“It is amazing that the Roman and German authorities have had that much patience with him”

A memorable taking down of the professional liberal martyr:

One can be justifiably annoyed by Küng’s poor taste in publicly questioning and throwing doubt on the Pope’s Christianity and then falsely claiming that in retaliation he was deprived of his teaching position. The disrespect with which he addresses the representatives of the Congregation is also irritating. But most aggravating is his obstinacy in leaving the bishops’ questions unanswered and, instead, focusing attention on Roman procedures which he deems unsatisfactory. His technique of prolonging the proceedings is, to say the least, provoking: he answers invitations too late or with a curt “I have no time,” or “it is mid-semester,” or “I am traveling,” or “I am writing a book.” It is amazing that the Roman and German authorities have had that much patience with him. One follows with anguish how those who were sincerely well disposed toward him become frustrated and finally write him off: Cardinal Volk writes, “I beg you from the depth of my heart to speak for once with Rome.” Cardinal Doepfner toward the end of his life concedes that if at long last the difficulties are not cleared up, “I will hardly be in a position to help” (p. 115). The Bishop of Rottenburg also loses heart: “An unpleasant sequel is unavoidable” (p. 185). Küng, in answer to continued pleas for revision, occasionally makes a promise or holds out hope for explanations to come in a new book.

The Roman procedures were “closed for the time being” on April 9, 1974, with a final warning to Küng to cease teaching what is incompatible and irreconcilable with Catholic doctrine, such as denying that the Church’s teaching authority derives directly from Christ or asserting that lay persons can validly celebrate the Eucharist in an emergency. Küng totally ignores these admonitions and says so specifically in his preface to Hassler’s second book on Vatican I, as well as in his theological meditations on truth inherent in the Church. At that time the Sacred Congregation called it to his attention that “it was the Church’s authority that gave him the faculty to teach theology, in the spirit of the Church’s authority and not from a point of view that distorts these teachings or casts doubt on them” (p. 104).

In the course of time dogmatic problems have become more numerous. Particularly after To Be a Christian appeared, not merely the Church’s authority but central tenets of Christology, teachings about the Trinity, about redemption and grace have been questioned. One shares the wish that Küng would take a clear stand on the essentials of the Credo. His answer is gruff: “I find it highly unreasonable that a confession of faith is demanded from me, a tenured professor of theology” (p. 147). But a few sentences further in the document he states: “These extremely subtle and complex questions that are asked from all theologians cannot be answered by the catechism” (p. 148). Avoidance tactics first to one then to the other side? Surely. But it still leaves us on the periphery of the real problem.

From “On the Withdrawal of Hans Küng’s Authorization to Teach” by Hans Urs von Balthasar, published in 1980. Read the whole thing at Communio, still the world’s best theological journal. And, for something more contemporary, here’s George Weigel elegantly and politely handing the good professor his arse.

21 Comments

  1. ejh said,

    April 24, 2010 at 4:20 pm

    with a final warning to Küng to cease teaching what is incompatible and irreconcilable with Catholic doctrine, such as denying that the Church’s teaching authority derives directly from Christ or asserting that lay persons can validly celebrate the Eucharist in an emergency

    This sort of thing does rather tend to undermine rather than support the thesis which the wider passage seeks to present.

  2. Phil said,

    April 24, 2010 at 6:23 pm

    Küng may have been a bit of ACAI, but this slapdown seems to consist mainly of “What made you think you could talk like that in here?” Which was pretty much Küng’s starting-point, as I understand it.

    • splinteredsunrise said,

      April 24, 2010 at 7:50 pm

      I think the point is – and the old boy has never accepted this – that if you’re going to be a professor of Catholic theology, it helps if you’re teaching something that vaguely resembles Catholic theology. It’s not an ideal position for someone who, going by his books, is barely even a Christian.

      • ejh said,

        April 24, 2010 at 9:21 pm

        Well, I think his point might be that what is and what is not Catholic theology is in fact not quite so clear, and that dogmatic interpretations thereof serve, often deliberately so, to prevent enquiry into that reality.

      • splinteredsunrise said,

        April 24, 2010 at 9:40 pm

        It is possible to argue, however, that somebody who actually denies the divinity of Christ is not merely interpreting Catholic theology in an undogmatic manner, any more than Ayn Rand was an undogmatic Marxist.

      • ejh said,

        April 25, 2010 at 6:52 am

        I think, however, then when he’s actually being taxed with having suggested that a layperson might adminster the Sacraments in an emergency, then we’re talking about something else entirely.

        See, n some ways it’s the tone of the passage that really gets my goat – all this the-Pope-has-been-very-patient business. It’s the gangmaster tone, the tone of the assistant manager who’s hauled a outspoken player into his office and told him to shut his mouth or find another club. I almost expected the Pope himself to come in halfway through and tell Küng he’d put money in all the theologians’ pockets, even when they was out of order.

        I wouldn’t actually mind half so much if they’d told Küng that really, what he was saying was considerably outwith what could reasonably be considered Catholicism. But the approach and the specifics do the opposite of convincing me that this is what was happening. I’m far more reminded of the Party memebers who took seriously the Hundred Flowers or the Dubcek liberalisations or what you will – observing, as they did, that the hierarchy did not consider themselves bound by what had previously been pronounced untouchable – and then found themselves in trouble when the wind changed again. After all, is the administration of the Sacraments in an emergency really more fundamental than the Latin Mass?

      • weserei said,

        April 25, 2010 at 10:45 am

        “[I]s the administration of the Sacraments in an emergency really more fundamental than the Latin Mass?”

        Yes, much more fundamental. The Roman Catholic communion has for more than a millennium had several (I think the total is actually something like twenty or so) different “particular churches,” each with its own liturgical calendar and forms of conducting the various sacraments. Creating a new one is not really significant theologically. On the other hand, saying that all the sacraments can validly be performed by a lay Catholic is a direct challenge to the meaning of the sacrament of Holy Orders, and thus to the whole notion of the clergy as the successors of the Apostles, and thus to the valid authority of the clergy in general and the Vatican in particular.

        That said, I have no dog in this fight. A world in which the Küngian Church replaced the Roman Catholic Church might have some upsides, really. And I don’t think any of us have any responsibility to care that Küng is so obviously not a believer in Roman Catholicism. But he’s not.

      • ejh said,

        April 25, 2010 at 11:12 am

        On the other hand, saying that all the sacraments can validly be performed by a lay Catholic is a direct challenge to the meaning of the sacrament of Holy Orders, and thus to the whole notion of the clergy as the successors of the Apostles, and thus to the valid authority of the clergy in general and the Vatican in particular.

        Oh, do me a favour. Even if that weren’t a remarkably overcooked performance (did you faint at the end?) “in an emergency” is the critical term here and yet you seem to have completely missed it.

        My word. The intellectual habit of proceeding by taking small thing to mean enormous things is not remotely a Catholic monopoly, but nevertheless it’s amazing how often it comes up where that institution is concerned.

      • weserei said,

        April 25, 2010 at 11:46 am

        I did not, in fact, faint at the end, thank you very kindly.

        I’m merely reciting the Catholic Church’s own reasoning on the subject. Does it sound melodramatic? Highly legalistic modes of reasoning may tend to, to certain ears.

        The “emergency circumstances” clause doesn’t meet the real difficulty here, which is that, in the Roman Catholic understanding, Holy Orders are what grant the power to conduct the sacraments–they’re a granting of an aspect of God’s grace and not just of a job title within the Church.

        So you don’t like the Vatican. Me neither. But I’m actually interested in understanding its ideology so that I understand what it is and how to interact with it. How about you?

      • weserei said,

        April 25, 2010 at 12:00 pm

        See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catholic_sacraments#Validity_and_liceity_of_administration_of_the_sacraments

        This seems like it may be the point of confusion.

  3. shane said,

    April 24, 2010 at 6:46 pm

    Hans Kung is a depressing specimen of post conciliar doctrinal nihilism. Sadly his erroneous modernist ideas now dominate ‘Catholic’ theological faculties all over the world. His call for bishops to disobey the Pope is not just a nasty tirade against a personal friend but an incitement to formal schism. John Hardon SJ (leading catechist and adviser to Pope Paul VI) claimed that the reason the Pope was so clement and indulgent to dissenters was because he knew that to deal with the problem immediately would result in bishops (90%+ of whom are modernists and should be sacked immediately) breaking away and a repeat of the Reformation schisms. Bishops, especially in Holland, were openly defying Rome after the Council, and the Pope was well aware that to exert his authority on bishops freshly steeped in Gallician pseudo-collegiality would result in whole national churches breaking off. And,as we see with the Anglicans, schisms can last for centuries.

    The Church needs not a Third Vatican Council, but a Second Council of Trent.

    That said, the ultra-liberal (…American ‘conservatism’ is fundamentally based on the English Whig tradition…) George Weigel is skating on very thin ice.

    http://vox-nova.com/?s=weigel
    http://distributism.blogspot.com/search?q=weigel

  4. shane said,

    April 24, 2010 at 6:56 pm

    Hans Kung is a depressing specimen of post conciliar doctrinal nihilism. Sadly his erroneous modernist ideas now dominate ‘Catholic’ theological faculties all over the world. His call for bishops to disobey the Pope is not just a nasty tirade against a personal friend but an incitement to formal schism. John Hardon SJ (leading catechist and adviser to Pope Paul VI) claimed that the reason the Pope was so clement and indulgent to dissenters was because he knew that to deal with the problem immediately would result in bishops (90%+ of whom are modernists and should be sacked immediately) breaking away and a repeat of the Reformation schisms. Bishops, especially in Holland, were openly defying Rome after the Council, and the Pope was well aware that to exert his authority on bishops freshly steeped in Gallician pseudo-collegiality would result in whole national churches breaking off. And,as we see with the Anglicans, schisms can last for centuries.

    The Church needs not a Third Vatican Council, but a Second Council of Trent.

    That said, the ultra-liberal (…American ‘conservatism’ is fundamentally based on the English Whig tradition…) George Weigel is skating on very thin ice.

    http://vox-nova.com/?s=weigel
    http://distributism.blogspot.com/search?q=weigel

  5. Garibaldy said,

    April 24, 2010 at 10:45 pm

    I hope we’ll be getting you thoughts on this SS

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/8642404.stm

    • splinteredsunrise said,

      April 24, 2010 at 10:59 pm

      Heh. You may well do.

      • Phil said,

        April 24, 2010 at 11:24 pm

        Speaking as a liberal and sympathiser with liberals, I’ve got to say that I was really shocked by this. It’s the kind of thing you’d expect from first-year undergraduates, and even then only from the group of lads in the corner who want to disrupt the session. “Benedict brand condoms”, for fuck’s sake. It’s not big and it’s not clever.

    • shane said,

      April 24, 2010 at 11:56 pm

      it’s no wonder the Brits lost their Empire.

      • Bill said,

        April 25, 2010 at 11:50 am

        Since everyone else who has ever had an empire has lost it, it is hard to draw any conclusions as to British character from this fact.

      • shane said,

        April 25, 2010 at 3:14 pm

        indeed, but I meant it more as a slight on the professional competence of those who work in the old colonial office.

  6. harry monro said,

    April 25, 2010 at 10:29 pm

    Can you all save me some research by telling what this fine fella Weigel thinks might prevent HIV/AIDS in Africa, and what the other fine fella Pious XII did to defend European Jewery. Is this Weigel some kind of Catholic Dean Swift? I did think the joke about building Catholic/Islamic relations a bit too obvious though.

  7. jp said,

    April 26, 2010 at 9:48 pm

    Can you tell me in what sense Communio is the ‘world’s best theological journal’?

    I took a look and found Communio’s line to be: “John Paul II unarguably set the Church on the path to the genuine renewal called for by the Second Vatican Council…” do you believe this? as someone who lived through vatican II and its aftermath i find the Reaction to be complete now with benedict.

    I’m genuinely asking; your dual sympathies for benedict and the Nepali Maoists is different, to say the least. I haven’t read you blog thoroughly enough to be able to figure this out on my own – maybe longer-time readers already know.

    • splinteredsunrise said,

      April 27, 2010 at 1:51 am

      The whole question of V2 is whether it represented a hermeneutic of rupture or a hermeneutic of continuity. The Communio guys represent the latter position. And any journal that publishes Balthasar can’t be bad from my point of view.


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