Thursday, October 29, 2009

Hans Kung On Benedict's Imperial Move

The Vatican thirst for power divides Christianity and damages Catholicism
Hans Kung, Tuesday 27 October 2009 23.00 GMT

The astonishing efforts to lure away Anglican priests show that Pope Benedict is set on restoring the Roman imperium.

After Pope Benedict XVI's offences against the Jews and the Muslims, Protestants and reform-oriented Catholics, it is now the turn of the Anglican communion, which encompasses some 77 million members and is the third largest Christian confession after the Roman Catholic and the Orthodox churches. Having brought back the extreme anti-reformist faction of the Pius X fraternity into the fold, Pope Benedict now hopes to fill up the dwindling ranks of the Catholic church with Anglicans sympathetic to Rome. Their conversion to the Catholic church is supposed to be made easier: Anglican priests and bishops shall be allowed to retain their standing, even when married. Traditionalists of the churches, unite! Under the cupola of St Peter's! The Fisher of Men is angling in waters of the extreme religious right.

This Roman action is a dramatic change of course: steering away from the well-proven ecumenical strategy of eye-level dialogue and honest understanding; steering towards an un-ecumenical luring away of Anglican priests, even dispensing with medieval celibacy law to enable them to come back to Rome under the lordship of the pope. Clearly, the well-meaning Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, was no match for cunning Vatican diplomacy. In his cosying up with the Vatican, he evidently did not recognise the consequences. Otherwise he would not have put his signature to the downplaying communique of the Catholic Archbishop of Westminster. Can it be that those caught in the Roman dragnet do not see that they will never be more than second-class priests in the Roman church, that other Catholics are not meant to take part in their liturgical celebrations?

Ironically, this communique impudently invokes the truly ecumenical documents of the Anglican–Roman Catholic International Commission, which were worked out in laborious negotiations between the Roman Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Anglican Lambeth conference: documents on the Eucharist (1971), on church office and ordination (1973), and on authority in the church (1976/81). People in the know, however, recognise that these three documents, subscribed to by both sides at that time, aimed not at recruitment, but rather at reconciliation. These documents of honest reconciliation provide the basis for a recognition of Anglican orders, which Pope Leo XIII, back in 1896, with anything but convincing arguments, had declared invalid. But from the validity of Anglican orders follows the validity of Anglican celebrations of the Eucharist. And so mutual Eucharistic hospitality would be possible; in fact, intercommunion. A slow process of growing together of Catholics and Anglicans would have been the consequence.

However, the Vatican Congregation on the Doctrine of the Faith quickly made sure that these documents of reconciliation disappeared in the dungeons of the Vatican. That's called "shelving". At the time, a confidential press release out of the Vatican cited "too much Küng theology" in them – in other words, a theological basis for a rapprochement between the churches of Rome and Canterbury.

As I wrote in 1967, "a resumption of ecclesial community between the Catholic church and the Anglican church" would be possible, when "the Church of England, on the one side, shall be given the guarantee that its current autochthonous and autonomous church order under the Primate of Canterbury will be preserved fully" and when, "on the other side, the Church of England shall recognise the existence of a pastoral primacy of Petrine ministry as the supreme authority for mediation and arbitration between the churches." "In this way," I expressed my hopes then, "out of the Roman imperium might emerge a Catholic commonwealth."

But Pope Benedict is set upon restoring the Roman imperium. He makes no concessions to the Anglican communion. On the contrary, he wants to preserve the medieval, centralistic Roman system for all ages – even if this makes impossible the reconciliation of the Christian churches in fundamental questions. Evidently, the papal primacy – which Pope Paul VI admitted was the greatest stumbling block to the unity of the churches – does not function as the "rock of unity". The old-fashioned call for a "return to Rome" raises its ugly head again, this time through the conversion particularly of the priests, if possible, en masse. In Rome, one speaks of a half-million Anglicans and 20 to 30 bishops. And what about the remaining 76 million? This is a strategy whose failure has been demonstrated in past centuries and which, at best, might lead to the founding of a "uniate" Anglican "mini-church" in the form of a personal prelature, not a territorial diocese. But what are the consequences of this strategy already today?

First, a further weakening of the Anglican church. In the Vatican, opponents of ecumenism rejoice over the conservative influx. In the Anglican church, liberals rejoice over the departure of the catholicising troublemakers. For the Anglican church, this split means further corrosion. It is already suffering from the consequences of the heedless and unnecessary election of an avowed gay priest as bishop in the US, an event that split his own diocese and the whole Anglican communion. This friction has been enhanced by the ambivalent attitude of the church's leadership with respect to homosexual partnerships. Many Anglicans would accept a civil registration of such couples with wide-ranging legal consequences, for instance in inheritance law, and would even accept an ecclesiastical blessing for them, but they would not accept a "marriage" in the traditional sense reserved for partnerships between a man and a woman, nor would they accept a right to adoption for such couples. (Hans has an axe to grind here. Apparently even he thinks it's better for Christianity that gay clergy stay in a closet. I can't believe Hans truly thinks the gay issue wouldn't have surfaced in the Anglican Church if Gene Robinson had stayed in his closet. This whole paragraph is a gratuitous add on.)

Second, the widespread disturbance of the Anglican faithful. The departure of Anglican priests and their re-ordination in the Catholic church raises grave questions for many Anglicans: are Anglican priests validly ordained? Should the faithful together with their pastor convert to the Catholic church? (I think it's fairly apparent that the Vatican is demanding conversion. I believe these bishops actually swore on the catechism. That must make the catechism the real Catholic bible, or maybe it's Canon Law.)

Third, the irritation of the Catholic clergy and laity. Discontent over the ongoing resistance to reform is spreading to even the most faithful members of the Catholic church. Since the Second Vatican Council in the 60s, many episcopal conferences, pastors and believers have been calling for the abolition of the medieval prohibition of marriage for priests, a prohibition which, in the last few decades, has deprived almost half of our parishes of their own pastor. Time and again, the reformers have run into Ratzinger's stubborn, uncomprehending intransigence. And now these Catholic priests are expected to tolerate married, convert priests alongside themselves. When they want themselves to marry, should they first turn Anglican, and then return to the church? (Hans, I think you are behind the times. A lot of us are calling for the abolition of the whole clerical system. It's rotten at it's core and married priests will only be another caste, ineligible for promotion, spoiled by the rotten core.)
Just as we have seen over many centuries – in the east-west schism of the 11th century, in the 16th century Reformation and in the First Vatican Council of the 19th century – the Roman thirst for power divides Christianity and damages its own church. It is a tragedy.


In this analysis Hans hits some important points and then kind of drops the ball on the Gene Robinson issue. Bishop Robinson was not submitted by a group of Episcopalian yes men and appointed by a pope, like in Catholicism. He did not appoint himself. He was elected by his diocese. The people spoke.

When the people speak locally, sometimes it's a shout heard round the world. Some people, and Hans Kung appears to be one of these people, choose to see Bishop Robinson's appointment as an attack on the traditional interpretation of the Bible and as a primary reason for the disunity in Anglicanism. Others, and I happen to be one of those, see it as a vote for honesty and integrity. This is the kind of vote which says unity at the price of deception, secrecy, and dishonesty is not unity. It's fraud, and leads to more fraud and to other more heinous sins and crimes. This dishonesty about gay priests and bishops is part of the rot at the core of clericalism. The healthy move is not to kick them out of the clergy, it's to kick them out of the closet. Maybe Hans will get this some day.

The rest of his assessment is on target. Finally someone has told some truth. The resistance to the 'reform of the reform' is spreading to even the most faithful members of the Church. Anecdotal stories from places like Maine show the truth of this observation. Pious life long Catholics are admitting to embarrassment as Catholics as the gay marriage proposition moves towards a vote, and as it gets more vicious and more silly. Catholics are beginning to see that secular gay marriage is no threat to their sacramental marriages or to the Roman Catholic Church. Other issues are far more threatening, and one of those might just be who is really funding the Catholic Church's opposition?

As Kung points out in this editorial, Benedict has essentially trashed forty years of ecumenism which was aiming for a form of unity for the entirety of the Anglican Church. He did this for the sake of maybe half a million Anglicans, but especially to get their priests. Unity for the other 76.5 million Anglicans has been set back decades. Just as it has for other mainline protestant denominations.

Before anyone objects that the Anglicans did this to themselves with women clergy, Bishop Gene Robinson, and gay blessings, I have to remind folks that these issues had surfaced in other Christian denominations before the Anglicans followed suit, and they now exist in even more denominations. If Christian unity was really the point of this exercise, it's a unity based strictly on Catholic interpretation, and there for is not unity at all. It's uniformity through conversion. That's not ecumenism.

In the meantime the Southern Cone and African Anglicans have told the Pope thanks but no thanks. I never thought for one minute they would give up their outside money and supposed independent voice on the world stage for the sake of unifying with Rome. Benedict has his work cut out for him if his vision of unifying conservative cultural forces under Rome is to come to fruition. Opus Dei, the Legion, and the Neocats better get cracking because they are fighting entrenched well funded interests in the Evangelical movement in South America, and the same kind of well funded Anglican interests in Africa. Vatican control of the reactionary Christian religious movements won't come cheap or easily and it will certainly cost him all the progressives and most of the center in the Catholic Church itself.

I seriously doubt the moneyed interests behind these movements cares who 'wins'. The battle will leave the victor more or less vanquished and malleable and that is the whole idea. Personally I take great hope in the little scrum happening in New York State. The special race in the 23rd Congressional District is the perfect example of what happens when conservatives assert their voices. They split the movement and the progressives could very well win where they have never won. I doubt that's the outcome Benedict envisions, but it may be the one he gets.


  1. Allow me, Colleen, to transcribe what Han Kung actually wrote of Bishop Gene Robinson in his disgruntled article inspired by the Holy Father's generous invitation to Catholic-minded Anglicans to seek reconciliation with the Church. You say that he 'dropped the ball' on this issue, in order not to offend some of your readership. This is what he wrote:

    'For the Anglican Church, this split means further corrosion. It is already suffering from the consequences of the heedless and unnecessary election of an avowed gay priest as bishop in the US, an event that split his own diocese and the whole Anglican communion. This friction has been enhanced by the ambivalent attitude to the church's leadership with respect to homosexual partnerships. Many Anglicans would accept a civil registration of such couples with wide-ranging legal consequences, for instance in inheritance law,
    and would even accept an ecclesiastical blessing for them, but they would not accept a 'marriage' in the traditional sense reserved for partnerships between a man and a woman, nor would they accept a right to adoption for such couples.' The Guardian, 28 October 2009, p29.

    Kung is a man of the past who cannot resist backing into the limelight but, being a retired German academic, he knows how to present evidence that is not always pleasant reading for his admirers.

    Plain little Gene has, I fear, contributed fundamentally to the destruction of Anglicanism and his acceptance of episcopal ordination has had repercussions that not even one as limited as him would have expected. But, Colleen, there is still something left in American Anglicanism for you to join and thereby achieve your heart's desire of embracing non-papal Catholicism. And imagine the wide acceptance of Fran (Butterfly) O'Connor Schultz's synthetized music at Episcopal gay weddings and honeymoons.

  2. Kung chooses to ignore the fact that Robinsion was elected by his diocese. Kung is free to call this heedless and unnecessary, but it doesn't change the fact it was the diocese which felt Robinson's election was necessary. Maybe, just maybe, they felt his pastoral ability trumped his orientation.

    As I state in this post, to me it is much better to have open and honest gay clergy than dishonest self hating closeted gay clergy. That in the end may be the problem people really have with Gene Robinson, he refuses to act like the 'good' self hating closeted gay cleric we've been taught to expect. He doesn't know his place in scheme of things.

    Kumbaya Lorna.

  3. Here's a link to how bishops are "made bishops" in the Episcopal Church:

    I provide it only for a fuller understanding of how Gene Robinson's elevation to the episcopate included more than just the vote of a diocese. At the time, it split a whole convention of people as it became a issue for the church and nationally as well.

    I myself happen to be strongly in favor of gay rights and privileges and I put that into a Biblical context (on a political blog) back in November of '08. You can find that here:

    And reposted again at another blog of mine (just yesterday!), on account of Kung's letter:

    Those two issues aside, and wishing that Hans Kung could be taking a strong stand against bigotry (using arguments like the ones I mustered), I think he's got the pope's number in terms of the rest of what he wrote. It's a shame his words of bigotry are now outflanking the rest of his argument. As it's a powerful, powerful denunciation from a high-ranking Catholic - and a hint that his concerns are shared by many!

  4. For the benefit of elderly American female progressives, do you, I wonder, know anything about 'The Guardian', the British newspaper which printed Hans Kung's article? Perhaps you do, because it has long been an advocate of the sisterhood (what's left of it).

    It is the leading secularist paper published in the UK and, although its circulation is declining, maintains a constant policy of criticism against all manifestations of Christianity in the country and throughout the world. If you want to find bigotry, consult its pages. The only reason it is taking up a stance on this issue and dragging Kung out of retirement to write a hackneyed piece composed of over-rehearsed and self-referential arguments is because the Pope's initiative has flicked an atavistic Protestant nerve in Britain.

    Effectively classic Protestantism is dead in the UK and its constituency minute, but the prejudiced mentality lives on and the fear and dislike of Rome is only equalled by the attitudes of you, Colleen, your readers and circle. You have much in common in your detestation of Catholicism and your anger and resentment at all papal initiatives that don't conform to your self-authenticating interpretation of immature Catholic dissent. Though you are old yourselves, you still behave like resentful children reacting against elderly parents. The irony is that young Catholics are reacting against you.

    What you have written, Colleen, of the material success of Protestant evangelists in South America reads as if you are delighted by their progress and even more pleased with the perceived erosion of indigenous Catholicism. Why do you hate the Church so much? It's not exactly a characteristic of the mystic, although it does have deep psychological roots.

  5. Which is better? Honest, open homosexuality? One openly gay bishop, such as Gene Robinson? Or is it better to do it as the Roman Catholic Church has done it (and the Anglican Communion as well) for centuries - ordaining gay priests, bishops, and likely popes - who hid their homosexuality?

    Homosexual Roman Catholic priests are EVERYWHERE! Plenty of bishops, I'm sure. Cardinals too, I'm sure.

    Jesus was crucified, Lorna, for criticizing Jewish leaders. I'm sure I speak for many when I say: Thank you for letting us join Jesus in this ministry of sharing the Good News that God loves all his children - without exception! And thank you for letting us join Jesus in being attacked for it - just as he was.

  6. Lorna, the success of the Evangelicals in South America terrifies me, as you would know if you had read other posts on this blog. What terrifies me about it is the moneyed interests behind it. These are the exact same moneyed interests that are influencing African Anglicanism. They are not interested in whose version of Jesus Christ prevails, Catholic, Anglican, Evangelical or even Mormonism.

    They are only interested in the conservative 'everyone in their place' social order that in the past fueled their drive to wealth. That no longer works. It fuels social unrest because of the disparity in access to basic resources it generates.

    Benedict's recent encyclical brilliantly stated this fact. No one is listening because this message is contradicted by so much of the symbolism surrounding the papacy, and many of Benedict's other statements.

    Knock me all you want because it helps me and those who read this blog refine our statements and thinking. That's what discourse is for and that's not bad.

    As far as my mysticism, well, I'm in good company since the history of mysticism in Catholicism has frequently included calling the institution to task for it's excesses and misunderstandings. And a lot of us don't necessarily play with what society would call a full deck. It is a full deck, but it has a lot more jokers.

  7. TheraP, I just read your links. Excellent post on hospitality.

  8. Mystics were generally branded as heretics - till they were made Saints!

    Indeed, mystics of almost every tradition are viewed as "threats" to the institutions. Because the mystical vision is not a narrow one. It is expansive. As if all are looking at the same vanishing point. They may describe it differently, of course. But when they get together with each other they find more similarities than differences. You have only to read Thomas Merton to see how eagerly he dipped into mystic writers of other traditions.

    All this goes without saying - for anyone who has read the mystics and labored long in the vineyards of contemplative prayer.

  9. Merci beaucoup, colkoch! I honestly think there is so much evidence throughout the Bible that the ethics of care is what is expected, not the ethics of condemnation.

    Peace be with you. You've made me think! A lot!

  10. Fr. Kung has once again hit the nail right on the head. He's enumerated how Pope Benedict is simply undoing decades of ecumenism that followed in the wake of the Second Vatican Council and rebuilding the monarchial view of the papacy that flourished throughout the Church before the Council.

    As a gay man though his comments regarding Bishop Robinson's election are a little bewildering and somewhat disturbing. I personally wrote a letter to Fr. Kung early this year, detaling him about my homosexuality and how I had come to terms with it and ultimately accepted it over time. He even replied back and thanked me for what he described as a "very warm letter."

    In his writings he's always frequently criticized the Vatican for placing the blame of the pedophilia crisis within the priesthood on homosexual priests alone. Disproportionately ignoring evidence to the contrary that states that homosexuality is not a link to pedophilia. He's constantly encouraged the leadership of the Church to re-evaluate its stance on human sexuality, especially homosexuality.

    Fr. Kung is one of my biggest heroes in the battle towards a progressive vision of Catholicism, that's why, I'm a little confused and dismayed by his comments. Does he think that some kind of less aggressive approach should be taken to confront the issue of homosexuality? I had hoped someone of his intellect and integrity would not have been conquered by such a trend, but perhaps, even with the great Hans Kung, there's just an age gap... =/

  11. TheraP, I enjoyed reading your comments. They are a breath of fresh air. I also enjoyed reading the link. Thank you so much!

    Colleen, thank you for writing this blog, and yes, there do seem to be a lot of extra jokers in the deck.

  12. Phillip, I think you're right that it's an age gap. I also think Fr Kung is reluctantly protecting some of his contemporaries. Loyalty runs deep.

  13. Philip Clark

    I am not an enemy of homosexuals because I realize that their state was not one they had voluntarily chosen but was thrust upon them by circumstances. But I see no reason to use sexuality as a passport; it is only part, not the whole, of life. Politicized homosexual action achieves little gains beyond pathos.

    Hans Kung was simply pointing out the obvious fact that people like Gene who put sexuality first become unavoidably divisive. Colleen did a disservice to him to omit paragraphs from his recent article that were not to her liking. But that marks her approach to life. She chooses what she likes, ignores the rest and calls is enlightenment.

    Perhaps, Paul, you should write and ask Dr Kung what he really thinks about this vexed issue.

  14. Lorna, I posted the entire Guardian article including the paragraph you quoted in your first comment. Are you not seeing the entire post, or just not reading the full article?

  15. This is why I prefer an openly gay bishop like V. Gene Robinson and not what exists in the Roman Catholic Church.

    Richard Sipe has a post on his site for September 11, 2009 titled: “Are American Bishops Gay?
    There is much information in this article to support the contention that a sizable number of American bishops are gay,that is closeted gays. Sipe goes on to say that this is a legitimate issue to raise and discuss publicly.

    Here is only one quote from the article. For me it sums up why the American Catholic bishops do not have credibility when they take public positions opposing gay marriage or speaking today on any other issue related to sexuality.

    “…the homosexuality of bishops is neither an easy nor obvious starting point to open a discussion about Roman Catholic sexual teaching and practice. But my years of observation and research convince me that this is the Achilles‟ heal of the Catholic sexual teaching and clerical celibacy.”

    Until the American bishops can talk openly about their own sexuality and sexual orientations, they don’t need to be giving advice to the rest of us about what we can do and not do.

  16. Wow, someone has a bee in their bonnet.

    To suggest that Gene Robinson did something wrong (or "divisive") by accepting the promotion to the rank of bishop, and that he did so by putting "sexuality first" is a curious argument.

    His supporters (and I count myself among them) could easily retort that he was putting justice first, and unity second.

    Unity is not without importance. I understand why some people are upset when it is threatened. It's not good for anyone when conservative elements break off and form their own, narrow sects.

    But justice is far more important than unity, and the people who promoted Gene Robinson were putting justice first. It will be better for everyone when the gay leaders of the church will be able to openly acknowledge that they are gay. Having an openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church is a small step in that direction. Yes, it was divisive. But a unity that comes at the cost of preserving ignorance and bigotry is hardly worth protecting.

  17. Jesus taught us - over and over - to put Justice ahead of unity. Had he put "unity" first, there would have been no "Gospel"! The Gospel "divides" only when people cling to power, status, condemnation of others, leaving aside the poor, the sick, the disenfranchised, and when they make legalism into a god.

  18. I think that Kung and others have missed the real point of all this; it's the beginning of the end for a certain type of religious authority.
    Authority is power but power is of not of just one type.
    Authentic authority is not coercive- Jesus, Buddha and quite a few other religious thinkers/ leaders, ( the prophets of the O.T., shamans of primordial spiritualities,etc;), do not threaten but do point out the results of not following the Golden Rule. Sexual morality is only a small part of their concern if at all. What concerns them is the abuse of wealth and privilege over those not so wealthy and powerful.
    Coercive authority, on the other hand, is something different. Backed by the State, ( in whatever form that may take, from autocratic feudal lord to the modern bureaucratic state), it denounces whatever seems to be against the interests of the religious elite. It threatens divine punishment to transgressors and divine approbation for those who inflict penalties, ranging from physical torture to death on transgressors.
    The "modern" period has seen a diminution of this type of coercive authority. The State is no longer interested in seeking divine favors in punishing moral transgressors in most spheres of human activity.
    The last sphere in which coercive authority exists is that of the sexual which ranges from the role of women to gay/ lesbian sexual expression.
    The Church is caught in the trap of trying to maintain this last bastion of coercive authority.
    It has very little authentic authority since those who wield that type of authority have been marginalized.
    The majority of people, in Europe and the U.S., have little interest in being led by coercive authority.

  19. Anonmymous, excellent post. This is just a great sound bite, packed with meaning:

    "The State is no longer interested in seeking divine favors in punishing moral transgressors in most spheres of human activity."

    This comment has a lot of food for thought. Thanks.

  20. I write as a Roman Catholic. All denominationism is apostate Christianity, and some more than others. Catholicism is essentially the Galatian heresy played out with another brush, legalism at its best. Catholics go to a hocus pocus covenant meal they know nothing about, scarcely ever read the scriptures and if so, they are so watered down from the original intention as censored by the hierarchy to avoid individual thinking/revelation of God with the person Jn 14.26 being eclipsed. The clergy are a band of deluded misfits that actually think they stand between God and man and teach prospective catholics as much, forgetting that Savior Jesus became Lord at ascension and abolished the former sacrificial priesthood so that we in Him stand before the Father in the Holy Spirit in love. Maybe Benedict should sell off some of his million dollar ward robe and pay off the sexual crimes of his misfits and walk among the people instead of waving from a balcony to a bunch of misguided worshippers rubbing his narcissism and pride. I find the Catholic laughable if not ludicrous. Apostate Churches have things in common RE: radical humanism ie man standing as a god to the people. Practising homosexuals are nothing more than baals in modern form who have no participation in covenant relationship to the Father in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit. Its an impossibility. The Book of 'Disclosure' (Revelation)of the Person of Jesus Christ hi-lites all this. Its speaks loud and clearly about apostate religion, humanistic governance, and hedonism/materialism/wealth/selfish in action. I go to the Covenant meal inspite of the hocus pocus theatrics of the clergy and indeference of the people also at the table who don't have a clue what its about except to assuage their guilty consciences pertaining to the abiding Jesus in our midst and in whom some of us live and move and are, dynamically. Anyway, its all coming to a close and the misfits will be separated from the wheat when the reminant is revealed. I pray Father enlighten the little people to seize the gift of Christs sacrifice, standing forth in covenant love and relationship and drive the deluded 'holy' pastors to the back of the room where they belong so the sun can shine without the shadow of their inglorious images.