

  4. Nuala, I completely agree with you on Hans Kung. Throughout our recent ” dark ages ” which ended, I think — I hope — on March 13th this year, Hans Kung was one of the consistent voices of reason. I went to hear him about 10 years ago in McEwan Hall here in Edinburgh thinking I would probably not understand a word he said, but wanting to be in his presence anyway so that I could, one day, tell my grandchildren. However, I was able to understand every word he said. He was absolutely marvellous. Many years ago I decided I had to read “On being a Christian” Well, I took it on holiday three consecutive years and could never get past page 50 so, eventually, I gave up. I suppose that is why I feared I would not understand very much of what he would say in McEwan Hall. After giving up on “On being a Christian”, I did read “Infallible -an inquiry” — twice in fact. This little book is, of course, a masterpiece. Infact,I read it again this summer on holiday.
    Nuala, I am so enjoying your pieces on this site. You are now one of the true “educators” on this precious ACP site. Thank you, Nuala.

  5. Paddy, that’s why I made a point above in my review of the book that it is an accessible read. His language is direct and his points clear.
    There will be some who dislike his clarity of thought and the concluions he draws from both distant and recent events. So be it.
    There are too many correspondents on a multitude of websites who only want to live in the holy comfort zone of history. And Hans Kung is not one of them….

  6. Clear and to the point Fr Chris @5. Could I also say well said to Paddy, re Nuala’s contributions. And by her own admission she is just about “Hanging on in there”. Jesus is still weeping.

  7. Ger, Father yes, of three ….children and eight grandchildren! and never ordained. Being secretary of the movement for married clergy in the UK,I have a certain interest in the issues…

  8. Sorry Chris, but if my comments gave a smile to your wife, children, and grandchildren, sure no harm was done. Keep up the good work as secretary for married clergy in the UK. Keep smiling.

  9. Patricia Taylor says:

    I have just responded to the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops survey, replying only to Number 10: asking for further comment. In a nutshell I advised the bishops to read Can We Save The Catholic Church by Hans Kung, a brave and enlightened man, and stated that I endorse all his suggestions to take our church back to its founder and shepherd, Jesus Christ and his gospels.

  10. Richard O'Donnell says:

    Paddy. Your comment, at 4 above, just made me conscious that I too am being educated and informed in a lovely way by Nuala. Or (I think, I shouldn’t start a sentence with “or”) as Pope Francis might say, being filled with the joy of the Gospel, even though I think it should be Gospels as there is much that is Gospel outside the four.

    There can be much joy in “just about hanging on in there.” We belong to a large group who have a lot in common. It is not a lonely or powerless place anymore.

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