Saturday, December 22, 2007

Hans Küng: Still Speaking from the Heart of the Church

Now here’s some exciting news: the second volume of Hans Küng’s autobiography has recently been published – though, from what I can gather, I may have to wait awhile before I can read it, as an English translation is still forthcoming.

Never fear, the always informed and erudite Joseph O’Leary has written a compelling review of the German edition.

Following are excerpts from Joseph’s review:

The second volume of Hans Küng’s autobiography (“Umstrittene Wahrheit: Erinnerungen,” Munich, Piper, 2007) is an “Apologia pro Vita Sua” worthy of comparison with Newman’s. It covers the years from 1967 to 1980, and reveals in great detail and clarity exactly how the Second Vatican Council was betrayed by a Curia hostile to reform and, more crucially, by the cowardice and opportunism of a great number of bishops and theologians, willing to sign their own death warrant rather than challenge power and sacrifice worldly advancement. Had he dipped his pen in the acid of Zola or Flaubert, Küng’s panorama of mediocrity would have sizzled. He prefers to write plainly, sine ira et studio, and to emanate a forgiving and understanding benevolence on all.

As self-vindications go, the result is an astonishing success. The very many laity and clergy who have imbibed prejudice against Küng will certainly be obliged to modify their perceptions if they read this book. In it, a simple man addresses us honestly and calmly over hundreds of pages, never raising his voice, but quietly insisting on the integrity of his testimony. He shows that what irritated the authorities was not any alleged heresy but the ‘tone and style’ of his public persona, his willingness to speak openly to the media and to criticize the betrayal of the Council, and his unwillingness to present himself before the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in view of its refusal to reform itself as mandated by Paul VI in 1965 and its practice of judicial procedures incompatible with universally recognized norms of legality and justice.

. . . What, finally, was Küng’s intolerable offence? Simply this: that he took theology seriously, that he kept on nagging at it, that he raised the questions of truth and justice within the Catholic theological world. This single-minded passion upset a card-castle of bureaucratic custom and vested interests. Küng’s voice – so penetrating, so clear, and so deceptively simple (for its simplicity rests on the deepest theological foundations) – simply could not be tolerated. But Küng was never excommunicated, nor did he walk away. Thus it is that his voice is still heard, loud and clear, speaking from the heart of the Church. It is the voice of a sane and healthy man, totally unfazed by the decades of abuse he has received, calling us to come out of a neurotic and regressive period in church history and to advance with boldness toward the future that Vatican II glimpsed.

As executive coordinator of CPCSM, I facilitated, in the fall of 2005, a six-session program in which participants read and discussed Hans Küng’s The Catholic Church: A Short History. It’s a great, readily accessible book, and I highly recommend it.

I chose this particular book because, as I said at the time, I strongly believe that in order to understand and participate fully and credibly in the Roman Catholic Church of the present (including respectfully dialoguing, questioning, and, when necessary, critiquing), we need to understand the Church’s ongoing journey of development. And Küng’s book is the perfect resource for just such an understanding.

Here’s the brief biography of Küng that I used when announcing the book study group in the fall 2005 issue of CPCSM’s Rainbow Spirit journal:

Hans Küng obtained a doctorate in theology from Sorbonne in 1957. In 1962 he was named a theological consultant for the Second Vatican Council by Pope John XXIII, and he played a major role in the writing of the documents of Vatican II, which radically modernized key areas of Catholic theology. He is the author of numerous books, teaches in Tübingen, Germany, and founded the Institute for Ecumenical Research, of which he was director.

Although his permission to teach was withdrawn by the Church in 1979, Küng has remained unswervingly faithful to the Church in what he calls, “critical loyalty.” He remains professor of ecumenical theology and a Catholic priest in good standing. He has been on record as saying: “I affirm the papacy for the Catholic Church, but at the same time indefatigably call for a radical reform of it in accordance with the criterion of the gospel.”

Recommended Off-site Links:
He Could Have Been A Contender - An article on Hans Küng by Robert Blair Kaiser (National Catholic Reporter, January 6, 2006).
My Struggle for Freedom - The first volume of Hans Küng’s autobiography.

For more of Hans Küng at The Wild Reed, visit:
Casanova-inspired Reflections of Papal Power – at 30,000 Ft.

For other Catholic theologians highlighted at The Wild Reed, visit:
In the Garden of Spirituality: Uta Ranke-Heinemann
John Allen on the Censuring of Jon Sobrino
Paul Collins and Marilyn Hatton
“The Non-negotiables of Human Sex”– An Interview with Daniel Helminiak
In the Garden of Spirituality: Joan Timmerman
Mary Hunt and Our Catholic “Stonewall Moment”

See also the related Wild Reed posts:
Beyond Papalism
Thoughts on Authority and Fidelity
It’s Time We Evolved Beyond Theological Imperialism
“Uncle Vince” is at it Again
Beyond a PC Pope

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