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.